Key takeaways

  • There is a huge shift toward internet connectivity in vehicles.
  • Car dashboards can be controlled like a smartphone, with apps installed.
  • ‘Connected cars’ could remotely control devices in the home or elsewhere.

Remember the humble car? Vehicles that used to have a straightforward purpose: to enable you to get home from work, pick up the weekly shop, or squeeze in an impossible amount of luggage and relatives on the way back from the airport?

Remember when the only form of entertainment on those long, straight, dull highways was a surf of the radio dial – your hopes hinging on the fact that the signal wouldn’t entirely crackle away before the song ended?

Now, whatever your smartphone can do – the car will probably do better.

There’s been a lot of excitement about what lies in store for our roads. Much of this focus has been on driverless cars and the extraordinary leap in technology that has enabled, for example, the first successful self-drive crossing of the US earlier this month.

A more advanced evolution, which is arguably set to have a greater impact on our everyday lives, is the connection of vehicles to the internet.

Communicate and consume media

We’ve enjoyed connectivity in cars for some time now. Communication was the obvious first step, with smartphones connecting via Bluetooth or plugging into a car kit to enable hands-free calls.

In-car entertainment has been transformed by connectivity as well. MP3 connectivity is becoming commonplace and manufacturers have integrated apps into the dashboards of new models, meaning music streaming services and other on-demand entertainment can be consumed as you drive – much the same way as it would be at home.

One of the biggest players jostling for this space is Pandora Internet Radio, which is available in around 150 car models including those of BMW, Hyundai and Mercedez-Benz.

Apple has also developed an in-car specific solution called CarPlay, which uses Siri voice control to play music and operate other apps from your iPhone through the dashboard of compatible cars. A similar interface for Android, Android Auto, was recently released in Australia, the UK and the US, but is yet to be rolled out globally.

The connected car hooks into the internet in two ways: via a secondary device such as a smartphone, or technology embedded in the car itself.

As more new cars come into circulation, there will be a greater shift towards embedded connectivity. A report by Business Intelligence estimates that by 2020, 75% of cars shipped globally will be built with internet connectivity hardware.

Although communication and the consumption of media over the internet have been enjoyed in vehicles for a while now, there are still advancements in this space to come.

Controlling everyday activities through the internet of things

With connectivity becoming embedded into cars as standard, vehicles themselves are now becoming part of the vast internet of things (IoT) – a network of devices that have the ability to communicate with each other.

This is where the possibilities get really interesting.

Linking with the IoT means that your lifestyle, home and vehicle can be connected by a series of seamless interactions controlled from just about anywhere.

Imagine this: It’s the end of your working day. Your smartphone ‘tells’ your car that you’re leaving the office. By the time you reach the vehicle, it’s been heated and the lights come on. When you start the car, it tells your central heating at home to switch on. Your dashboard pops up a map of the least congested route home. You set off on your journey.  As you turn into your street, the car has activated the gates of your home and they’re open. The porch lights switch on as you close the driver door.

Data gathering

The benefits of the connected car go further than this ‘personal assistant’ model.

Connected cars can monitor activity, gather data and communicate with the manufacturer as well as other IoT devices. This assists with maintenance, meaning systems updates or patches are automatically sent to your vehicle, requiring fewer trips to the mechanic.

Your driving performance could be logged, meaning personalised insurance costs or, as is the case with BMW’s Condition-Based Service, a car servicing model based not on mileage, but on actual driving style measured by information fed back from the car’s sensors.

Everyday driving would be simplified. An estimated 30 per cent of CBD traffic in cities is due to drivers looking for a parking space. The technology now exists, such as Ford’s partnership with Parkopedia, to notify your car of the nearest available spot. JustPark leverages the sharing economy by integrating with Mini dashboards to show nearby parking spaces on private land.

The connected car could also cause more fundamental disruption, such as challenging concepts of work, car ownership and urban planning.

With driverless cars already becoming a reality on US roads, vehicles with internet connectivity could conceivably become a place to do work, with all the features of a normal workstation – meaning your commute becomes extra time ‘in the office’.

Owning a car – or sharing it

The technology of connected cars is also being leveraged to make sharing a more convenient option for users, challenging concepts of car ownership.

DriveNow, an initiative in cities including London, Berlin and San Francisco, allows its customers to hire from a range of Minis and BMWs using an app or website. The car can communicate its location, creating the freedom to find or leave a vehicle almost anywhere, without the restrictions of locating car-share ports. Along with the simple hourly payment structure (no added costs for fuel, parking or insurance) it means that the car becomes something easier to ‘consume’ than to own.

The connected car could also interact with systems throughout a ‘smart’ city: notifying traffic lights of its approach; adjusting its speed automatically (the M4 in NSW is already set to become a ‘smart’ motorway equipped with sensors); and feeding back journey information which could influence road building schemes, car parking or urban planning.

The connected car offers great possibilities for consumers, retailers and manufacturers. We’re only just at the beginning of this journey – the road ahead is long.

In part two, I look at innovations for in-car technology that help businesses connect with the consumer.



John Riccio

John is PwC’s Global Design & Deploy, Experience Consulting partner.

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