Weekly Brief: Ford announces SYNC Connect, its first embedded telematics system

In this week’s Brief: The LA Auto Show, Audi of America, BMW of North America, Nissan, Volvo, CarCharging/Blink, ChargePoint, NRG EVgo, Chevy Volt, Audi A3 E-Tron, Toyota Prius, Hyundai Sonata, Honda Civic, The Green Car Journal, Ford, OnStar, Microsoft, TeliaSonera, Berg Insights, TomTom, Masternaut, PostNord, Lekmer.com and Mat.se.
The first big auto show of the season, The LA Auto Show, often acts as a barometer for the year to come in cars. If the trend holds, electric and hybrid cars are feeling pretty good right about now, as everywhere you looked in Los Angeles was another ode to the merits of electrification. 
Audi of America pledged that one in four cars that it sells by 2025 will be EVs. Its CEO presented a “roadmap to electrification” that included the launch of the A3 Sportback e-tron plug-in hybrid later this year (along with iPad courses for salesmen, who have proven to be some of the biggest EV skeptics). Audi then plans to accelerate toward its decade-long goal of 25% electric vehicle sales with the production version of the fully electric Audi e-tron quattro concept SUV by 2018, along with other plug-in models to come.
BMW of North America and Nissan announced the creation of ROEV, a public charging collaboration meant to make it easy for drivers to charge at any public charging port. Think of it like ATMs; no matter what bank you belong to, you can draw money out of almost any ATM. BMW and Nissan think the same should be true with charging stations, no matter your charging network. The two carmakers will team with the three largest EV charging networks in the U.S., CarCharging/Blink, ChargePoint, and NRG EVgo in pursuit of interoperability at all 19,000 public, networked charging ports in America.
The Chevy Volt won the 2016 Green Car of the Year award, making it the first car to win the award twice (the first generation of the plug-in hybrid won five years ago). The other finalists were a mix of hybrids (Audi A3 E-Tron and Toyota Prius) and traditional gas-powered cars (Hyundai Sonata and Honda Civic). There were no diesels in the running, which isn’t a shocker since back in September The Green Car Journal rescinded past awards for the 2009 VW Jetta TDI and the 2010 Audi A3 TDI.
It wasn’t all EVs in LA. Ford made headlines with SYNC Connect, its first full-bore embedded telematics system. Ford SYNC has been around for years, but it’s always relied on the connectivity of a user’s smartphone rather than providing its own LTE connection. That’s about to change on the 2017 Ford Escape. Ford says it’s not planning to create call centers a la OnStar — at least not yet. To begin, the focus is on enabling new features like remote lock/unlock, remote start, and parking lot location — features that are impossible with Ford SYNC.
Volvo showed off a fancy virtual reality display using Microsoft HoloLens, the world’s first fully untethered holographic computer. Auto show visitors could strap on VR headsets and virtually explore the features of a Volvo car, there in all their pixelated glory. In the future, Volvo and Microsoft say they plan to jointly pursue next-gen automotive technologies and concepts together, including autonomous car tech. Check out a video here.
Outside of LA, TeliaSonera unveiled a new aftermarket plugin device aimed at the Nordic and Baltic countries. Telia Sense plugs into the OBD2 port and provides an in-vehicle Wi-Fi port that enables various smart features, from car diagnostics to proactive car alerts to usage-based insurance. No details of monthly subscription price yet; service will start in Sweden in 2016 with a smartphone app to accompany the hardware.
Users of carsharing services are projected to hit 20 million by 2020, a compound annual growth rate of 32% from the 6.5 million users employing the services today. That according to the latest research from Berg Insights. The number of cars used for carsharing services will grow at roughly the same CAGR (29%), from 123,000 at the end of 2015 to 450,000 at the end of 2020. No wonder so many carmakers are rolling out carsharing services in conjunction with cities and private luxury condominiums around the world. 
Berg also released interesting research on the growth of the fleet management industry: Telematics systems in Europe are projected to double between now and 2019, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 15% from 4.40 million units in 2014 to 8.9 million units in 2019. TomTom has whipped past Masternaut to become the leading fleet management provider in Europe.
Finally, want to remove the hassle of Christmas shopping from the holiday season? Have a Volvo? Live in Sweden? You’re in luck! Volvo debuted the first commercially available in-car delivery service in time for the December holiday rush. The system is straight-forward: a digital key grants delivery personnel one-time access to vehicles, allowing them to deposit packages in a car’s trunk. PostNord, the Nordic region’s leading communication and logistics supplier; Lekmer.com, the leading Nordic online toy and baby goods store; and Mat.se, a Swedish online grocery retailer, are all on-board. 
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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