Weekly Brief: After decade in waiting, eCall passes European Parliament

In this week’s Brief: eCall, European Parliament, The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, Apple Watch, BMW, Hyundai, Tesla, LG, The Coalition Against Distracted Driving, Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, Google, Audi, Nokia HERE, Facebook, Uber, Daimler, Garmin, TomTom, Mozilla, Telefónica and Sygic.


It’s official: eCall, the telematics system that monitors for serious accidents and alerts emergency responders when they occur, will be mandatory in all new cars and light vans sold in the E.U. come April 2018. The measure passed the European Parliament last week after a decade in the works and a three-year legislative odyssey.


To quell concerns about data privacy, members of Parliament beefed up the data protection clause to ensure that no data is transmitted about cars’ activities before an accident happens and that owners have to consent to data being shared between emergency services and third parties. Studies suggest the technology will increase car prices by about 100 per vehicle.


The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) welcomed the decision, noting that eCall is one important step in a larger narrative arc of ramping up automotive security through connected technologies. It pointed out to news outlets, however, that the E.U. has low-balled the cost of the technology and that consumers may end up swallowing costs that exceed 100 per car.

As for data privacy, “Vehicle manufacturers are committed to protecting their customers’ privacy,” said Erik Jonnaert, ACEA Secretary General. “However, at the end of the day, we cannot forget that the primary purpose of eCall is safety. The industry feels that the final text strikes a good balance between saving lives and protecting data.”

In other news, Apple Watch fever swept into the auto world, as BMW made its BMW i Remote app compatible with the Apple Watch, and Porsche did the same with its Porsche Car Connect. Hyundai says that its Hyundai Blue Link app, already compatible with Android smartwatches, will soon be available on the Apple Watch. Tesla is in the mix as well: a third party developer has introduced an Apple Watch app, the Remote S, that allows Tesla Model S drivers to check in on their cars, from charge status to location.


Granted, all these apps differ minimally from their bigger smartphone-app kin, which often have to be running in order to power the smartwatch app in the first place. It will be interesting to see down the line if smartwatch apps take on new functions that optimise the form factor, perhaps even allowing users to steer their cars like remote control vehicles (recall back at CES 2015 Audi’s CEO steered the self-driving A7 onto the stage with an LG smartwatch).


It also will be interesting to see how companies handle distracted driving safety concerns. The Coalition Against Distracted Driving recently filed a lawsuit against Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and Google demanding that they create a billion dollar education campaign to inform users about the dangers of using smartwatches while behind the wheel.


Audi rolled out an “innovative mobility program” that allows customers to rent an Audi by the day, up to 28 days in a row. Dubbed Audi On Demand, the program is in beta trial in San Francisco, where customers can reserve their Audis, customised down to the trim they prefer, via iPhone app. Cars are available for pickup or concierge delivery and powered by digital key. Prices range from $165 per day for the Audi allroad up to $1285 per day for the R8 Spyder.


A number of parties have expressed interest in purchasing Nokia’s HERE mapping division, which is rumoured to be on the auction block for $2 billion. Interested parties include Facebook, ride-sharing app Uber, a U.S. private equity firm and a triumvirate of German carmakers that includes BMW, Audi and Daimler. That according to a new report by Reuters. No word out of Nokia yet to confirm or clarify the news.


On the navigation front, Garmin introduced the nüviCam LMTHD, which packs a suite of advanced driver assistance features into a traditional portable navigation device. The PND includes forward-collision and lane-departure warnings, while a built-in dash cam records exactly where and when events occurr and automatically saves files on impact. The device retails for $399.


TomTom announced a partnership with Mozilla and Telefónica to bring TomTom maps and navigation apps to HTML5-powered Firefox OS smartphone devices in Latin America and Europe. The Dutch navigation company also unveiled TomTom MyDrive, which allows users to review real-time traffic information, plan routes, and send destinations to their TomTom PNDs from their smartphones, tablets or PCs.


Finally, in fleet news, Sygic debuted a smartphone- and cloud-based fleet management solution called FleetWork. The program strips out the expense and IT-burden associated with a traditional fleet management solution and replaces it with a simple app that can deliver turn-by-turn navigation to a smartphone in a vehicle, then turn around and draw data from that smartphone to inform fleet managers of the whereabouts and status of their vehicles. The solution ranges from €4.99 a month per device up to 14.99, depending if users want real-time navigation or enterprise IT integration.


The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU analysis with information from industry press releases.


Andrew Tolve is a regular TU contributor.


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