Q&A: Telematics and Renault’s automotive app store

Q&A: Telematics and Renault’s automotive app store

To lead development of its connected-car services, Renault looked beyond the auto industry, tapping Patrick Hoffstetter, a veteran of consumer Internet services, including Yahoo Europe and lastminute.com, a Travelocity company. His resume also includes stints as marketing director of Vodafone France and the Rail Europe Group. Travel, Internet, cell phones … talk about convergence!

Hoffstetter joined Renault Group in May 2011, charged with defining its digital strategy, implementing it around the world and then monitoring its performance. At Renault Digital Laboratory, he oversees teams developing platforms and content for business partners and consumers. In his spare time, he meets with 11 other chief digital officers of large companies to brainstorm and share information within eG10, the organization he co-founded. He talks to TU contributor Susan Kuchinskas about how Renault is rolling out a global automotive app store, creating a sixth medium in the process.

What goes on at Renault Digital Laboratory?

I'm in charge of defining strategy and producing different digital components for Renault, mostly geared toward a local country, on any type of platform. That includes our website, our mobile site, mobile applications, content for tablets, and, more and more, content for different social networks as well as our strategy on social media at large. At the same time, we provide ecommerce functionality for B2C, B2E [employees] and B2B toward our different dealers across the globe. In addition, I support a specific team that is dedicated to Renault R-LINK, our connected car soon-to-come feature. In the car sector, the laboratory is unique in having such a full, broad digital portfolio.

You recently began taking orders for the Clio with R-LINK in France. What has been the consumer response?

We started taking orders for the new Clio in Europe in October, and R-LINK will be put on the market in early 2013. By 2015, we should have several hundred thousand, if not more than 1 million, cars equipped with it. Both launches have been disconnected. R-LINK is a major step forward for Renault, especially on the international remit covering so many countries. We want to make sure we have the right number of services for each country. It's a bit like the launch of mobile multimedia for telcos 10 years ago. The quality of the launch is definitely the priority.

You've launched the first-ever automotive app store. Many people say it's impossible for automakers to do this successfully. What is the technology and business strategy Renault has employed?

R-LINK consists of three things: an integrated tablet in your car with a 17-inch screen, a connection via a local agreement with a mobile operator, and a combination of integrated services and a Renault app store, an iTunes-like store. Technically, it's working. From a regional point of view, depending on each country, we have to have local agreement that the services make sense for the local market. It's quite a big job. Even though the internal teams have been working on that for quite some time, we are putting on the pressure for the full launch in 2013. It's a major change for a carmaker, a new type of product and a new business model. There are different type of expertise required at each layer of the product funnel, from engineering to production to marketing and sales. (For more on apps, see Industry insight: Telematics and apps.)

What's it like, coming from digital media to automotive?

It's a shock, and at the same time, it's relaxing. I'm not under the same stress I used to have at lastminute.com when sales were dropping. At the same time, because we are tackling so many different topics in 50 or 60 countries, with everything so new and having so few internal resources locally, the roadmap is very busy. We are constantly in contact with our different markets, asking lots of different questions, asking for content, asking for guidelines.

In March, Renault and Laboratoire Paris Région Innovation created a start-up incubator focused on mobility-related connected services. What is Renault learning from this about working with developers?

The idea is, with the help of the City of Paris, to each year take a few start-ups and make a commercial deal with them to help them create products for R-LINK. From a strategic point of view, the goal of Renault R-LINK is threefold. The first goal is adding value to the unique selling proposition by enriching our product line. Number two, with R-LINK we will have the opportunity to be always connected with our consumers. In that case, R-LINK becomes a very interesting, targeted CRM tool. The third, more long-term goal is that, with R-LINK, we are creating to some extent a sixth medium. We are just starting to think about potential media revenue coming from that. (For more on CRM, see Telematics and customer relationship management; for more on mobility, see Industry insight: The connected car.)

Susan Kuchinskas is a regular contributor to TU.

For more on apps and mobility, see Industry insight: Telematics and apps and Industry insight: The connected car.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Content & Apps for Automotive Europe 2013 on June 17-21.

Coming up: V2X for Auto Safety and Mobility Europe 2013 on February 20-21 in Frankfurt, Telematics for Fleet Management Europe 2013 on March 19-20 in Amsterdam, Telematics India and South Asia 2013 on April 16-17 in India, Insurance Telematics Europe 2013 on May 8-9 in London, Telematics Russia 2013 on May 14-15 in Moscow and Telematics Detroit 2013 on June 5-6.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: In-Vehicle Smartphone Integration Report, Human Machine Interface Technologies and Smart Vehicle Technology: The Future of Insurance Telematics.

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