Navigant Research Blog

EV Telematics Bring the Cloud to the Car

— January 30, 2013

One reason why plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) haven’t sold as quickly as originally projected is that, to date, they have failed to distance themselves from traditional cars with telematics features.  As we discussed in Pike Research’s Electric Vehicle Telematics report, you can see how many estimated miles you have left on a battery charge and get driving tips to increase your energy efficiency – but that’s about it.  The possibilities for connecting an owner with their PEVs’ unique capabilities are virtually limitless.

The automotive industry designs in 3 to 5 year cycles and has always lagged innovations in software development and information technology, which adhere to 12-month or less development cycles.  The automotive industry’s relatively slow pace of innovation is understandable given the emphasis on safety and the sensitivity to driver distraction issues.

The recent announcements of new vehicle software platforms and the advances in vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, however, pave the way for PEVs to take a clear lead in telematics applications.  This month both Ford and GM opened up their development platforms to third parties.  Agero Connected Services recently announced a developer kit to enable telematics apps to talk to the cloud and to continually update vehicle software platforms.

Smarter Than a Smartphone

In his talk at the recent Consumer Telematics conference in Las Vegas, Agero’s Frank Hirschenberger challenged the auto industry to make vehicle applications “safer and better than what is on a smartphone.”  While he was primarily referring to so-called “infotainment” apps, the same can be said for apps that help drivers get the maximum value from their PEVs.

Hirschenberger correctly pointed out that communicating with the cloud enables the data to be aggregated and processed outside the vehicle, so that the amount of code stored under the hood can be kept to a minimum.  As connected vehicles, PEVs are a great arena for software jockeys to let loose their imagination in manipulating big (and small) data.

People (especially guys) love to brag about their gadgets, and adding apps that would (for example) calculate the amount of greenhouse gases eliminated by driving electric, or calculate the total energy cost, would result in lots of bragging to the neighbors.  Privacy must be protected, as Brian Inouye, National Manager of Advanced Technologies, Toyota , noted during the same conference.  Marketers and auto makers are looking forward to siphoning information off the vehicle, Inouye said, but consumers are understandably wary.

It is time for PEVs to carpe data.  Optimizing vehicle performance, understanding vehicle health, maximizing fuel savings, and reducing emissions are just a few of the kinds of information that could be made accessible and useful for drivers, while making PEVs the most advanced telematics vehicles on the planet.


Big Brother Is in the Dashboard

— January 21, 2013

A funny thing happened on the way to the realization of George Orwell’s future where individuals’ every move is monitored – it’s not the government that is doing the tracking, it’s the devices that we bring into our pockets, homes, and vehicles.

The overriding theme for motorists at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show was the Connected Vehicle.  Automakers including Audi, GM, Ford, Toyota, Volvo, and others unveiled new initiatives enabling vehicles to talk to mobile handsets and to share data in the cloud (Orwell would never have used such a non-threatening euphemism).  The focus of the Connected Vehicle initiatives today is entertainment, concentrating on music, news and information, and even dating applications from niche startup companies such as TuneIn, Slacker, Kaliki, BeCouply and dozens of others.

Ford and GM both took a bold leap into 20th-century software development practices by opening up their in-vehicle software platforms, which will enable third-party companies to create applications that can be downloaded into vehicles without having to pay licensing fees to the car companies.  This embracing of the application development community is a significant shift for automakers that previously had protected their internal workings to keep out invasive hordes of unknown software.

In addition to syncing your dashboard to all of your social media and entertainment apps, automakers are also focusing on navigation and safety with their connected vehicle strategy.  For example, real-time traffic information will guide you to your destination, and Ford is analyzing where you go most frequently to recommend ways for EV drivers to economize on their energy usage.  Safety applications now becoming common include detecting swerving and tailgating, as part of the longer-term effort to develop autonomous vehicles.

Now that the software doors have been thrown open and GPS systems are becoming standard, software developers will create vehicle applications that bring new levels of personalization to information delivery, including location-based marketing (e.g., “The Urban Outfitters up ahead is having a 20% off sale”).  Ford envisions its vehicles connecting with medical devices to know when individuals are having a health event, such as becoming hypoglycemic or high stress levels.

The connected car will provide a more personalized experience while also helping to reduce traffic and therefore fuel consumption, which are both strong positives.  However, having your car and mobile phone know everything about you presents the potential for hackers or car thieves – or insurance companies – to use this information against you.  This may be an even more insidious threat to personal freedom than was envisioned in 1984, as the tracking isn’t mandated by a company or government – it’s invited by you.


