Joining the marketing dots doesn't have to mean connecting them

According to the mobile phone operators’ GSM Association, every car in the world will be connected to the internet by 2025.

While this may bring many opportunities it could also compromise the future of supercars such as the beautiful new Audi R8 V10 plus Coupé. This is a truly fast car able to sprint from standstill to 62mph in just 3.2secs and reach a top speed of 205mph.

Sadly, not all of us have unlimited access to the wonderfully unrestricted German autobahns, known to be among the safest roads in the world, where the R8 can legally stretch its legs and do the job it was designed for on our roads. And before anyone starts complaining those speeds can’t be safe, the R8 boasts a vast array of technology that keeps it glued to the tarmac irrespective of how hard it is being pushed or how poor the road conditions.

To test the full capabilities of the technology, I switched off the ESP stability control, selected the fire-breathing full Sport drive setting and opened the exhaust sound restrictors to augment the aural backdrop of a cloud burst during a rapid drive through the winding mountain roads of the Languedoc in southern France.

Yet, despite the wet roads and a whopping 610PS of power slamming through Audi’s quattro four-wheel drive system, I barely managed the occasional twitch before the drive chain recognised the requirement for extra grip and pulled the car straight again.

It’s a truly accomplished piece of engineering that also boasts Audi connect as standard to provide everything a connected car driver could want in terms of navigation and infotainment.

Hmmm… except does the typical supercar driver really want to be that connected? In the first instance, the driving experience is the main draw for spending north of £130,000 ($195,000) for most owners who will probably barely use the car’s electronica beyond opening the symphonic exhaust flaps or quickly shutting them again when a policeman hoves into view.

Secondly, and certainly more worrying for some, is that any laissez-faire interpretation the driver makes of present speed regulations will be recorded and stored as incriminating data somewhere in the Cloud.

Naturally, we have been assured by Audi’s CEO Rupert Stadler that our data will remain “private” but just what control will carmakers have in the future when a government authority comes knocking on their doors demanding data to be handed over?

In the UK we are seeing the Home Secretary, Theresa May, unveiling plans to extend the power of anti-terrorism authorities to plunder individuals’ data even without a judge’s consent, where time is pressing. She also wants to force internet and telecommunication providers, such as carmakers are becoming with their access to data, to store user data for at least year.

No less an influencer than Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook has this week attacked the plans telling the Daily Telegraph: “Any backdoor is a backdoor for everyone. Everybody wants to crack down on terrorists. Everybody wants to be secure. The question is how. Opening a backdoor can have very dire consequences.”

At this point I’m reminded of one of Octo Telematics's presentations at the recent TU-Automotive Europe 2015 conference in Stuttgart. It revealed a graph of driver behaviour around hard acceleration based on vehicle brand. There were no prizes awarded for guessing the name of the red-button brand that stood head-and-shoulders over all else in terms of bending the rules during the study.

While some may feel this hedonistic behaviour reprehensible, we are, nonetheless, human beings and will always be prone to exploring the capabilities of a vehicle especially when that vehicle blends the ease of access and confidence inspiring control of the new Audi R8 V10 plus.

Of course, with eCall now expected to come into force in Europe early 2018, all cars will have to have some degree of connectivity.

One could argue we're already being tracked because it’s common knowledge that mobile devices can be tracked even when they have been switched off and the level of possible intrusion goes even further. NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden made lawyers advising him to put their mobile phones in his refrigerator to block any chance of authorities in Hong Kong eaves-dropping their conversations.

From the carmaker’s point of view, when owners finally become fully aware of just what, and how much, data can be drawn from their vehicle, they may become less enamoured of sharing that with anyone – the carmaker included.

Perhaps it’s because connectivity has, so far, been used as a bit of a blunt instrument with carmakers rolling out their standard suite of services through the premium end of their range with little or no ‘tailoring’ to suit the target audience.

With supercars, for example, owners may be more interested in the services they receive from connectivity on the race track. In this rarefied environment, telematics could be seen as a performance enhancer just as that employed by Aprilia in its race replica RSV4 sports motorcycle. Driver coaching by telematics drawing from the combined knowledge of top racing drivers and applied to a choice of the owner’s local race tracks, could be a positive sales pitch for this enthusiast owner.

So we could see that, for specialist cars like the R8, race focused connectivity or its omission altogether, whether permanent or temporary, could be just as powerful a marketing tool for a carmaker as its inclusion.

Personally, at least until eCall comes into force, I’d happily strip out the bulkhead mounted SIM and SD card holder and use the space for a mobile phone-sized mini refrigerator, resting easy in the knowledge that no data is leaving the driver focused cockpit of that R8 when I’m out for a drive!

Catch up with all the latest developments at Consumer Telematics Show 2016 next January 5.

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