Electric cars and telematics – no match?

Electric cars and telematics  –  no match?

One might have thought that electric cars would be more naturally inclined to have advanced telematics, including energy monitoring/management and wireless connectivity to web services. Over time, though, it seems that there are no inherent technical reasons why electric cars are more amenable to telematics than gasoline-powered cars.

However, the one crucial difference is that electric cars are being designed from the ground up TODAY whereas gasoline-powered cars have decades of legacy components, legacy architectures and entrenched cultures/bureaucracies surrounding them.

Will we see better-than-expected IT/telematics fromChevy Volt, TH!NK's city, Fisker's Karma, Reva, etc.? I hope so, especially from the US-focused companies. Probably not from the emerging markets-focused companies such as Reva.

And today I realised that this wish may come true, while watching the Techcrunch video of the Tesla car test-drive. It seems that the upcoming Tesla model has a great screen in the cockpit with mapping and other related functions (I sure hope it's a connected service, as opposed to a pure on-board system). The company's website certainly does not show anything remotely interesting in the cockpit.

I posted a question about the relationship between electric vehicles (EVs) and telematics to LinkedIn a week ago. Here's a synopsis of the many comments that people made there – comments came from Renault, SAGAsystem, Fleetmatics, Applied Computer Technologies, Hughes Systique, Sirius Satellite Radio, iSuppli, Atlantic Management Strategies, Frost & Sullivan, Mercedes-Benz and VisionSeeds.

  • EVs need to be more proactive/predictive about the remaining miles that the car can travel on its current charge. This is because charging points are sparse and traffic conditions and driving behaviour greatly affect the performance of the car. As a result, traffic and location-based information (such as location of charging points or parking spots), combined with predictive algorithms, could be of great use to EV OEMs.
  • Telematics needs to be provided on an open platform for EVs, so that new applications/services can be developed that tie into mobile devices, etc. Proprietary approaches, such as from OnStar, will have to change their strategy. The auto OEM has to make performance data available to third party devices and enable them to have some (controlled) effect on performance.
  • There is an even split between people who think that EV OEMs will provide built-in telematics functionality and those who think that mobile devices will incorporate this functionality and then interface with the cars to take in and put out information. Personally, I think this depends on the type of telematics you are talking about – if it is performance- and energy-management-related, then IMO it will have to be embedded in the car.
  • Some comments said that EVs will be premium-priced for quite a while and therefore consumer will expect whiz-bang features such as telematics, connectivity, diagnostics, energy management etc. as a standard part of the MSRP. (Wireless) connectivity should come standard with all EVs, given the initial audience for these cars. But what's the recurring revenue business model that will fit with consumer expectations?
  • Telematics is a fuzzy term, incorporating energy management, LBS applications, diagnostics, roadside assistance, navigation, entertainment services, etc. Some of these areas will differ in traction between EVs and gasoline-powered cars, some will not. I personally think that energy management/predictive intelligence will be key for EVs. All the other features mentioned above can also be put into gasoline-powered cars equally well – the only difference is the early adopter audience for EVs which will (I think) expect a lot of these features.

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Gartner's Thilo Koslowski will address this issue during his opening keynote at the Telematics Detroit 2009 event.

Dev Khare is a vice president at venture capital company, Venrock, and focuses on investments in digital media, mobile, digital car and software. Prior to Venrock, he co-founded Covigo, a mobile software platform company that was acquired by Symbol Technologies (now Motorola's EnterpriseMobilitydivision) in 2003.


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