Wouter Sleyffers, senior consultant in the Dutch Digital Transformation practice, looks at the social media revolution currenlty going on in the automotive industry

There is a quiet revolution going on in the automotive industry.
It’s known as the ‘the connected car’, by which most automakers mean a car connected to the internet and able to act as a wi-fi hotspot.  Does this mean that in the future, a customer’s car becomes an essential part of a multi-channel mix? And how will it be used by customers in their everyday life?

The concept of the connected car is becoming an increasingly discussed subject:  a quick search on Google demonstrates that there are a lot of initiatives going on at the moment. There is an ecosystem of companies that state that this will be “The next evolution in mobile connectivity” referred to as the NG (for Next Generation) connect program. Their vision is for the connected car to “really change the way we drive”. Digital blog Mashable.com, talked to manufacturers and futurists and listed types of usage for the connected car – a strong post on this evolution.

So, is my car my next mobile device to stay connected?
In my opinion there are three emerging opportunities for the connected car:

  1. It could act as a connection hub for its passengers. It is feasible to have LTE (or 4G) technology included, which connects to the fastest internet connection technology currently available. When connected, the car can operate as a local hotspot, making the internet connection available to its passengers’ smartphones and tablet PCs. Include a hard-drive and the car could operate as a server-on-the-go.
  2. A connected car could deliver an enhanced driving experience. A series of techniques that could be implemented easily include the ability to support wireless mobile payments, potentially very useful for toll booths. This opens up the opportunity for a variety of new applications that connect to your car. For example an app that helps me check whether I did or did not lock my car through my smartphone. And then there is real time traffic information,  an existing service made available by companies such as TomTom, that provide paid services in order to receive these information on-the-go. On an external device, that is.
  3. Connected cars could deliver more advanced in-car entertainment. Envisioned by NG, but also visible in cars now introduced. Most seen applications are gaming and video (especially with back-seat video screens. Social media is part of the connected car, with its own interface.

It is said to be the next big leap in motoring
A market researcher predicts that in six years from now, 6 million connected cars will be sold worldwide. To put that into perspective: last year in the EU 13 million cars were sold. Every day in the UK only, 72% of the commuting workforce spends on average 45 minutes in their car travelling to work.
Customers state having a ‘connected car’ is an appealing idea for which they are willing to pay. Research found mostly those aged under 35 are willing to pay up to €30 a month to have internet connection and services in their car. What would that mean for the app-markets like the App store and Android market?

What do customers expect of the car technologies of tomorrow?
It is clear that automakers have focused on the integration of entertainment, although that may not be the best investment for now..  As identified above there are other opportunities to consider like the  connection hub, enhancing the driving experience and more advanced in-car entertainment like gaming.For now car brands will continue to focus on advancing entertainment technology –  BMW makes it possible to use Facebook and Twitter with their iDrive interface (normally used for navigation or radio settings) .
Subaru has introduced the same, although only functional when the car is parked. Ford calls their system SYNC and states it sold 3 million cars equipped with it, already. With in-car entertainment, that is.

Don’t drink text and drive
Now, the strange thing is that is seems that automakers understand their latest online gadgets may be not so safe to use in a car at all. BMW is running a national “don’t text and drive” campaign in the US. And not coincidently, a spokesperson from the US road safety body states that “There’s absolutely no reason for any person to download their Facebook into the car” and he may have a point. The introduction of this entertainment may be distracting to drivers’ attention to the traffic. Luckily Mr LaHood also understands that “people are hooked on cellphones and texting devices”. So how to integrate these developments that clearly meet customer needs without losing sight on safety?

With the mobilisation of internet from desktop PCs onto our smartphones in our pockets, how will the connected car evolve?
For the time being, people want to be entertained, and drive through traffic as quickly as possible. So future developments in the connected car will in my opinion focus on support in driving (i.e. traffic news, construction works ahead, etc.) and more efficiency in your route, especially when customers have electric cars with their limited ‘fuel’ range.
And by the way: when charging an electric car, consumers will be able to enjoy wifi as well, according to plans from a Belgian Internet company.  First and foremost, connected cars will focus on entertainment. Why? Because that is what mobile internet is about today, to kill time.

Only when we do not need to drive our cars ourselves anymore (for which you will need to have a connected car), we can start to fully make use of all the connected car traits that will be available soon. Dr. Thrun, who led the development of the Google self-driving car, said recently that we can “text twice as much while driving, without the guilt, if only cars will drive themselves“.

What I wonder is:  what e your device of choice would be to  to take advantage of the connected car? – Your smartphone, tablet PC or …?