Just came across this interesting article summarizing a report about the impact of car sharing on car sales. Not the original report, but well worth a read. I wonder whether the car makers setting up their own car sharing schemes, or partnering with others, know this but feel it’s inevitable anyway (like the telcos preparing their own VOIP services to bypass their circuit switched networks) or whether they haven’t really thought about it, at least not at a strategic level.
I went to this – nice food, super venue, a good crowd. The presentations, and the discussion facilitated by Rory Cellan-Jones of the BBC were both a bit lame, though; nothing you couldn’t have learned from say, reading an article in The Economist on the subject. There was a surprising degree of interest in connected agriculture – maybe because it seems more gritty and real than the beardy-weirdy consumer apps that nobody can really imagine wanting themselves. Funny, because most of this stuff is really quite old, though the panel didn’t seem to know all that much about it. The connected cow was a big thing at this year’s Mobile World Congress, and I was writing about using what would now be called big data to improve the milk yield in developing countries 20 years ago. Telenor has a subsidiary that does nothing except this. Ho hum.
This has been – forgive me – in the ether for a while, but at last it is formally announced, in this press release from the Weightless SIG. Weightless has been drifting for a bit, because the original vision of using the TV White Space spectrum doesn’t seem to have worked out too well – it’s too fragmented, it’s not available where you want it most – and because the world is suddenly full of low power players operating in unlicensed spectrum. This is Weightless’s go at grabbing some of that opportunity, in an appropriately standards-based way rather than the proprietary technologies on which the many competitors seem to rely.
Perhaps it was no more than an unfortunate coincidence that the publicity stand for Brussels’ car free Sunday was situated right outside the hotel where Automotive Megatrends 2014 was being held. But there it was; the first thing to greet arrivals at the conference was partially crushed blue Mini, with a tape measure around what might have been its waistline to emphasize the relationship between car-driving and obesity. Surrounding the Mini were posters proclaiming the virtues of other, less polluting and more calorie-burning modes of urban mobility such as cycling and walking.
Coincidence or not, there was a certain resonance between the promotion outside and the event inside. Overall the conference had a slightly melancholy tone. There was lots of talk about the schedule for new regulations and the need to reduce carbon emissions. In the freight part of the conference there was, unsurprisingly, much discussion about how to improve fuel economy, and an acknowledgement that the externally imposed sustainability and environmental agenda were largely in step with the industry’s own imperatives of cost reduction and greater efficiency. We were particularly struck by a contribution from Professor David Cebon of the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight, which presented the findings from a model of truck fleet fuel usage. The results clearly showed that some kinds of efficiency saving matter a great deal and others are little more than distractions; the biggest impact of all would come from reducing empty loads, which account for 40% of wasted energy. The clear subtext of Cebon’s presentation was that despite lots of talk, neither the industry nor the regulators were taking the steps that are absolutely necessary to control CO2 emission and protect margins.
Some of the presentations in the car section were even more dismal, with a focus on the demographics of car purchase. Paco Soler, of automotive marketing consultancy Urban Science, was brutally frank; the Western European market for new cars is devoid of growth. Projections are more cheerful for Eastern Europe, though these look less certain in the light for recent geopolitical developments. The average age at which people learn to drive, or buy a car, is increasing every year. The world-wide trend towards urbanisation may not be helping either. At least in some cities traffic congestion and parking difficulties is putting people off car ownership, if not car usage. In Berlin some 41% of households don’t own cars, and the UK census suggests that the figure is similar for London.
On the other hand, there was real enthusiasm towards car sharing schemes and ‘car clubs’, a new business model for the industry that would have been unthinkable without both connected cars and high smartphone penetration. Car manufacturers were dipping their toes into this emerging opportunity, often in partnership with either traditional car rental companies (such as BMW’s joint venture with Sixt for DriveNow) or with sharing start-ups (such as Ford’s partnership with Flinkster, owned by rail operator Deutsche Bahn).
But even the whizziest parts of the programme, focusing on the potential for advanced services that could be enabled by connectivity to the car, were touched with more than a little anxiety. David Mingay of London-based digital design agency Ustwo exhorted car makers to take back control of the UI, and not to let third parties – especially not giants like Apple, Google, and Microsoft – get between the OEM’s customers and their experience of connected car services. They should, he said, treat the design of the interface with as much seriousness as they apply to the cars’ interiors and exteriors. Ustwo has lots of smart things to say about the UI for connected cars, and he’s right about the principle, of course, but it’s hard to take seriously the idea of car companies taking on Apple or Google in the light of their actual achievements in service design; Mingay himself showed screenshots of Ferrari’s in-car system, which used exactly the same UI as that of the Chrysler commercial mini-van. It was all rather reminiscent of telecoms industry conferences, where the carriers would all solemnly pledge their intention not to be bit pipes.
I just watched this video about Navdy, an add-on head-up display that will show the activities of your smartphone screen in the windscreen as you drive. A cool idea, though the implementation as showed in the video doesn’t quite match up to their advertising slogan “feels like driving in the future”. It doesn’t look quite ready to me.
I’m not drawn to this, even though I rather like the style of the video.
The customer demographics stuff is interesting, in particular the evidence that sharing is really already mainstream; but the best bit is towards the end, where the authors think through how mainstream companies can engage with the sharing economy. Definitely worth a read.
As Paul Merton would probably have said, my career as an independent telecoms analyst did not last long. I will be joining Machina Research, global advisors on M2M, the Internet of Things and Big Data, as a principal analyst on 1st September. I’ll be focusing on Connected Cars and M2M/IoT platforms. I look forward to continuing my association with all of the interesting companies and people I met during my time at Ovum and during my brief period of independence.
And that’s all today’s government announcement says, really. All the rest is hype. It will be possible for local authorities to allow trials on roads they control. Despite the headlines, this is not about driverless cars being in full use by next year.
A really rather good and sensible article in the MIT Technology review pointing out the immensity of the driver-less car challenge, and reporting that others (i.e. not Google) are scaling back expectations about when automated driving cars will really be available.
Described here in this post on Smart Chimps. A real internet of things approach, based on using interfaces to existing platforms rather than the silo’d services from which telcos hope to make money, either by themselves or by white-labelling the services of others. Here it’s bring your own hardware, bring your own connectivity, and define your own services. Of course, there will be plenty of customers who don’t want to do any bringing or defining, but are they in the market for anything at all? And will the telco services really address their need for something that works right out of the box, or will even these need to be configured in ways that will defeat this sort of user? I suspect so.