Telematics and emerging electric vehicle technology, part I

Telematics and emerging electric vehicle technology, part I

Remember US President Barack Obama’s 2011 State of the Union Address when he boldly proclaimed that with more research and incentives the United States could be the first country in the world to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015? It’s not going to happen, not by 2015 anyway.

Ditto for China’s ambitious goal of becoming the world leader in plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) manufacturing by 2015, with an annual output of 500,000 cars. Try more like 45,000 units sold in 2015 and 152,000 in 2017, says Pike Research, the clean tech consultancy that is now part of Navigant Consulting.

So does this mean that all this talk about electric mobility about to take off was mere hubris?

Hardly, says Dave Hurst, senior research analyst at Pike Research. “We still see it as a very positive story,” he says, pointing out that PEVs already outsell hybrids nearly two to one when compared to first-year sales of hybrids. The trend is expected to continue for the rest of the decade. “It’s just not as positive as everybody was kind of hoping.”

What it does mean, however, is that, barring a major breakthrough in battery technologies that will produce more capacious, affordable battery packs, gains will be incremental and rely heavily on advances in many other fields, such as lightweight car construction, range extenders and, last but not least, telematics, which is becoming a particular favorite for its capacity to not only enhance the functionality of PEVs but also to contribute to a more stable, efficient power grid through smart charging. (For more on telematics and PEVs, see Industry insight: Electric vehicles.)

Electric vehicle telematics

According to Pike Research, 94 percent of PEVs sold in 2017 will come with a basic telematics package, which will translate into worldwide annual sales of electric vehicle telematics of almost $1.4 billion. Nearly nine out of ten PEVs already come with telematics.

For now, the emphasis is on telematics solutions alleviating range anxiety by providing drivers with information on the range of their vehicles and location the nearest charging stations. But attention will increasingly shift toward more sophisticated infotainment solutions, such as live traffic, weather, streaming content and cloud-based applications, according to Pike Research.

Denis Darmouni, who is in charge of connected services, EV and B2B, at Renault, a PEV pioneer in Europe, says the principle role of electric vehicle telematics now is “to reassure the customer” with real-time information about the vehicle’s effective range, to provide alerts via text message or email about the vehicle’s state of charge and to continue expanding the service offering with PEV-relevant features, such as remote activation of heating and air-conditioning, which not only adds to the driver’s comfort but also extends the vehicle’s range when engaged while the vehicle is still plugged in.

“Step one is to introduce very simple services that the customer can uses every day,” Darmouni says. “After that we can imagine new telematics services which combine, for example, [advanced driver-assistance systems] and car data for car-to-car or vehicle-to-infrastructure solutions.”(For more on vehicle-to-infrastructure solutions, see Industry insight: Telematics and V2V/V2X technologies.)

These new telematics services, particularly in the infotainment area, are likely to come through R-Link, an integrated, connected tablet that will debut on Renault ZOE, a compact city PEV. But just in case a hardware upgrade is necessary as well, Renault is also working on ways to swap the car’s telematics control unit for a better one, though “it’s very difficult to upgrade a computer embedded in the car,” Darmouni says.

Car-sharing and PEVs

Although consumer interest in PEVs has been strong in the United States, most industry watchers still expect fleets to drive wider adoption of these vehicles, at least for the time being. And they agree that city car sharing with its emphasis on clean mobility and short distances traveled is shaping up as the perfect first candidate.

“Electric cars can’t start without car sharing and car sharing can’t start without telematics,”says Olivier de Jerphanion, who is in charge of telematics and mobility solutions at IER, a subsidiary of France’s Bolloré Group, which operates a fleet of 2,000 PEVs in Paris as part of an electric car sharing project called Autolib.