Hands Free, Autonomous Vehicles Surge

— January 17, 2013

The start of 2013 has given autonomous and connected vehicle technologies a big boost.  In early January German automotive component manufacturer Continental AG, along with luxury car maker Audi, was granted testing licenses for autonomous vehicles in Nevada alongside Google (which has had a license since 2012).  Additionally, both Audi and Lexus debuted autonomous vehicle systems at the 2013 Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show (CES).  Similar technologies have also been unveiled by Nissan, which in late 2012 showed off the all-electric LEAF parking itself.  Connected vehicles also made a splash as Ford and Volvo showcased their cloud-connected vehicle solutions at CES.

The Lexus and Audi vehicles are outfitted with a number of systems that can track and react to changing traffic and infrastructure conditions as they emerge in real time, without driver input.  These systems claim to make driving safer (Google’s fleet surpassed 300,000 miles with no crashes in late 2012), and they’re enhanced by connectivity software, trumpeted by Ford and Volvo, that enable vehicles to use navigation and traffic information from sources like Google maps.  Further development will allow communications between vehicles (V2V) and infrastructure (V2X) to alert vehicles to changing traffic conditions in real time.

When autonomous and connectivity systems become widely adopted, they’ll make travel not only safer but faster, as stop and go traffic is reduced through fewer accidents, thanks to systems that automatically direct cars to remain safe distances behind other vehicles.  Additionally, V2X technologies can enable governing transportation authorities to better manage traffic management systems, particularly at busy intersections.  Theoretically, V2X could also be used to administer a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax, which is being explored in some U.S. cities.

While fully autonomous vehicles exist in test programs and pilots, sales to consumers are unlikely before 2020.  Though full autonomy is far off, smaller semi-autonomous systems branded as “driver-assist” systems, as well as cloud-connected vehicles, are beginning to emerge in greater numbers; this is exciting growing interest from governing authorities.

The benefits of these systems in terms of driver safety and traffic management are clear, but their adoption also confronts the idea that a motorist’s car is her castle.  The privacy concerns common to Facebook and Google, surrounding use of personal information and Internet search histories for targeted advertising algorithms, will confront the automotive industry.  Once everyone’s car is connected to the cloud, information regarding driving habits and destinations will also be available to companies and governments, at least on an opt-in basis.  These technologies present an exciting and efficient future, but their optimal use requires the adoption of a paradigm whereby mobility is no longer private but public.


Verizon and Hughes Shake Up the EV Telematics Market

— June 29, 2012

At almost every level of the nascent electric vehicle market, companies are hoping to be able to use the data from EV consumers to build better systems for the customer experience and the smart grid connection.  There’s a large amount of work being done by telematics providers, OEMs, and suppliers to reduce range anxiety and understand the vehicle use data.  What’s surprising, as I learned at the Telematics Detroit 2012 conference on telematics for electric vehicles, is that there is little specialization occurring to enable these telematics programs to take advantage of these unique customers.  It feels like an opportunity is either not being revealed or being missed entirely.

This doesn’t come as a surprise.  When I did the research for the EV Telematics report last year, I found that there was very little specialization at that time as well.  The few key areas of specialization were (and still are) identifying EV charging equipment locations, enabling trip planning, and offering the ability to reserve charging stations.  The focus of the telematics industry when it comes to EVs is reducing range anxiety.  In my opinion, that should be the cost of entry, not the end goal.

The big news in Detroit was the announcement of Verizon’s acquisition of Hughes Telematics for $612 million.  Most of the smaller telematics companies are not happy about Verizon’s vertical extension into their market.  And who can blame them?  One conference-goer groused, “Verizon stops advertising for an afternoon and can afford to buy one the largest telematics firms with revenue that bests us on a good year.”  I pointed out last year after this same event that “there are too many in this segment to be sustainable. This industry looks ripe for consolidation as it grows.”

The smaller telematics companies may not be happy, but the arrival of big service providers should fuel growing innovation in the EV telematics space.  Verizon has been rapidly building its machine-to-machine (M2M) capabilities, with purchases of nPhase and of cloud computing providers.  With Hughes, Verizon now has a very complete package it can offer automakers, and it has created a forum to identify new telematics services and needs that capitalize on the 4G LTE platform.

Hughes has already established programs with electric vehicles with more on the way.  Verizon is also no stranger to the electric vehicle market and is now partnering with Via Motors to implement PHEV vans into their fleet.  What does all this mean for the EV market?  Well, my hope is that the combination of Verizon’s innovation and the strength of Hughes in telematics and M2M will light a fire under the slow-to-blossom EV telematics opportunity.  The combination of a small market (only about 31,800 plug-in vehicles are on the road as of June 1) with buyers who are interested in technology and have a proven willingness to be first adopters, positions these drivers as prime targets for beta testers for new telematics features.  Bring on the innovation.


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