by Laura Johnstone

The rapid advance of technology has changed many aspects of our daily lives to an extent which was entirely unpredictable just a decade ago. At the turn of the millennium few would have foreseen our society become so inextricably entangled in the web of new communication tools which we have come to rely on so strongly in such a short period. 

Mobility is no exception and technology here is moving perhaps faster than in many other sectors. Technologies which were novel just a few short years ago are evolving almost beyond recognition thanks to the emergence of low-cost open-source tools the decrease in mobile hardware costs and the widespread mobile coverage which we now take for granted.

Services are more consumer-driven than ever before and the vehicle is the next frontier of the connectivity revolution with unprecedented potential for new services and features targeted at travellers. On 13 February ERTICO Partners and FIA members were hosted by the RACC in Barcelona to assess the upcoming trends in personal mobility and to discuss the opportunities and challenges for automobile clubs. 

Three issues in particular arose in the presentations given and subsequent discussions: ensuring the availability of open and high quality data for traffic information safeguarding free and fair competition alongside safety and driver privacy when it comes to in-vehicle services and identifying new sustainable business models for service providers and automobile clubs. 


Traffic information 


Personal navigation devices have come a long way since their original rise in popularity during the early part of the last decade thanks to the availability of GPS and the commercialisation of map making for this purpose with ever more routes mapped out and made available to drivers at the touch of a button. 

Moreover the advent of the smartphone has provided travellers with thousands of possibilities for calculating the smartest way to reach their destination. Indeed a quick glance at the most popular navigation apps page on the Apple Appstore shows 240 apps enticing the user to beat the traffic avoid getting caught out by speed cameras or find the cheapest car park in the area.

Whilst free competition and choice is undoubtedly good for users and a positive force in the market the question of quality arises: what are the data sources for all of these apps and are they really providing high quality information that gets the user from A to B following the most efficient and safest route?  

At policy level the European Commission has shown its support for optimising the use of road traffic and travel data and providing a free minimum information service as one focus of the ITS Action Plan. Furthermore the need for cooperation between the public and private sectors regarding the exchange of data the deployment of monitoring devices and management of data quality was highlighted in the guidelines for ITS deployment in urban areas on multimodal information recently published by the EC Urban ITS Expert Group EC Urban ITS Expert Group. Such actions should crack open sources of reliable data and also help to meet policy goals by providing consumers with more quality choices and encouraging travellers to shift to other modes of transport.  

Automobile clubs themselves have already made a strong foray into the smartphone world with many of them providing a variety of apps for their customers and for motorists in general a common one of which is of course traffic and travel information. But in the face of such stiff competition notably from those offering similar services for free how can the clubs differentiate their offering to an extent that consumers are willing to part with their cash?

The answer again lies in the quality of data. More and more traffic and travel information services are based on huge data aggregation operations which certainly provide plenty of information but as it is difficult to verify the quality of such volumes of data the information provided to the user may not always be accurate. By focusing on ensuring high quality data in their apps and utilising the club brand automobile clubs are able to compete with the larger international players in this field. 


Safeguarding free and fair competition alongside safety and driver privacy when it comes to in-vehicle services


The implementation of the EU-wide eCall service in 2015 is set to be the largest deployment of an in-vehicle telematics system ever seen. eCall is purely a safety device but its implementation is widely viewed as opening the door for many other in-vehicle telematics based services ranging from b-call services and remote diagnostics to new insurance services and even entertainment functions. 

The possibilities in this field are exciting both for consumers who have become so attached to the smartphones and the apps that make our lives easier – extending smart useful and dynamic services to the vehicle is an appetising prospect and for industry which sees an opportunity to join the connectivity boom and utilise services to reach goals such as increased safety and cleaner mobility. 

However there are a number of issues to be solved in order to reach widespread deployment of in-vehicle telematics systems including how to minimise driver distraction and develop a common HMI ensuring the security of data and driver privacy and who controls the system and its content. Even how the telematics system will operate is up for debate; some envisage embedded systems as we will experience with the eCall system whilst others see a link between the smartphone and the vehicle as has been developed by several vehicle manufacturers and suppliers. 

It is widely acknowledged that in-vehicle telematics services are set to play a big role in personalised mobility in the coming years and for the automobile clubs it is especially important to ensure that consumers have free choice in selecting the best services – which should be safeguarded through an open market and free competition in the context of the relevant legal frameworks.


 Identifying new sustainable business models for automobile clubs

The rise of the internet has opened up a whole new market with new key players new audiences and new ways of doing business. The traditional business models of telecommunications operators often didn’t fit with this new way of connecting communicating and experiencing products or services and as a result a new generation of tech companies sprang into action with innovative organisational and business models based on shared content and shared revenue.  

In an online world dominated by just a small number of monoliths which are both able and keen to diversify their business traditional technology and service providers have had to adapt to keep up with evolving consumer demand. Consumers have become used to having the freshest most relevant information in their hands with just a few swipes of a touch screen and this is especially the case when it comes to travel information.  Identifying a clear position in the virtual market with strong differentiation of products and services from those of competitors is key to survival. 

Outside of the stranglehold of the big players firms tend to differentiate on the basis of quality and seek to capitalise on a brand name that has been built over years in the real world as we see with the automobile clubs traffic and travel apps. 

But can long established brands retain this niche in the market in the face of a new generation of consumers – those who are connected almost from birth and are more familiar with doing business online using innovative ways of paying for content than with the traditional idea of simply paying a fixed price for a fixed service? 

This will pose a great challenge in the future and given that we have so far been unable to accurately predict how or to what extent our connected society will continue to transform technology and service providers need to pay extremely close attention to developments and the emergence of new trends in the market. 

However whilst attempting to look forward and predict trends is both worthwhile and necessary it is also risky. Just look back three decades to the 1970s and consider the astounding technological progress that has been made since then – the world is almost unrecognisable! In three decades from now – around 2050 – what will our society look like and will we be looking back at 2013 and reminiscing about a simpler time?  

Technology and service providers including the automobile clubs are embracing opportunities to provide more diverse and higher quality services to travellers. The success of new services especially from established brands demonstrates that for now at least quality of information and quality of service is valued by travellers. Continued innovation and responsiveness to consumer demand will be vital in ensuring this success in the future. 

Finally in order to overcome the many uncertainties of this dynamic and sometimes erratic sector it is clear that strong coordination exchange of information and positive forward-looking cooperation between all stakeholders must be actively pursued and promoted. 




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Original Publication Date: Tue 05 Feb 2013