eCall may be late to the connected car party

Some 15 years after a European civil servant conceived of the idea, legislators in Brussels have finally approved implementing a mandatory pan-European emergency alert system, dubbed eCall, to reduce the number of road fatalities. Beginning on April 1, 2018, all new passenger vehicles and pick-up trucks (M1 and N1 vehicles) will have to be fitted with a standardised in-band modem that, in case of a crash violent enough to automatically trigger the emergency 112 call, is capable of sending a minimum set of data (MSD) – including the vehicle’s location and identification number – via a voice connection to the nearest Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP).

If car manufacturers do not comply, their vehicles will not be approved for sale, says Marcel Visser, global account manager, automotive, at Gemalto and a supervisory board member of ERTICO – ITS EUROPE.

“According to the new approval documentation amendments, if a car manufacturer does not receive its eCall certification, it won´t be able to introduce new cars,” he explains. “The document states clearly to each of the member states that they shall not provide any type of approval to a car manufacturer in their country when there is no European-normed eCall function installed in that car.”

And all 28 EU member states must have the necessary infrastructure for handling and responding to the emergency eCall. At present, says Visser, 16 EU-member states are benefitting from €16M (£12.2M) in funding allocated during the so-called HeERO and HeERO2 pre-deployment projects. Another €30.9M are to be invested in the follow-up I HeERO project, the ‘I’ standing for ‘infrastructure’.

However, it’s not certain that all the nations will be ready for eCall by the launch date. For one thing, two EU members, France and the UK, have not signed the eCall memorandum of understanding. In the latter case, one reason may be the uncertain outcome of the pending referendum on EU membership, set to be held before the end of 2017. In addition, parliamentary under-secretary of state for transport Claire Perry has said the UK government opposed the measure because ”the benefit of making [eCall] mandatory in all new cars does not justify the cost of implementing it”, which she estimated at “£370-odd million”.

According to Cyril Zeller, vice-president key accounts at Scope Technologies, several countries, notably in eastern Europe, may receive waivers from being eCall-compliant at the launch date because “they probably will not be quite ready”.

But Visser is optimistic. “I expect all 28 countries to be ready by September 2017,” he says. “Even the UK. How many car manufacturers do you have in the UK and France? Many. And they would all like to sell their cars in Europe.”

In fact, initial resistance by carmakers to the mandate resulted in delays and fostered mandatory deployment instead of voluntary deployment, he says.  Among other things, they protested that the previous launch dates, in 2013 and 2015, did not offer them a 36-month lead time for proper implementation of the technology. In addition, car manufacturers complained that implementation of eCall represents additional cost being passed on to the end user.

“In the meantime, we observe that various car manufacturers have already deployed their own eCall solutions leveraged on their proprietary telematics services,” Visser notes.

Meanwhile, the European Commission is allowing carmakers to use their proprietary eCall solutions, as long as they are embedded along with a dormant normed eCall SIM card, to make it possible to switch over in case the end-user does not accept the carmaker’s version or resells the vehicle and the new owner rejects it. “The standardised and normed eCall function must be in every car-type approved after March 31, 2018,” Visser says.

The decision to include the European global navigation system Galileo also caused some delay, he says. “The decision to push Galileo was a European political approach to make Galileo more common, more used and in the future to run additional services on Galileo when you have to pay for them.”

Now that the launch has finally been approved, Visser expects eCall not only to save thousands of lives on European roads but also to give a powerful impetus to the penetration of connected car technology and services, such as user-based insurance (UBI).

For one thing, both member state governments and carmakers are obliged to help publicise and market eCall, which he believes will create a “wave” of public acceptance of the technology. “I think eCall will trigger the amount of cars connected in Europe, because a telematics solution will be embedded anyhow,” Visser says.

The simple fact of having mandated connectivity in the car will spur the uptake of connected-car services, he believes. “Imagine you have this hardware in the car, paid for by the end user, and you cannot make further use of it. That would be a pity. That’s why I see lots of leveraging for other services, with a combination of telematics services and eCall.”

