Google’s acquisition of Nest has already pushed its automotive announcements from CES 2014 out of the news. But Google continued to make inroads into the connected car environment through specific Android partnerships with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and the Open Automotive Alliance. Through the Alliance, GM, Hyundai, Honda, and Audi will work together with Google to bring the Android platform to their cars.
If you tie this to the Nest acquisition, it looks like Google will soon have the ability to track you everywhere: online, at home, and in your car. This may be the paranoid version of what Google is after, but it’s not crazy to think that is a driver for entering these markets, given how Google has built its business on the customer-as-the-product model. However, at least in the automotive arena, it’s not quite so simple. Google is working with the great immovable force that is the auto industry, a business with a product development timeline that’s longer than in consumer electronics, and a relationship with its customers that’s different than Google’s.
CES 2014 did show continued advancement in the ways that automakers are thinking about connectivity, with greater openness to direct integration with outside apps and operating systems. It also showed how much more of a role that telecom providers are playing in the automotive sector, with cars increasingly becoming Wi-Fi hotspots.
But automakers disagree on how to integrate these outside systems and how to use the massive amounts of data they are going to be collecting on driver behavior.
From conversations with auto industry executives at CES, as well as from presentations at the Consumer Telematics Show, I see a spectrum of views on the topic of using consumer data to drive new revenue. Some executives are confident that connectivity and driver data will open up promising new revenue opportunities. These include offering insurance products that match customer’s actual driving habits and records, connecting them with local restaurants or other businesses as they are driving, or simply reporting back diagnostic information to the dealership or local repair shop, which can then connect with the driver to tell them when they need an oil change.
Other industry officials are skeptical of these ideas, noting that customers find it creepy when other businesses know what their oil change schedule is. Some of the luxury car company executives, in particular, emphasize that their customers expect not to be harassed by coupons or ads, and they would never pass along their customer’s information. In one example of how OEMs will want to control this data, Mercedes previewed its new predictive user experience system, which can learn from the driver’s habits and adjust the telematics systems accordingly. Mercedes stressed that this personal data will only be stored on the vehicle. Even automakers who plan to take advantage of the new revenue opportunities note it must be an “opt in” procedure.
A Protected Environment
Right now, the automakers are still the gatekeepers on how Google, Apple, or application providers like Pandora will interact with their drivers through any in-vehicle system. So, I think it’s premature to assume that Google will have the same ability to track and target connected car drivers as they do with web users, other than as they can do already, via the driver’s cell phone. I’ve seen some suggestions that automakers should hand over the user interface to the tech companies, like Google, but I see very little evidence they are interested in doing so. Every automotive executive I spoke with believes that the interface with the customer must be a protected environment, where they want to compete against other automakers. However, the manufacturers themselves are showing more interest in moving into motorists’ homes. See Ford’s MyEnergi Lifestyle, which lets a customer integrate the C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid with solar panels by SunPower and, you guessed it, the Nest smart thermostat. While Ford is ahead of the pack in bringing this concept to market, expect to see more automakers pursuing similar home-vehicle integration models.
Tags: Clean Transportation, Conferences & Events, Electric Vehicles, Google, Smart Transportation Program
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