TU-Automotive Europe 2017: Day 1

In redefining the role and function of the automobile, in-car connectivity is enabling a singular, and very welcome, coupling of private and public needs. With urban populations predicted to soar and cities already plagued by the unwelcome side-effects of too many cars in too small a space, such as traffic congestion and pollution, it is now widely believed (and sincerely hoped) that the connected car will make it possible to reduce the impact and number of vehicles in the city without diminishing the role and revenues of the carmaker.

Considering the mutual benefits to governments and carmakers of expanding the use of connectivity, it is no surprise that the two sectors have begun to collaborate on connected mobility projects. Luuk Verheul, senior advisor for the Connecting Mobility Programme of the government of the Netherlands, was present on the first day of the TU-Automotive Europe conference, held at Munich’s MOC Veranstaltungscenter München, to describe some ongoing collaborative projects.

“There is a lot to win when we can distribute traffic more smartly,” he said, by way of introducing one project. “Road operators have been improving their ways of distributing traffic in the city for years with their traffic centres and their own sensors and using their own channels with roadside systems to the user. At the same time, navigation service providers have been developing their advice to individual road users and getting smarter and smarter.”

The project’s aim is to integrate both systems to provide better service for city drivers. “We want to design a framework where we cooperate between government and navigation service providers and OEMs. and together get into a load-balance routing system and to see how far we can get when collaborating more intensively,” he explained.

Yet another public-private collaborative project, called Talking Traffic, involves a consortium of national and regional governments and about 20 private companies. Its aim is to connect roadside systems with urban drivers and put smart traffic solutions – such as road hazard warnings, in-vehicle signage or dynamic parking information – into the vehicle

Verheul went into more detail about the project’s work with traffic lights. “In this partnership, they are working together to create an architecture where there is a traffic light exchange point and the traffic lights in the Netherlands will be replaced by intelligent traffic lights that have a module where cloud service providers can not only get data out of the system but also request a priority in the system,” he said.

This will make it possible to provide drivers with optimal speed information, for example, to create “a smooth flow in the city to get to the next green light”. It will also be possible to send data from the car to the traffic light via the vehicle’s navigation system, so that “if a crossing knows there’s a car coming that has to go to the right, it can optimise its regulation to that direction by combining the navigation system with the intersection.”

Roger Giralt Bartolome, head of car connectivity planning at SEAT, described how his company collaborated with local governments in Spain to develop its innovative in-car parking finder solution. The parking finder – which he described as “getting information from the city on the sensors of its parking stations, knowing the occupancy and providing that in real time to the customer” – was the result of meetings between the company and the Barcelona and Catalan governments aimed at “trying to find a common approach, especially on mobility”.

In these discussions, SEAT discovered that Barcelona’s municipal administration was working with the EU on a project called iCity. The aim of the project, Giralt explained, was “to standardise an IT platform and extend it to the rest of the cities of Europe in order to connect the sensors of the city, every sensor the city has, to that platform and then expose that data to third parties for free. For us, this was great news, because it exposed the parking place sensors in Barcelona”.

The solution the company created functions via a smartphone app that is connected to the vehicle. In addition, it is supplemented by a fleet of SEAT Atecas equipped with sensors that detect vacant parking places and which sends this data to the iCity platform. Not only does this solution enable SEAT to provide more value to its customers but it also helps solve the problem of congestion caused by cars looking for a rare parking space, which some data suggests causes as much as 30% of a city’s traffic tie-ups. “It is very important that this becomes a standard,” Giralt said. “Because otherwise these kinds of initiatives are not sustainable. especially for the iCity platform, where the potential is huge for other use cases.”

He said SEAT is in the process of transforming its business model “from a product-centric strategy to the user as a centre of experience.” To that end, the company has restructured itself, creating what he called “a parallel structure” alongside its traditional car making business. “We are developing and creating cars – we have to do that still – and we have created a parallel structure we call Easy Mobility Team. This is the digitalisation at SEAT.”

The parking finder is one of three ongoing mobility projects carried out in this parallel structure, Giralt said. The other two are predictive navigation and traffic management. “Predictive navigation basically connects the car to the city and gets data from the city, like important events such as football games, big concerts. Knowing that in advance and also in real time, you can predict the best route to go across the city and improve mobility.” Traffic management provides real-time traffic information as well as data on road construction sites that can have an impact on traffic.

