The nonstop chatter about self-driving vehicles usually includes a caveat that this technology is at least seven years in the future. That raises a pressing question: What will the connected-vehicle space look like in the years before vehicles become fully autonomous?
This year, DMI developed CATE—Connected Autonomous Transport Ecosystem—to help the auto industry clear a path to developing vehicles that drive themselves. The CATE framework has three phases:
- Connected: The current phase. Vehicles use mobile technologies and a smattering of in-vehicle apps connected via cellphone networks.
- Hybrid: 2020+. Vehicles use faster networks, more powerful processors and emerging technologies to assist drivers and streamline travel.
- Autonomous: 2025+. Vehicles become fully self-driving, transforming the travel environment.
Automakers and OEMs have no time to lose—vehicles of the 2020s are already on their drawing boards. As they enter CATE’s Hybrid Phase, the challenge facing carmakers is immense. They must fold connectivity technologies and consumer expectations into their designs while fending off tech giants and VC-funded startups angling to disrupt the industry.
Our view at DMI is that automakers and their partners need a 180-degree shift in perspective. Today’s connected vehicles are inside-out products, linking people to the world beyond their windshields. In the hybrid phase and beyond, carmakers must think outside-in—helping travelers pull content and services intotheir vehicles.
We expect connected vehicles to evolve like smartphones, with third-party apps and wireless networks setting off an explosion of consumer choice. As mobile device manufacturers, automakers need to create platforms that enable consumer choice instead of limiting it.
That’s a major U-turn for car companies. For more than a century, engineers have made the most critical decisions about the features car buyers enjoy. That will change dramatically in the Hybrid Phase of the CATE framework. Indeed, it’s already happening: Apple, Google and Microsoft all have in-vehicle operating systems. The wise carmaker will allow travelers to use all of them (and all the apps they empower).
We see these forces driving CATE’s hybrid phase:
High-bandwidth mobile networks
Advanced 4G and eventually 5G wireless networks enable vehicles to become nodes on the global internet. As connected mobile platforms, vehicles put the smartphone on wheels, opening broad avenues of consumer choice. High bandwidth also allows the rise of smart cities, IoT sensors and many more data sources that can optimize and streamline travel.
Voice commands, APIs and open platforms
CATE is voice-driven, but we do not envision inventing new voice applications. Instead, we advise using APIs to connect CATE to existing voice assistants like Siri and Alexa. People already use these voice tools at home and on their phones, so they expect the same in their vehicles. Standards-based development on open platforms lets carmakers leave most of the high-tech heavy-lifting to third parties. APIs can stitch everything together.
Machine learning, data science and digital personas
Networked travelers will generate terabytes of data. Advanced algorithms will fold these inputs into location-aware digital personas that follow travelers into any vehicle. The persona tracks their preferences, anticipates their desires and optimizes their travel from the moment they pull out of the driveway.
People in vehicles buy gas, visit national parks, hire mechanics, pay insurance premiums and much more. Carmakers add a wealth of value in these scenarios—but don’t collect a penny. That can change. Carmakers should follow the example of credit card companies and find ways to collect small commissions from their customers’ purchases. We expect the rise of third-party networks and applications that help travelers seamlessly conduct mobile commerce. That could provide a fresh revenue stream to automakers.
Of course, the smartphone-on-wheels analogy has its limits. Vehicles don’t have to fit into people’s pockets or purses. Indeed, we expect carmakers to maintain broad control of the physical shape and structure of automobiles.
The challenge for carmakers is making the shift to enabling consumer choice and letting go of their instinct to control every facet of the in-vehicle experience.
Our advice: think software, not hardware.
SVP of Digital Strategy & Chief Digital Officer