Telematics in Brazil: Security for cars and cargo, part I

Telematics in Brazil: Security for cars and cargo, part I

By almost any measure, the tracking and immobilization module to be installed in all new vehicles under Brazil’s Contran 245 government legislation is a feat of electronic engineering.

The GSM/GPRS device features the world’s first interoperable SIM card capable of supporting as many as 30 wireless carriers. Its remotely triggered immobilizer can disable a vehicle pretty much the moment it is reported stolen. And its open-platform architecture is designed to host a broad range of add-on services, from infotainment to remote vehicle diagnostics.

But will high tech translate into low theft in Brazil?

“There are a variety of apocalyptic scenarios—jamming, people will just carjack cars with the driver,” says Roger Lanctot, associate director in the global automotive practice of Strategy Analytics. “The thieves are very creative, so it may be hard to predict what will occur once the system launches. But taking some measures is better than not taking any measures at all.” (For more on Contran 245, see Telematics in Brazil and LATAM: Going beyond GPS and Telematics in Brazil: The law of the market.)

Stopping theft

Unlike in Europe or the United States, where in recent years the main focus has been on safety, fleet management and infotainment, telematics in Brazil is still more or less about theft prevention. And for good reason. With some 400,000 vehicles stolen annually, one every 78 seconds, Brazil is one of the worst places on Earth to own a car.

High prices for spare parts mean that a great number of passenger cars end up in chop shops. While the front hood for a Fiat Palio costs $700 dollars new, it is only $250 on the black market, according to the United Kingdom-based automotive technology consultancy SBD.

In the commercial vehicle space, high-value cargo consisting of things like consumer electronics and designer clothes are particularly popular targets. “In Europe and the U.S., we are talking about Facebook and Twitter and these goofy concepts,” Lanctot says. “In Brazil it’s, ‘Look, I don’t want my car to be stolen again.” (For more on security, see Telematics in Brazil: Ensuring security for cars and cargo.)

Contran 245 is a radical solution to an extreme problem that costs the economy some $9 billion in stolen vehicles and cargo a year and mars the country’s international image as a rising economic powerhouse.

Passed in 2007, the legislation demands that all new vehicles sold in Brazil must come with a line-fitted tracking and immobilization module. The hope is that enough activated tracking modules will create a large enough deterrent to discourage thieves. After a number of delays, the legislation is now expected to be implemented early next year. (For more on Brazil and LATAM, see Telematics opportunties in Brazil and LATAM, part I and Telematics opportuntiies in Brazil and LATAM, part II.)

Cellular jamming

But if the past is any indication, Contran 245 in and of itself will hardly solve the problem. When immobilizers became standard on vehicles, car-jacking rates surged. Similarly, when GPS/GPRS-based tracking technologies started to proliferate, the thieves started jamming signals. Today, there are parts of São Paulo that are essentially cellular dead zones due to heavy jamming activity.

What’s more, a jamming device need not be a complicated machine, says Ricardo Takahira, new business manager, electric vehicles, innovation, partnership, at Magneti Marelli Sistemas Automotivos, the Brazilian branch of the Italian automotive components and systems manufacturer. Sometimes all that is needed is ten cents worth of tin foil to drape over a $100 tracking device to block incoming GPS signals and disrupt communications over the cellular network.

Having the Contran 245 module line-fitted by vehicle manufacturers, and its location therefore well known, doesn’t help either, says Yaron Littan, CEO at Ituran Brazil, a leading vehicle tracking and theft prevention company.

Anti-jam solutions

“The most fundamental question that the bandit has today—if the car has a device or not—is answered,” he says. “So the bandit now knows if there is a tracking device from the year of the car, where the device is or how to block it.”

There may not be a perfect anti-jam solution, but there are ways to push back, says Robert Gee, product line manager for telematics and connected systems at Continental Automotive. “Certainly, if you get enough RF noise into the area, it will disrupt the communication with the cell tower,” he says. “But there are ways to handle this.”

Continental builds tracking modules that can detect the onset of jamming early enough to send one last burst of location data before all cellular connectivity is lost. This may not be enough to lead the police directly to the stolen vehicle, but it can give them a radius in which to search. And if GPS signal is lost, dead reckoning technology can calculate the vehicle's approximate location using its speed and course.

Jan Stojaspal is a regular contributor to TU.

Next week: Telematics in Brazil: Security for cars and cargo, part II.

For more on the LATAM telematics market, see Special report: Telematics and emerging markets.

For all the latest telematics trends in LATAM, check out Telematics Brazil & LATAM 2012 on Sept. 12-13 in Sao Paulo.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Insurance Telematics USA 2012 in September in Chicago, Telematics Japan 2012 in October in Tokyo, Telematics Munich 2012 on October 29-30, and Content and Apps for Automotive USA 2012 on Dec. 4-5 in San Diego.

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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