Martin Rosell, managing director of WirelessCar, would applaud SEAT’s initiative. He believes that many carmakers are not sufficiently serious about connectivity and this could imperil the scaling of the technology.“If we don’t have the critical mass of connected cars, we will never realise all the things [we are talking about here],” he warned. “We have 1.3Bn cars running around on the planet and roughly 40 million are active connected cars. We have a huge problem.”

Rosell put all the blame squarely on the lack of initiative on the part of many car manufacturers. “This is all about the OEMs’ capability. It’s up to them to define how many connected cars we have active in 2025. They need to start work on that number seriously, because they are not doing that seriously and that’s because they don’t really understand the value of it yet. The investment in connectivity is a drop in the ocean compared to going through the whole transformation to a digital business model. It’s reengineering all legacy systems, it’s changing organisation, it’s switching 30% of the competence of a company. It’s huge investments.”

The result of this lack of initiative, he said, is a failed business model and the poor quality of the connected services. “People don’t repurchase,” Rosell noted. “The churn in the industry is enormous. So stop charging for it; just put it in. Otherwise the OEMs will never get to digital branding.”

As it happens, digital branding was the subject of a Day 1 panel discussion, chaired by Roger Lanctot, director of automotive connected mobility, global automotive practice, at Strategy Analytics. He began the presentation by summing up what Rosell would say a few hours later. “I can’t escape the notion,” Lanctot said, “that cars are changing very rapidly and yet cars are changing very slowly.”

According to panellist David Karlberg, head of product management at WirelessCar, carmakers need to change to accommodate a changed mobility world. “The key part of my perspective is, how do OEM brands change from where they are right now to where they offer something in a mobility-as-a-service world,” he said. “The key is going beyond the people who own the cars to how do you provide value for everyone else and how can you go beyond the physical car and just provide services under a OEM brand?

Tony Douglas, head of brand, marketing and communications at BMW Mobility Services, put it another way. “The typical OEM business is, I own the car and then there are some brands about usage of the car,” he explained. “Historically, it’s been one customer, one car, one parking spot – that’s been our business model. We are now moving into on-demand mobility where people have access to one car, so what you’re effectively doing is you’re selling one car a thousand times. That’s a completely different business model.”

As a result, he went on, BMW launched several brands for its various mobility services, such as carsharing (DriveNow) and parking (ParkNow). “We wanted to expand the envelope and not just sell them to BMW customers,” Douglas said. “So we launched these new brands.”

He said that scalability was a problem for car-makers moving to a digital brand. “Most digital brands scale very, very fast. The Ubers, Lyfts and so on scaled incredibly fast. Most digital players have an almost infinitely scalable business model, and this is the challenge for auto-OEMs: how do you scale and be relevant in the digital age?”

However, this rebranding is also a big opportunity for carmakers, he noted. “If I change my smartphone from an Apple to an Android, there’s a lot of pain,” Douglas said. “But if I had to change my car, there’s very little pain. Most digital players, if they get it right, they create an ecosystem where it’s a joy to stay and a pain to leave and we have to work on how do we make it a joy to stay with a platform for the user and owner.”

Solving that problem will be crucial in just a few years. “We have to wake up, because the next generation will expect it,” he warned. “My son, who is 21, has one-click access to everything. and that’s what he expects. He expects one-click access to mobility and everything else. If we want to be digital-branded, we should match what the digital generation expects.”

The one-click generation will want not only a seamless mobility experience but also a choice of mobility means. As Douglas put it: “What happens when you get on-demand mobility is people enter a world of mobility of choice. So, traditionally people have said, I’m a bus guy or I’m a train guy or I’m a car guy, and now you’re entering a world of mobility of choice and people are mixing and matching and the customer is choosing what mode of transport he’s using. In urbanisation, there’s not a lot of space to scale one customer, one car, one parking space.

According to Esa-Pekka Nykanen, director of marketing, sales and communication at MaaS Global, this will require a great deal of data and analysis by carmakers and other mobility service providers.

“The data is the key,” he said. “I envy Google or Facebook that they know so much about our lives and our intentions but players like us are in a better position to gather transportation patterns data. We have done mobility studies with universities and you can see what accumulating data can tell you.”

MaaS is launching a new product range in the Finnish capital Helsinki that may represent the future of urban mobility. “All transportation is included,” Nykanen said. “You have the car for one day or 30 days, you have the taxis when you’re not using the car, and you have free public transportation, plus the auxiliary services. [You pay] one fixed amount of money per month. That is educating people to think in that way, that instead of spending money for a mid-sized car you can have all your mobility needs covered.”

Continued on Day 2

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