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Tech/Telematics Expo Illuminates Future of ‘Connected’ Vehicles

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DETROIT, Aug. 1, 2014—As in-vehicle technology continues to become more advanced, consumers are becoming connected to their cars in more and more ways. And the automotive aftermarket needs to stay on top of this connected-car technology before it gets left out of the communication loop.

That was the message during the CARS Auto Alliance Innovation, Technology & Telematics Expo on Friday at the 2014 NACE/CARS Expo & Conference at the Cobo Center in Detroit.

Roughly 250 industry professionals preregistered for the event, so many that the event was switched rooms at the last minute to accommodate the large numbers.

An informal show of hands pegged the crowd as mostly owners and operators of mechanical businesses. There were roughly a dozen collision professionals. Still, the message to body shops was clear: Get on top of telematics technology now, or be left behind.

“If you move [telematics] out of the whole cell-phone-to-car thing, and start thinking about vehicles that are applying the brakes, lane departures, crash avoidance and all of that stuff, those are the systems [collision shops] are going to be impacted by,” said Donny Seyfer, ASA chair-elect and the organizer of Friday’s tech expo. “Shops need to be aware of all of this stuff and how it impacts their daily work. It’s very important as we move forward and more and more of these features become a part of the vehicles we’re working on.”

Friday’s event included presentations from technical experts from General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen about their respective companies’ advanced vehicle technologies. Terry Inch, COO of OnStar, also gave a presentation during lunch.

The main feature of the event, though, was a two-hour telematics panel discussion that included seven high-level industry and tech professionals who discussed a wide array of topics regarding telematics and in-vehicle technology.

Seyfer moderated the discussion, and the panelists were:

  • Steve Coker, head of unconnected operations for Chrysler Group LLC
  • Frank Weith, general manager of connected car services for Volkswagen
  • Roger Saul, director of the Vehicle Research & Test Center from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Eric Berkobin, vice president of engineering for Verizon Telematics
  • Bob Stewart, manager of Customer Care & Aftersales for AC Delco and General Motors
  • Jules Polonetsky, executive director of the Future of Privacy Forum
  • Alan Prescott, attorney for Ford Motor Company

This technology varies greatly in its uses, from safety features like lane departure warnings, parking assist features, collision avoidance technology, and service and diagnostic reports that can be sent to shops or customers. There are also well known systems like OnStar and the like.

The bottom line is that vehicle owners are interested in an increasing amount of technology in vehicles, Coker said. From auto-start features to Internet-based music services to features that keep them safe, the industry’s customers want to be “connected” to what matters most to them.

“It’s about connecting customers to those experiences that are relevant to them, so they enjoy their cars,” Coker said.

For the majority of customers, though, “fear” is a large part of their vehicle ownership experience. The average vehicle owner struggles to understand the full complexity of their vehicles, and that’s where their uncomfortableness creeps in during the repair process, said Berkobin, who is heavily involved in Verizon’s work in this area.

Telematics can be the answer, he said.

“This [technology] gives [customers] some knowledge and information,” Berkobin said. “It empowers the consumer so they feel a little more comfortable interacting with shops.”

Shops—both mechanical and collision—have a different fear, Stewart said. His role with GM pits him in an information-gathering role in regard to the automotive aftermarket. The majority of repair and service center operators and workers “fear” the advanced, complicated systems being put in vehicles, Steward said, but they shouldn’t.

“This isn’t any different” than past changes in vehicle manufacturing, Stewart told the crowd. “It’s just a much faster revolution. … It’s all about making the vehicle safer for the driving public.”

On a business level, many consumers currently use telematics devices to transmit data to their respective insurance carriers. Whether its Verizon’s work with State Farm Insurance or safe-driving programs through carriers like Progressive, insurance carriers are already effectively using this technology to assist their customers and their own internal purposes.

OnStar as an Example: During Inch’s lunch presentation, which detailed the overall offerings and future components of OnStar’s GM partnership, Inch demonstrated to the attendees the scope of telematics technology.

For OnStar alone, the company processes 4.7 million turn-by-turn direction requests per month from its users. It also averages 4 million sent emails, 3.6 million app requests, 139,000 door unlock requests, and 4,212 automated crash responses per month.

The company has recently implemented a high-speed 4G LTE network and incorporated it into 30-plus 2015 GM models. Inch also discussed OnStar’s goal to be able to analyze diagnostic and maintenance issues in its users’ vehicles.

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