This post is the second in a four-part series, you can view the first post, where I discuss expectations, reality and the convergence of cars and computers at this link. Check back next week for our next post!
What is a Connected Car, Really?
For many people, cars are our safe, little, personal space away from home. On average, people will own 12 cars in their lifetime, making it potentially the most emotional purchase, only after buying a home. Unfortunately, the nostalgia of driving freely down a wide open road is gone with the Chevy Bel Air of the ‘50s.
Today’s driving experience is more like a rat race creeping along the freeway. It’s an isolating experience that includes looping around city blocks in an endless attempt to find parking and getting gouged by mechanics during required service visits. It’s separated by a world of haves and have nots, and with service visits, most drivers are have nots when it comes to knowing what’s really going on under the hood. A hard line is drawn at the access to all that data that the mechanic has with a device called a diagnostic scan tool.
In the early 1980’s cars started to become computerized. An automotive standard was created called OnBoard Diagnostics, or OBD which led to the standardization of 20,000 car computer codes called Parameter ID’s (PID) and Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTC). The code base grew to include ignition on events, O2 sensor information, bumper sensors, odometer reading, intake manifold pressure, RPM, elevation, windshield wiper speed and a whole lot more.
Around the same time, the California Air Resources Board started mandating cleaner burning cars. A new standard was formed and legislated federally called OBD II, requiring OBD data to be standardized and open, primarily intended for emissions testing. By 1996 all the cars sold into the United States had to comply. This created a code base of engine and vehicle performance codes and sensor information that grew as automakers started to introduce traction control, anti-lock brakes, airbags, drive-by-wire, motorized seat positioning, automatic door locks, and hundreds of networked sensors needed to run these complex systems.
Despite all if the intelligence being actively built into cars, almost none of it has been made available to the driver. This leaves people to continue to wonder what the engine light means on the dashboard, then ignore it (and often put black tape over it) for lack of information provided.
As the 21st century came into being, digital entertainment took a front seat. Carmakers brought in satellite radio, turn by turn directions at the push of a big blue button and smartphone integration. The industry at large calls these services a connected car, but most Millennials would disagree. When today’s smartphone with 60 sensors, GPS and 3G can do a better job than 50 leading technology products from the last three decades, what could an Internet-enabled car computer built in 2001 with 150 sensors do? What about a 2010 car with 400 sensors?
Size of the Market
The fact is, fewer than 2 million cars of the 350 million driven in the US today have some form of Internet connection. While it has been estimated that around 160 million cars in the US have an OBD port, these cars will remain unconnected from the Internet for the rest of their useful life, now averaging over 17 years before they are retired. With the average car age at 7 years old today, we’re ;ooking towards at least another decade for the base of the national fleet of consumer cars.
The number of unconnected cars will grow to well over 200 million by 2020 in the US alone, even despite best efforts by the carmakers to introduce their own proprietary solutions like Ford Sync, Mercedes Embrace and others.
Clearly, market opportunities for non-OEM solutions are a reality.
In next week’s post, I’ll discuss why an open platform will create the truly connected car.