Weekly Brief: Mobile’s biggest players cozy up to connected car at MWC

In this week’s Brief: Mobile World Congress, Samsung, OnStar, Verizon Hum, Zubie, Automatic, LG, Intel, GSMA, Jaguar, Ford, BP, Parkopedia, HARMAN, Rinspeed, Nissan, Movimento, Vidder, Aricent, Visa, Honda, ParkWhiz, SEAT, SAP, Volvo, Sunfleet, Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Uber.
Talk about the ultimate conference crashers. Connected cars have become so commonplace at events like the Consumer Electronics Show and last week’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) that they hardly raise an eyebrow anymore. What was interesting to see in Barcelona, therefore, was not the mere presence of connected cars (of which there were plenty), but rather just how seriously mobile’s biggest players are taking the connected car space.
Take Samsung. There was the world’s largest smartphone maker and a perennial powerhouse at Mobile World Congress debuting a connected car product right alongside its new flagship smartphone. Samsung Auto Connect is a “ground-breaking” solution that plugs into the OBD II port and sends all sorts of updates, break downs and alerts to a driver’s smartphone. The goal is to improve driving performance and road safety. “Ground-breaking” this is not; anyone who has used aftermarket OnStar, or Verizon Hum, or Zubie or Automatic, will recognise that. But clearly Samsung wants in on the connected car game, and it used mobile’s biggest platform to get started.
Ditto with LG. The South-Korean electronics company announced at MWC that it’s working with Intel to push wireless technology for cars into the next frontier of 5G. What’s the big deal about 5G, you ask? Take the current speed with which data can be transferred to or from a connected car on 4G and multiple it by 33. Faster apps, faster over-the-air (OTA) updates, more reliable connection to the internet. LG and Intel say they’re focused on vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I), and vehicle-to-pedestrian communication.
GSMA, the host organisation behind MWC, created a whole “Innovation City” this year devoted to the Internet of Things. The centrepiece was the connected car and F-Pace, Jaguar’s first SUV and its first vehicle fitted with the new InControl Touch Pro infotainment system. Beyond a snazzy touch screen that allows you to pinch to zoom and swipe just like a smartphone, the infotainment system is one of the first in the world to feature a GSMA embedded SIM that allows it to sync up with any mobile operator and easily switch from one to the next without compromising data in the process.
Ford unveiled the Ford Kuga SUV, the first vehicle to feature Ford’s new SYNC 3 infotainment platform (the car also offers hands-free parking and collision avoidance). In a keynote, Ford CEO Mark Fields promised that SYNC 3 will arrive in Europe this year, as will Ford’s new customer customer experience app, FordPass. The latter allows users to find nearby gas stations and parking spots and easily schedule maintenance at dealerships. Ford has enlisted partners BP and Parkopedia to help the app find greater traction.
HARMAN and automotive think tank Rinspeed showed off a driverless car concept called the Budii, whose most notable feature is a steering wheel that slides laterally and even collapses in upon itself. The idea is to create more room for all those non-driving activities that drivers will have time for when their cars take over. Crosswords. Shaving. Sleeping. You name it.
Nissan “unboxed” an updated version of the Nissan Leaf. Literally. Like had a giant box on the conference stage with a brand-new Leaf 30kWh tucked inside. The updated EV offers a 26% increase in range on a single charge.
If connected cars are to remain current in the ever-changing world of consumer electronics, OTA updates are key. They’re also a security risk, says Movimento, which announced a partnership with security provider Vidder to make OTA updates virtually impervious to potential hacks. Movimento says it will incorporate Vidder's Software Defined Perimeter (SDP) components into its OTA platform. 
Movimento also wants to make OTA updates smarter and more targeted. To that end, it announced a partnership with engineering firm Aricent to make it easier for carmakers to turn data from cars into insightful business intelligence and then turn around a deliver the right OTA updates at the right time.
If smartphones can be turned into mobile payment platforms, what’s to stop cars from doing the same? That’s the question Visa posed at its car-based commerce showcase. The company demoed two apps built in conjunction with Honda (and displayed in a Honda head unit) that allowed drivers to a) pay for parking at a ParkWhiz garage with a simple tap of a button on the phone and b) pay for gas in one click without leaving the car. No more flagging down the attendant after entering your zip code four times to no avail.
Carmaker SEAT, Samsung and SAP are experimenting with car-based commerce as well. The three showcased a version of the SEAT Connect app that allows drivers to reserve a parking space from any location through fingerprint recognition, navigates the driver to the location and automatically raise the access gate when the car approaches. When the driver exits the carpark, payment is planned to be made directly from the app without leaving the car. 
Key-less cars were a hot topic. As we detailed last week, Volvo is currently piloting a mobile app in Gothenburg, Sweden, that allows a smartphone to unlock, lock and start the ignition on a Volvo car. Volvo is partnering with car-sharing service Sunfleet on the pilot and was on hand in Barcelona to show off the solution.
SEAT is working on something similar with Samsung. Again, a mobile app allows users to unlock, lock and fire up a car. The difference here is that the app allows owners of a vehicle to issue virtual keys to other users for a set period of time — however long the owner would like. The owner can also specify how fast the car can be driven to ensure that they are comfortable in a ride-sharing situation.
Two interesting items outside of MWC:
The average electric vehicle will cost less than the average car with an internal combustion engine by 2022, according to a new report from research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The report points to the fact that battery cost, the single most expensive component in EVs, is on a steady decline, with a 65% drop between 2010 and 2015. Once EVs are cheaper than their competition, the report forecasts a steep rise in adoption, climbing from the 1% market share of today to 25% by 2040.
Finally, forget Detroit or Silicon Valley. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, will serve as Uber’s new hub for testing self-driving cars. The ride sharing juggernaut has big ambitions when it comes to autonomous tech, and it plans to hash those out at a new 178-acre Advanced Technologies Centre in the sleepy community of Hazelwood on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. Uber plans to build test roads for self-diving pilots and renovate an old train roundhouse for office and research spaces.
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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