Q&A: Telematics, Toyota EVs and the connected car

Q&A: Telematics, Toyota EVs and the connected car

Brian H. Inouye, national manager technology and engineering in Toyota's Advanced Technology Department, is in the driver’s seat when it comes to connected-car services. With Toyota's Prius success as the starting point, the company is rolling out a global platform to connect its EVs and hybrids to the cloud. Inouye, who joined Toyota after graduation from California Polytechnic State University, is co-inventor of a GPS gate system and an automated system for determining whether a vehicle charging station is publicly accessible. Inouye talks to TU’s Susan Kuchinskas about the connectivity solutions and business models that can power this new generation of vehicles.

What has Toyota learned in the past year from Entune and Enform?

One of biggest challenges is we're trying to figure out is the amount of consumer technology to bring into the vehicle. Each application—for example, OpenTable or MovieTickets—requires an initial setup, account setup, a user ID and account management. If you buy a laptop or phone today, it takes almost an hour before you get anything running. It asks you hundreds of questions. Does the vehicle have to do that as well? We're saying no, that's too extreme, but what's the right balance?

At the point of sale, dealers are trying to assist customers with Entune or Enform set up, but the consumer doesn't always have user IDs for the applications. Customers expect that the dealer will do it all for them. At same time, dealers are geared toward selling a product, not a Pandora account. We have a very conservative consumer base. One of the lessons is that consumers want an easy way to set up and get out of the dealership with all the services enabled. (For more on dealerships, see Viewpoint: Telematics and vehicle relationship management , Telematics: How positive customer relationships improve ROI and Reinventing the telematics service provider.)

What about the car auto-generating an account for all the services? Would that work?

It could, but the difficulty we have is that it's not a standard. As you bring in third parties, how do you automatically synchronize those accounts? It becomes very messy.

Another challenge is, even if we stick with national brands and carriers for compatibility, there are still hundreds of carriers out there. For us to educate the customer on which phones to buy and which carriers to sign up with in order to have Entune working is quite daunting for us. We can say we're compatible with Android, for example, but there are hundreds of versions out there. We're trying to please the masses and do everything right. We won't just say, ‘If you don't have an iPhone, you're out of luck.’ (For more on EVs and connected cars, see Industry insight: Telematics, electric vehicles and the connected home.)

The Sequoia 2013 includes a rear-seat Blu-Ray player. How do you see rear-seat entertainment continuing to evolve?

The evolution of rear-seat entertainment will follow a model similar to the Netflix model, where the actual player is the mechanism to play back movies or entertainment that will be coming from the cloud, just like we’re seeing the end of CDs in cars. The limiting factor right now is connectivity. LTE is what we're all waiting for, but it's still not ubiquitous, so there's still a market for DVDs. As soon as coverage improves and costs come down, the model will be similar to what you see in the home. You don't have a DVD collection any more. It's all in the cloud. Long-term, it's a screen connected to the cloud, and the user can do whatever they want with the terminal. (For more on rear-seat entertainment, see The great telematics face-off: Tablets vs. rear screens and Telematics and infotainment: Designing rear-seat solutions.)

Verizon is your connectivity partner. Will this cloud connection be via cellular, wifi or what?

It will be a mix of wifi to Bluetooth to embedded. We're working on the business models and use cases. Perhaps the premium luxury buyer will want the connectivity all the time, while in the entry compact segment, where they can't afford the luxury of having an embedded phone, they'll want to bring in their own device. We will have multiple connectivity models, from embedded to you bring your own.

Microsoft recently announced that Toyota has chosen Microsoft’s technology platforms for its communications and collaboration infrastructure. Last year, Toyota and Microsoft partnered to provide next-generation telematics services using the Windows Azure platform. How much are these two announcements related?

It's an indication of our deepening partnership and also that we recognize that the cloud is here to stay. With Toyota, we can build everything in-house if we want to, but we're recognizing that the speed of the technology supports the need for partnership. And who better to partner with? Just as all Toyota vehicles have very similar chassis, the method in which it's connected with the cloud and through the cloud back to Toyota is what we're trying to communize. Partnering with Microsoft and using Windows Azure enables the connection between vehicles and back to us in multiple markets.

We just deployed it this year. The Prius Plug-In Hybrid and the Rav4 EV are connected to the Azure platform on the back end. Toyota Smart Center is a combination of Microsoft Windows Azure and Salesforce.com to do a lot of the analytics. All these are some of the pieces we are putting together. You're seeing early indications of the direction we're taking, but there is still more to come.

Can you give us a hint of what's to come?

I can't share any insights yet. We have to forge pretty large partnership so that we can get the building blocks all in line. Once we connect them, we can do a lot of really great things.

Susan Kuchinskas is a regular contributor to TU.

For more on EVs and connected cars, see Industry insight: Telematics, electric vehicles and the connected home.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Telematics for Fleet Management USA 2012 on November 13-14 in Atlanta and Content and Apps for Automotive USA 2012 on December 4-5 in San Diego.

Coming up in 2013: V2X for Auto Safety and Mobility Europe 2013 on February 19-20 in Frankfurt, Telematics for Fleet Management Europe 2013 on March 19-20 in Amsterdam, Insurance Telematics Europe 2013 on May 8-9 in London and Telematics India and South Asia 2013 on June 5-7 in India.

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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