Navigant Research Blog

EVs Getting Smarter Every Day

John Gartner — April 13, 2011

Electric vehicles need to be admired not only for their bodies, but also for their brains. The second wave of EVs and plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) are likely to be even smarter than the first as automakers are enhancing their telematics features.

Vehicles coming out later this year from Ford (Focus Electric) and Toyota (Prius Plug-in) will include enhanced telematics features that will enable drivers to comfortably make it to their destinations while consuming the minimum amount of electrons. Toyota is partnering with Microsoft so that its vehicles can communicate with Microsoft’s cloud technology, known as Windows Azure. Toyota’s Media Service division is peering into the home energy management (HEM) market and will enable its PEVs and their accompanying mobile applications to control electricity consumption in both the car and the home.

Ford, which has its own successful telematics platform in Sync (co-developed with Microsoft) that works with smartphones, recently added AT&T as a telematics partner for linking car data with mobile phones. Ford had previously focused on using the handset as the car communications platform, but the company recognized the advantage of having connectivity in the car and so has shifted its philosophy for the Focus Electric.

In addition the automakers themselves, telematics companies focusing on EVs abound, including Airbiquity, Automatiks, and Telogis, just to name a few. These companies are extending applications such as green routing to avoid traffic and energy efficiency for fleet managers.

This increase in the brain power could spell trouble for the makers of electric vehicle charging equipment (EVSE), who want their devices and not the cars themselves to be the center of smart vehicle charging. Many of the functions for smart charging – such as delaying a vehicle charge until off-peak hours, getting alerts about completed charging, and location data about charging stations – are redundant between a telematics system and the EVSE. Companies such as GE, Siemens, Ecotality, and Coulomb Technologies see the car-home connection as a great opportunity to expand the value of the equipment and are working on integrating their software with HEMs. They are ahead of the automakers in this regard today, but may not be for long if the major OEMs follow Toyota’s lead. GM, the granddaddy of telematics with its 15 year old OnStar platform, and Ford are both watching the HEM space to see how it develops.

For now, the momentum in the “Where will the intelligence go?” seems to be with EV telematics. Coulomb Technologies CTO Richard Lowenthal conceded during a recent conference that as EVs get more smarts inside, some functions such as smart charging may become redundant and unnecessary in EVSEs.

To talk about automobiles, electric vehicles, and telematics, I’ll be chatting with executives from Ford and GM as well as many others during a panel at the Green:Net conference in San Francisco on April 21.

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