Connected Cars – Fantasy and Hype or the Future?

If you haven’t seen anything recently about ‘connected cars’ then the only assumption possible is that you either don’t read/watch the news or have spent time on Mars!

The outline

Just in case either of those is the reality, the term ‘connected cars’ is used to describe the increasing amount of wireless Internet capabilities that are being offered, at cost, in modern motor vehicles.

In some cases, the purposes are relatively obvious and perhaps today increasingly mundane. That might include things such as providing the driver and passengers with entertainment systems, hands-free voice communication and web access etc.

Yet increasingly experts are predicting far more complicated applications of this technology including things such as remote diagnostic services and even car control systems.

While the idea of having problems with your car being picked up by the car itself, transmitted to a central location through the Internet and the answer and perhaps even the fix being received back and automatically applied in the same fashion might appeal to some, for others it smacks a little of Big Brother.

However, many pundits are forecasting a huge expansion of such applications for connected cars and through that even an entirely automatic driving future. This is, predictably enough, leading to a significant increase in the asking price for such connected vehicles.

The Questions

Yet how much of this has real potential and how much is marketing hype?

At its very heart, the concept of the connected car has a fundamental problem – and that is price.

Let’s assume, for an instant, that the typical car owner is being asked to pay some big bucks extra for a connected car. That’s justified based on saying that it comes preconfigured for things such as TV, Internet streaming, enhanced music and SATNAV etc.

Now if you are a provider of luxury limousine services, that additional cost might be justified by those sorts of benefits. It’s a great marketing ploy as well when trying to attract customers to your luxury limousine hire services.

Unfortunately though, for Joe Public, there may be a much less favourable response to the manufacturers’ demands for more money. That response is to simply point at your own existing wireless connected smart phone and say “yes, thank you, I can do all that already through this little box here”.

That is a very fundamental inhibitor to the mass take-up of connected car technology. These days for a comparatively small amount of money, someone can have a hugely powerful device in their pocket and an equally modestly-priced set of speakers and a screen which they can just plug in within the vehicle concerned.

In terms of the much-vaunted ‘Infotainment’, it’s therefore not immediately clear why the typical car buyer should spend vast sums more on car technology that arguably does the same thing only at about a 5-10 times higher cost.

Things to come

True, that doesn’t give the typical car owner all those fancy online diagnostics and even automated control system access facilities but that argument begs the question as to whether people actually want those things.

Some arguments in favour of connected cars attempt to justify this as somehow investing in the infrastructure for future automatic driving. Once again though, there is very little evidence that there is any market demand for such and even if there were, a lot more is going to be required to make it happen than simply a wireless-enabled car.

Most people would argue we are still decades away, at least, from an automated driving infrastructure.

For all these reasons, the makers of connected car systems are likely to have to work a lot harder to persuade the private buyer to invest.

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by Eby M