Sunday, 1 December 2013

Changing gear with vehicle technology

Google’s driverless car took to the streets of America back in May 2012, first permitted in the state of Nevada, followed by Florida and then California. The UK is following suit, with the Government recently announcing that self-driving vehicles will be tested on public roads later this year. 
The likes of Mercedes, Volvo and Nissan have also got on board with autonomous vehicles, all three having outlined their commitment to retailing self-driving vehicles by 2020.
Although it may be several years before we see self-driving cars on sale to the wider public, the sophistication and volume of in-vehicle technology is continuously increasing.  Indeed, much of the technology that will be found in Volvo’s future self-driving cars will be available in its range of vehicles by the end of 2014.
Vehicle technology is making a huge impact now, transforming our relationship with driving, and bringing to bear new challenges and opportunities in the enterprise space.    
Safer, greener, smarter
Efforts to bring autonomous vehicles to market are driven by the need to minimise accidents, carbon emissions and congestion, with a growing population and ubiquitous car ownership to contend with. However, well ahead of the era of self-driving cars, our smartphones are already capable of playing a key role in enabling us to tackle those crucial motoring issues. 
There are an array of clever smartphone applications aimed at improving the driving experience, but emerging now are those which connect our smartphones with our vehicle’s computer system, thus enabling us to tap into the rich data therein. 
Driving assistant app, Automatic, is a prime example of this. It connects your smartphone wirelessly with your vehicle’s computer, via the accompanying link which plugs easily into a vehicle data port. The app then tracks the way in which you drive, and generates a score based on fuel efficiency specific to the vehicle model. Accelerating too quickly and frequently braking hard will result in a lower score, as well as trigger immediate audio queues from the app. Sustaining a high score over the course of a year can result in a significant reduction in fuel consumption.  
In addition, Automatic also helps to monitor the condition of the vehicle by providing details on any detected faults as they occur. It can also alert the emergency services and your family members if you are involved in a road incident. 
What’s exciting about technology like Automatic, is that it is demonstrating the potential opportunities for businesses if they connect fieldworker smartphones - ubiquitous and in increasingly low cost - with their vehicles, whether they are part of the company fleet or privately owned. 
Captured driving data can be integrated with a centralised workforce management system, enabling businesses to rationalise KPIs and analyse real-time intelligence surrounding overall fleet efficiency, as well as the performance of individuals in relation to their colleagues.     
Adding value
Comparing today’s vehicles with those of ten years ago, it’s hard not to notice the stark contrast in relation to technology, and that’s in many basic models let alone those with the highest specifications. For example, a 2013 model Ford Fiesta 1.25 Zetec has eleven extra technical and safety features compared to its 1999 predecessor, illustrating  that even cars at the lower end of the market now come kitted out with a wide array of advanced features. 
So the amount of technology in vehicles is on the up – couple this with the multitude of options for new car buyers to choose from – and it creates a significant challenge for vehicle remarketing businesses in attaching accurate values to the myriad of makes and models on offer. The undervaluing of vehicles, due to the difficulty found in conducting accurate vehicle appraisals, is already resulting in substantial lost revenue.
However, leading vehicle remarketer British Car Auctions (BCA), provides a best practice example of how adopting mobile technology can alleviate those challenges and reveal innovative ways of optimising yield.
BCA uses PDAs and Smartphones with electronic workflows which incorporate image capture during the vehicle inspection process. This enables personnel to accurately identify any damage during vehicle inspection, with appraisal information immediately updated on central systems so that accurate valuations can be assigned. Through providing more detailed listings through its e-commerce site, BCA customers are able to make informed purchasing decisions, a differentiating factor for the company as a used vehicle supplier.  
Using mobile technology enables BCA to capture information consistently and amass huge volumes of valuable data concerning the hundreds of thousands of vehicles which it deals with annually. This has enabled BCA to build accurate vehicle descriptions from across its business units based on granular level data.
BCA is a pioneer in the automotive industry for its innovative use of mobile devices and application of business intelligence, but technology provides yet more opportunities to gain a competitive advantage. 
It may seem an unlikely example to cite in relation to the automotive industry, but supermarket loyalty cards demonstrate really well how to effectively harvest information on consumer spending habits and product preferences. By harnessing big data, vehicle vendors could work to personalise the customers’ experience, providing information on relevant makes and models, and enable them to strategically pinpoint the right times to approach potential buyers with offers, such as a few months before their finance or lease package ends. 
 The road to automation
There’s a great deal of noise emanating from the marketing machines of some of the major vehicle manufacturers, each one eager to take pole position in the driverless technology race. However, it’s worthwhile taking note of the voices offering a more grounded outlook on the future of driving.
Believe the hype, and we’ll be seeing driverless cars on our roads in just seven years, but other’s point to 2040 as more realistic date for widespread autonomous vehicle usage. That’s because before they replace our current vehicles, some key challenges must be addressed by the automotive industry, one of which is the elephant in the room – liability. If an accident were to occur, would the owner/passenger or manufacturer be held to account?  
Accident liability is just one of many issues which will need to align before autonomous vehicles become commonplace, but the enabling technologies are emerging now. Some of those very same technologies, such as increasingly sophisticated mobile devices and the Cloud are opening up fresh opportunities for businesses in the automotive industries to generate new revenue streams, make substantial efficiency savings, and optimise their workforces. So whilst it maybe another 27 years before we’re sat in a driverless car on a regular basis, our relationships with vehicles are being redefined now.     

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