Navigant Research Blog

EVs Need to Set the Pace on Telematics

John Gartner — January 20, 2011

Last week I was part of a panel at the Consumer Electronics Show that discussed electric cars as “computers on wheels.” The premise, which was fully supported by what was on display at the trade show, is that electric vehicles will have advanced computing and communications systems that will rival the functionality of PCs. Since gas vehicles have already featured advanced systems for navigation, connectivity, and entertainment for several years, EVs have a formidable precedent to exceed. Since fuel savings and faster acceleration alone won’t be enough to win over some American buyers, EVs need to “geek it up” with engaging and addictive technology that supersedes luxury vehicles.

One indication of how seriously the auto manufacturers are taking the need to market around the intelligence built into their vehicles was their growing presence at CES and the demonstrations of sophisticated telematics systems for both gasoline and electric vehicles. Vehicles from Audi, Ford, General Motors, Hyundai, and Tesla Motors were on hand.

Hyundai is developing a connected system for safety that is based on the Blue Link technology that will roll out with the 2012 Sonata and Veloster. The demonstration simulated a projection onto a windshield that highlights what is going on around the vehicle to enhance safety. A camera mounted on the front of the vehicle along with sensors will look for and identify objects such as pedestrians entering the roadway and cars that are encroaching into your lane at slower speeds. These safety warnings will encircle the object with bright colors to focus the driver’s attention. This technology will be available in three to four years according to the company and it should be added to the Hyundai BlueON EV whenever it comes to North America.

Hyundai will join the ranks of hybrid and EV makers with EcoCoach software that encourages fuel-efficient driving. Originally developed for hybrids, EVs and now gasoline vehicles will give feedback on how rapid stops and starts hurt fuel economy. Ford’s unveiling of its Focus EV also included a demonstration of eco-coaching software. This feature will soon become a staple in most vehicles, which should be welcomed not only because of the savings in fuel and emissions, but also because it leads to safer driving.

Since EVs cost considerably more than gas-only cars, many consumers will expect that all of the technology features will surpass that of their other vehicles. One advantage for EVs is their integrated connectivity through cellular connections, either in the vehicle itself, or by taking advantage of the driver’s mobile phone. Applications that enable consumers to know their comfortable driving range based on the battery’s remaining charge as well as routing them to charging spots is a critical part of successful EV adoption and driving enjoyment. This desire to compare oneself to other drivers and EV owners is a natural tendency that has been a core component of the hybrid and EV owner mentality. The term “hypermiler” has been coined for zealots who squeeze every watt out of their batteries and they will be a core early EV adopter as well as evangelists to encourage others.

This “bragging data” will be accessible outside of the vehicle, extending to the web and mobile phones. Airbiquity of Seattle has developed the software platform for both the Nissan Leaf and the Ford Focus EV that enables EV owners to control vehicle charging and other tasks such as pre-heating or pre-cooling the vehicle remotely. By 2015, the annual investment in information technology for managing electric vehicles by utilities, automakers, and charging equipment companies will grow to $372 million.

Unfortunately, this sophisticated technology has a price. It will only add to the challenges that auto manufacturers face in trying to get their vehicles more closely aligned with the cost of gas cars.

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