Weekly Brief: Telematics comes under fire

In this week’s Brief: Ford, Hagens Berman, Towergate Smart, SiriusXM Radio, AT&T, Nissan,  Better Place, Sunrise, Airmax Group, USA Sturdy Corporation, Google, TeleNav, Waze, Renaissance Insurance Group and Mobile TeleSystems.

Telematics rarely makes front-page news, and even when it does, it’s usually in the context of a new acquisition or an auto show. This week presented the opposite end of the spectrum, when it came out that Ford was being sued in a proposed class-action lawsuit for flawed telematics systems.

The case alleges that MyFord Touch, MyLincoln Touch and MyMercury Touch touchscreen systems are defective, often freezing, failing to respond to voice and touch commands, and failing to connect to mobile phones.

According to the suit, the system fails while controlling crucial vehicle functions, such as the defroster and rear-view camera, putting drivers and passengers at risk. The complaint also calls out consumer complaints involving the vehicles’ GPS navigation system.

“In theory, MyFord Touch is a brilliant idea and worth the premium that Ford charged its customers for the system,” says Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman, the national consumer-protection law firm filing the case in California. “In reality, the system is fundamentally flawed, failing to reliably provide functionality, amounting to an inconvenience at best, and a serious safety issue at worst.”

Ford is yet to issue a response.

Meanwhile in the U.K., the mainstream media jumped on usage-based insurance telematics as the cause of a teenager’s death. They claim that the teenager was racing to get home before the 11 p.m. curfew, which is what the UBI program from Towergate Smart considers late-night driving (the program issues a £100 fine for such an infraction).

He was speeding at the time of his death, but his parents say that the curfew was not to blame. Even so, it remains to be seen what sort of deleterious impact such reports have on the willingness of insurers to offer UBI solutions.

In other news, SiriusXM Radio landed a big partner in AT&T for its new in-vehicle telematics offering. The two companies will now partner to provide mobile connectivity support to Nissan vehicles in the U.S.

SiriusXM says services will range from 24/7 emergency support, stolen vehicle tracking and roadside assistance to navigation and points of interest, like gas stations and restaurants. As we mentioned two weeks ago, AT&T has placed a new emphasis on connected vehicles, with various innovation foundries around the U.S.

The international bidding war for Better Place, the bankrupted electric car start-up, came to a conclusion earlier this month as a group of entrepreneurs under the name “Sunrise” reportedly secured the company for $12 million. Better Place was one of the first attempts to package electric cars with access to a nationwide network of battery switch stations in the hopes of triggering mass adoption of electric vehicles. 

The company, which was started by Shai Agassi, a visionary Israeli entrepreneur, raised more than $850 million to spark its endeavor but never managed to deliver on its promise, as the figure of $12 million starkly illustrates. Sunrise includes entrepreneurs from Israel and Canada.

In another cross-Atlantic partnership, Airmax Group of the U.K. and Sturdy Corporation of the U.S. launched a suite of telematics apps that help integrate autonomous driving into fleets. Specifically, the apps are aimed at adaptively controlling the vehicle’s speed, revs and acceleration to reduce fuel, accidents and insurance costs.

The apps range from top-speed limiting and rev-band management through to road speed-sign adherence (Active Speed Control).

On the navigation app front, Google updated Google Maps for the iPhone and iPad. Google Maps 2.0 will still be a free app that now includes Live Traffic updates, along with enhanced navigation to accommodate shifting traffic conditions.

Google has also added indoor navigation features for malls, transit stations and airports. Finally, Google says it will start to integrate location-based deals via Google Offers.

TeleNav answered with an update to its nav app for the iPhone and Android. TeleNav’s app is also free and now includes crowd-sourced capabilities similar to the popular Waze navigation app.

TeleNav users will be able to identify various road conditions, from traffic to accidents to cars on the collar to police hunkering behind bushes. TeleNav’s bread and butter — real-time traffic data — remains the same.

Finally, returning to the topic of insurance telematics, a leading insurance company in Russia launched Smart Car Insurance, a black-box solution that evaluates driving behavior and allows insurers to determine insurance premiums based on the track record of drivers.

Renaissance Insurance Group says the product specifically targets fleet customers and will run in tandem with Mobile TeleSystems, the largest telecom operator in Russia. This is one of the first major insurance telematics offerings in Russia, so it will be interesting to track how it performs with fleets, and whether Renaissance looks to the consumer segment next.

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.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Insurance Telematics USA 2013 on Sept. 4-5 in Chicago, Telematics Brazil & LATAM 2013 on Sept. 11-12 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Telematics Japan/China 2013 on Oct. 8-10 in Tokyo, Telematics Munich 2013 on Nov. 11-12 in Munich, Germany, Telematics for Fleet Management USA 2013 on Nov. 20-21 in Atlanta, Georgia, and Content and Apps for Automotive USA 2013 on Dec. 11-12 in San Francisco.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: Telematics Connectivity Strategies Report 2013The Automotive HMI Report 2013Insurance Telematics Report 2013 and Fleet & Asset Management Report 2012.

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