The big news over the weekend was accusations flying in Europe over German car company anti-competitive collusion. While it’s true that European companies of all sorts are able and inclined to legally share information in a manner that is foreign to U.S.-based companies, proving anti-competitive activity will be a high bar for German authorities to clear. One also has to wonder at the motivation for German regulators to blow the whistle, should anti-competitive behavior be identified.
A less visible clash has broken out within the wider industry over ownership and access to vehicle data. The main German automotive industry organization, the Verband der Automobilindustrie (VDA), recently released guidelines for data collection and sharing based on two principles:
A third, less publicized corollary, is that car companies are using the release of this data policy to justify the eventual restriction of access to the on-board diagnostic port (OBDI/II) while the vehicle is in operation. Car makers and their suppliers are motivated by both cybersecurity concerns and control of customer engagement during real-time operation of the vehicle.
The initiative reflects the increasing emphasis on vehicle connectivity for data gathering via the embedded modem. Car makers want to control the information related to vehicle performance and diagnostics – especially real-time operational information essential to usage-based insurance and the development of automated vehicle technology.
Car makers and their suppliers are saying: “If you want vehicle data, you must come to us.” It is the dawn of the vehicle data broker.
Not much data is collected today. The expectation, though, is that much larger amounts of data will be collected in the future and car makers want to control the marketplace for that information.
The two simple VDA principles cloak a complex scheme via which German car makers and their suppliers are seeking to short circuit European Union privacy concerns by creating the infrastructure for data sharing. The precise nature of this infrastructure was made clearer by an announcement released by BMW at the end of May that BMW will disclose its data collecting activities to its customers and give those customers the ability to control what data is collected and what data is shared and with whom.
This program is called BMW CarData: https://www.bmw.com/en/topics/fascination-bmw/connected-drive/bmw-cardata.html Access to the program is only currently live in Europe and is managed by BMW, possibly with the assistance of IBM. Daimler is expected to offer a similar program developed in cooperation with Israeli startup Otonomo. Essential to both programs will be the participation and support of third parties, of which there is none at the outset. Insurance companies offering usage-based insurance are candidates to be early participants.
The VDA-led neutral server strategy was quickly adopted by the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) and the European Association of Automotive Suppliers (CLEPA) – marking a Europe-wide effort to control and monetize vehicle data with customer consent. Almost as quickly, the effort was publicly opposed by a large coalition of aftermarket service providers (dealers, repair shops, leasing companies, and insurance companies) for what was considered to be its less-than-fully-transparent approach to data sharing.
Statement of the Coalition for interoperable data access:
“The undersigned call upon the European institutions to create a robust regulatory framework for an interoperable, standardized, secure and safe digital in-vehicle telematics platform as intended by the eCall mandate, to maintain true consumer choice, independent entrepreneurship, competition and innovation for all services ‘around the car.’”
What all parties involved seem to forget is the fact that European car makers have demonstrated their willingness and ability to alter or mask car data – as revealed by the calamitous diesel scandal still unfolding in Europe and ensnaring a growing number of senior executives across multiple auto makers. One can hardly blame the aftermarket coalition for opposing the VDA/CLEPA/ACEA data sharing initiative given this lack of trust.
These organizations are seeking direct access to vehicle data so that they may engage directly with vehicle owners without the interference of the auto maker. The neutral server approach is intended to allow the vehicle owner the ability to direct the automaker to share vehicle data with chosen service providers.
This assumes that the auto maker has established data sharing connections with those service providers and still allows the auto maker to control the interaction. The principle behind the VDA approach is that only data currently being collected will be shared. The suggestion from VDA is that not much data is actually being collected.
But it comes back to trust. Service providers will want data from individual vehicles and some data gathered by car makers is only available as an aggregate and may not be collected at sufficient frequency to fulfill the third party organization’s needs.
Third parties want complete transparency – presumably opted into by the consumer. Delivering such transparency will require auto makers to open up their wireless access to the vehicle. Unlike the smartphone market, where such access is routine, wireless data plans for cars are usually limited due to cost and data access is limited due to cybersecurity and customer access concerns.
Third parties in Europe may feel that the eCall mandate – as a public safety requirement – justifies enabling third party access to vehicle data. Thanks to the dormant SIM profile created by the GSMA, most eCall modules are not being designed to transmit vehicle data under any circumstances other than a vehicle crash.
The kind of customer control being pursued by the aftermarket includes having roadside assistance provided by a car club or insurance company rather than the auto maker, or sharing vehicle location data with Waze, TomTom or INRIX instead of HERE. Make no mistake, that is a radical departure from current practice.
The VDA/CLEPA/ACEA proposition is clearly a compromise to empower consumers and enable access to data already being gathered. But the situation has even more severe implications when one considers BMW’s collaboration with IBM. Imagine a Watson-infused neutral server volunteering information to drivers or car buyers based on freely accessible vehicle data tied to an automated speech engine.
Car makers might be uncomfortable about a car able to give voice to unbiased vehicle information on-demand regarding service history, performance, driving behavior of the owner, outstanding recalls, and unperformed service. “Hey, Watson, what can you tell me about the current owner of this vehicle?”
It’s clear that more transparency regarding vehicle data is better than less. But no one is prepared to open the door to full transparency. If you have any doubt, imagine marketers, regulators and law enforcement with unbridled access to vehicle data. Does anyone really want that? Is there anything we can do to stop it?
So, the neutral server is a flawed but important step forward in data transparency and customer empowerment. But much work remains to be done. Full freedom and flexibility will only arrive when the customer takes full control of their vehicle data. The VDA proposition is clearly a defensive gesture intended to delay or forestall complete consumer control of vehicle data while fostering the creation of open data exchanges capable of enabling new applications, business models and vehicle use cases.
Mobility service providers will ultimately manage vehicle data across a broad range of transportation service providers including insurance companies, service stations, parking garages, tolling authorities, rental car companies and public transportation authorities. It remains to be seen how many car makers will successfully make this transition. Increasing access to vehicle data is an important first step.