Zeller agrees, arguing that the successive delays in implementation could even have been good for eCall. “Back in 2008 or 2009, the mandate was to make something quick and dirty, as cheap as possible, to design something just to fulfil the requirements of the eCall regulation and nothing more. That has changed. I think now the vision of car OEMs is different and they really do see this regulation as serving the purpose of the connected car. Car OEMs really understand that they need to have their cars connected now and they clearly realise that eCall can be a good opportunity to leverage the cost, and they are going to bundle additional services with it.”

However, because of stringent EU privacy laws, carmakers will have to get the customer’s permission to allow vehicle-generated data to be used for the delivery of additional services. As Visser puts it thus: “If you dial 112 today, you land at a public PSAP and nowhere else. A proprietary eCall solution, however, can be routed to a proprietary, thus non-public, call centre. By using the standardised 112-based emergency call, an end user has the guarantee that none of his data will be tracked and traced. Once the eCall is completed, the data will be stored and nobody else will be granted access to it.”

However, not everyone shares Visser’s optimism, both about the mandate’s collateral effects and its ultimate utility. Dominique Bonte, vice-president and general manager, B2B, at ABI Research, agrees that the mandate will put many more connected cars on European roads – “The eCall mandate is kind of forcing the hand of the consumer and the carmaker’s,” he says but then argues that the continuous delays in approving the system actually retarded the development of car connectivity.

“I think what happened is that everybody was waiting for eCall, so most car manufacturers in Europe delayed their connected-car telematics offerings because they wanted to align it with eCall standards,” he says. “So the European telematics market was actually slowed down. And at a certain point they stopped waiting for eCall and started offering their own solutions.”

Bonte goes on to say that, while carmakers will certainly comply with the mandate, eCall “is no longer the centrepiece of their connected car strategy”. Originally, he explains, carmakers saw it as a platform for additional telematics services. “I remember very well that everyone said, ‘Well, if we have a module for eCall we can do other stuff with it. Let’s not do the work twice. Let’s build everything out of the eCall module’.”

Bonte notes that at the TU-Automotive Europe 2015 conference, in Stuttgart, a carmaker’s senior manager said the company would keep eCall separate from other in-car connected services for security and other reasons. “That was illustrating that the integration objective is no longer relevant.”

According to Bonte, another issue is that eCall’s connectivity standard is 2G or 3G but by eCall rollout time 4G will be the connectivity of choice. “The eCall standard has been designed for minimum cost and maximum coverage. That’s why it’s not 4G,” he explains. “Imagine, you’re going to put a 3G module in a car in 2018 when most of the market will have moved to 4G. That’s one reason why integration won’t work because everyone wants 4G. It’s the typical problem with a mandate – it’s outdated by the time it hits the market.”

Visser says the mandate does not specify whether the eCall modem functionality will be 2G- or 3G-based and says that the next generation 112-based eCall (NG112) project will look into how future communication technologies, such as 4G, can be enabled to assure proper communication to the PSAPs.

But the biggest issue with eCall may very well be that it has been surpassed by the technological revolution that is transforming the automobile. “I’m not against eCall, we should have had it a long time ago,” says Bonte. “But, by 2018, it will be largely irrelevant because of the ADAS active collision prevention systems. We’re talking about preventing accidents. But having eCall trying to do something after an accident has happened sounds a little bit out of touch.”

He argues that the active safety features of ADAS are far more effective in saving lives than a passive system such as eCall. “It will still be beneficial,” Bonte says. “But it will take 10 or 15 years before most of the cars on the road have eCall. But even then, when every car has eCall, the estimates say we will save about 2,000 lives a year on European roads, out of 30,000 fatalities. If you think about ADAS, it could potentially lead to a 90% reduction and, ultimately, possibly no fatalities. ADAS is a much more efficient technology in terms of safety. So maybe the EU should mandate ADAS instead of eCall.”

Interestingly, while large commercial vehicles such as trucks and buses are not included in the eCall regulation, the European Commission has mandated that as of 1 November certain ADAS systems, notably automatic emergency braking (AEB) and lane departure warning (LDW), must now be fitted on most new large commercial vehicles.

For more eCall insight see TRL’s mission takes the drama out of eCall

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