Weekly Brief: BMW responds as 2 million of its cars shown vulnerable to hacking

In this week’s Brief: BMW, German Automobile Association, Octo Telematics, SAS, Volkswagen, RAC Limited, OnStar, Apple, ELEKS, Tesla, President Obama, U.S. Congress, Baron Services, Earth Networks and WeatherBug.


Another week, another researcher proving just how susceptible connected cars are to the threat of hackers. This time it was BMW playing the role of dummy, as researchers at the German Automobile Association were able to create a rogue mobile phone network that duped BMW cars into connecting with it — thus allowing researchers to unlock those cars via the ConnectedDrive app at their pleasure.


Note that no real cars were maliciously hacked, and BMW was able to quickly close the security gap and issue an over-the-air software update to all 2.2 million of its cars that were impacted by the security risk, from BMWs to Minis to Rolls-Royces. But carmakers are clearly skating on thin ice at this point. Beef up security proactively, these repeated benevolent hackings suggest, or start to pay the consequences with hackers far less well intentioned.


In other news, Octo Telematics strengthened its usage-based insurance offering with a global partnership with analytics experts SAS. Octo is on the hunt for ways to provide more value to insurers, and it believes that a partnership with SAS, whose analytics algorithms can provide deeper consumer insight, more robust CRM, more accurate pricing and a more predictable risk base will help it accomplish that. Octo says that consumers will benefit as well with better, more individualized pricing and improved safety. The companies will jointly create new analytics algorithms and services and will execute a shared go-to-market strategy to select insurers.


On the fleet telematics front, Volkswagen launched “Volkswagen Telematics,” an aftermarket plug-in device that targets the lightweight segments of trucks and vans. The dongle gives fleet managers in the U.K. transparency into all the basic metrics of vehicle usage — fuel consumption, location, diagnostics, driving behavior — and alerts them to emergencies. Volkswagen developed the solution in tandem with British roadside assistance experts RAC Limited and plans to bake it into future VW vans, including the forthcoming T6 Volkswagen Transporter. Monthly cost comes out to £12.50 per vehicle.


OnStar updated its RemoteLink App with a spiffed up user interface and some nice new features, including the ability to view data consumption and see how much data is left on a particular plan. Customers also can now manage their Wi-Fi hotspot from the app. Core capabilities remain the same remote engine start/stop, remote lock/unlock and remote locate, which pinpoints the location of a car on a map. The app is free for five years for those who purchase a GM car model year 2014 or newer.


Mere days after Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that the long-awaited Apple Watch would launch in April 2015, software engineering firm ELEKS debuted a third-party Apple Watch app for remotely controlling the Tesla Model S. The app works like most remote control apps — remote lock/unlock, pinpoint location, battery charge, turning on the headlights, etc. — but it comes with this fancy YouTube video. Tesla is yet to reveal if it will launch its own Apple Watch app, but given CEO Elon Musk’s proclivity for technology, we would be shocked if it didn’t.


Sticking with electric vehicles (EVs), the battery-powered market got a potential boost from President Obama, who put forth in his annual budget submission to the U.S. Congress a proposal for an instant $10,000 rebate on all new EVs. A $7500 tax rebate already exists for EV purchasers, but that hasn’t incentivized buyers at the rate Obama would like to curb omissions and change the driving paradigm away from big gas guzzling cars. The instant federal rebate wouldn’t affect existing state rebates.


Iceberg dead ahead! Ok, maybe not exactly, but when it comes to a patch of fog or a downpour of rain, real-time weather updates could be a nice feature in a connected car. Baron Services signed a deal with Earth Networks, the parent company of WeatherBug, to deliver precise lightning strike information to motorists. Baron Services says lightning is just the beginning, and that it’s working with carmakers to build a robust API that continuously feeds every type of real-time weather and storm tracker updates to cars.


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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