The project works much like the already popular bicycle sharing. Each PEV features a black box with a GSM, GPRS and CAN bus connection, an RFID reader for user identification, ignition interlock and a remote door/unlock. The booking is done online, and the tracking technology ensures that the vehicle is available at the right place and at the right time. The GPRS connection makes it possible to customize each car with a personal greeting, favorite radio presets and last trip’s information on the embedded sat nav so as to give the driver the impression that it is his own car, de Jerphanion says. (For more on car-sharing and other forms of electric mobility, see Telematics and the car-as-service model, Telematics and electric mobility, part I and Telematics and electric mobility, part II.)

High energy consumption

Still much work remains to be done. During the first year of operation, Autolib, which launched in late 2011, exceeded expectations in the number of subscribers, but it also showed that telematics can be as much an enabler of electric mobility as an obstacle to it.

According to de Jerphanion, Autolib’s PEVs have a stated range of around 250 kilometers but achieve only about 150. Some of this is because of the car’s use on the congested Paris streets. But it is also due to high consumption of all the telematics hardware onboard.

For example, the always-on GPRS connection makes it easy for support staff to help customers with queries like whether their vehicle is actually on. “There is no noise, no sound, nothing when you start the vehicle, so we have some calls where the driver doesn’t understand that the vehicle has already started,” de Jerphanion says. “There is only one difference on the dashboard … a small indicator light.” But it also drains the battery and cuts out in underground garages.

As a result, Autolib is looking into alternative options including near-field connectivity and communication over the charging cable when the vehicle is plugged in.

Another problem is that the RFID reader has no sleep mode and thus also contributes to energy loss. “The first challenge of Autolib in Paris was the time to market, we only had six months to have something working,” de Jerphanion says. “So at the beginning, we have done everything to be ready and after that we have made a lot of work to optimize everything.”

Still de Jerphanion is bullish on electric mobility, particularly when it comes to PEVs in fleets. “We are real optimistic but more with car-sharing solutions,“ he says. “Bolloré Group sells some cars to end users, but I think we will have big fleets first with car sharing and big cities. For the moment, the battery is very expensive.”

PEV fleets

City CarShare, a nonprofit car-sharing organization serving the San Francisco Bay area, also relies on telematics to stay on top of its 400 vehicles, 18 of which are now PEVs.

Each car is equipped with a tracking and security system that communicates via cellular, operates the ignition interlock, unlocks doors and reports back to City CarShare the miles driven. With PEVs in the fleet, the information City CarShare needs to track has broadened to also include the state of battery charge, whether the car is plugged in and whether it is charging.

As this information is typically available through the vehicle’s own built-in telematics, City CarShare is using those instead of installing its own hardware. The problem is that Mike Harrigan, the efleet program manager of CityCarShare, must access each car individually. “It would be nice to plug something in and read that data, but most of the manufacturers won’t provide us with the codes that allow us to read that data,” he says.

And so City CarShare has had to team up with a third-party provider to work out a solution that pings each car every 10 or 15 minutes and supplies it with a consolidated update for all PEVs in the fleet.

This solution is not enough to ensure that drivers don’t forget to start charging the vehicle upon dropping it off. The car not only needs to be plugged in, but charging does not start until the driver activates it with his key fob. But it is close enough for Harrigan to tell when the car is ready to go out on another reservation.

Next week: Telematics and emerging electric vehicle technology, part II.

Jan Stojaspal is a regular contributor to TU.

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

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Telematics India and South Asia 2013 on April 17-18 in Bangalore, India, Insurance Telematics Europe 2013 on May 7-8 in London, Data Business for Connected Vehicles Japan 2013 on May 15-16 in Tokyo, Telematics Detroit 2013 on June 5-6, Content & Apps for Automotive Europe 2013 on June 18-19 in Munich, Insurance Telematics USA 2013 on September 4-5 in Chicago, Telematics Russia 2013 on September 9-10 in Moscow, Telematics LATAM 2013 in September in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Telematics Japan 2013 on October 8-10 in Tokyo and Telematics Munich 2013 on November 11-12.

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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