Weekly Brief: Verizon takes on OnStar, aftermarket with new Verizon Vehicle

In this week’s Brief: North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Verizon, OnStar, Ford, Google Maps, Waze, AutoNavi, Alibaba, Chevrolet, Apple CarPlay, MirrorLink, Audi, Android Auto, Moovit, BMW iVentures, Nokia Growth Partners, eCall and the UK Department for Transport.
 
If CES 2015 was all about the connected car of tomorrow — self-driving, self-parking, with next-gen in-dash infotainment — the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which kicked off last week and runs through January 25, is all about the car of today. Every major carmaker is here, pulling off the wrapping on the cars that will dominate dealer floors for the coming year or two.
 
That’s not to say the connected car hasn’t made some headlines. Verizon, for one, made a big move in announcing Verizon Vehicle, an aftermarket safety and roadside assistance offering for U.S. consumers. Verizon Vehicle, which operates much like OnStar’s aftermarket offering and will present a major competition to it, is expected to hit the market this Spring as a subscription-based service that operates through an OBD reader that users can self-install in the under-dash diagnostic port.
 
A Bluetooth-enabled speaker attaches to the visor and offers one-button push connection to a member care group, a mechanics hotline and roadside assistance, plus a second button for SOS emergency situations. Verizon Vehicle includes “Predictive Diagnostics” that translate most "Check Engine" light occurrences into real terms, including the description and severity of the matter, the probable solutions for the problem, and the appropriate cost for the repairs.
 
Finally, there’s a free smartphone app that helps drivers find their cars in parking lots, see vehicle diagnostic info, and get in touch with professionals, who in turn can contact them via phone, text or email.
 
OnStar, game on.
 
In other news, Ford announced that SYNC 3, its reimagined in-vehicle infotainment platform, will host SYNC AppLink 3.0, which leverages open-source SmartDeviceLink functionality to give developers a method to project graphics – such as maps – onto Ford vehicle touch screens. What this means for everyday users is that they’ll be able to use in-dash their favorite third-party navigation app, whether it be Google Maps, Waze, AutoNavi. Speaking of, Ford is currently working with China-based Alibaba, which powers AutoNavi, to demonstrate how a third-party app can be projected onto a vehicle touch screen for seamless use – just like on a smartphone.
 
Chevrolet was busy at the autoshow on the electric-vehicle front, as it debuted the 2016 Chevy Volt with an increased EV range to 50 miles. This is partly thanks to a lighter, stronger battery (18.4 kWh capacity) and a new two-motor drive unit that’s 12% more efficient and 100 pounds lighter than the first-generation drive unit. The car also includes Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink in its infotainment unit.
 
Chevrolet also showed off its new Bolt EV concept – a vision for an affordable, long-range all-electric vehicle designed to offer more than 200 miles of range starting around $30,000.
The car offers “operating modes” (like daily commuting or weekend cruising), which adjust accelerator pedal mapping, vehicle ride height and suspension tuning to optimize range and efficiency. The Bolt EV concept is also designed to support DC fast charging and allows drivers to stream apps and data from their smartphones onto the in-dash screen.
 
A week after making a splash at CES with its self-driving concept car the A7, Audi shuffled letters in Detroit in making the world premiere of the Q7, an SUV with a serious connectivity fetish. Features range from backseat tablets to CarPlay and Android Auto integration to a panoply of advanced driver assistance features. There are so many, in fact, that Audi had to bundle them into different packages. Standard package provides a rear parking camera, collision warning and emergency braking assistance. Then there’s a Parking package with surround view cameras and park assist; a City package with lane changing warnings and reverse assistance; and a Tour package with adaptive cruise control and traffic jam assistance. Certainly not A7 autonomy, but not far off either.
 
Outside of Detroit, interactive transit app Moovit raised $50 million in funding based on a valuation of nearly $450 million. BMW iVentures kicked in an undisclosed sum, as did Nokia Growth Partners and several other capital investment firms. Moovit combines local public transport timetables (including real-time changes) with crowd-sourced alerts about bus and rail service delays and capacity levels to provide real-time recommendations for transit. The app also provides information about further transport options such as taxis, carpooling and car-sharing services.
 
Finally, eCall took another kick in the teeth last week as the UK came out in official opposition to the European-wide emergency assistance initiative. The UK Department for Transport said that while it recognizes the positive intent of eCall and potential safety impact, the cost doesn’t justify it and it makes more sense for motorists to choose a third-party eCall system, which UK emergency call centers already support. This won’t undo eCall by any means (the UK’s support has always been in question), but it illustrates just how far the system has to go before it has gained European-wide support, one country at a time. Last year the implementation date was pushed back to 2018 (the latest in a series of delays), and now even that seems in question.
 
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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