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Who is listening in on future work?

By Andrew Marsh, 26.11.15
Posted in: Public | Technology Trends

Once upon a time the collision repair process was fairly straight forward – the vehicle had an accident, it was recovered, and the repair routed into the repairer via an insurance company – or directly by the vehicle owner. Then came the time management systems with additional parts ordering functionality, and what a surprise – aggregated data reports were then made available to third parties to track trends. Well, the whole situation is about to change for the collision repair and independent vehicle servicing market.

The perfect storm

For nearly two decades Europe has dreamt of a system which could automatically alert emergency services in the event of an accident, but Brussels continuously tripped up over several points:

  • Not one member country wanted to pay for the system.
  • There were several interactive systems used for collection of road tolls that were not compatible – so great as long as the vehicle stayed inside a single country.
  • The ‘system’ was required to operate regardless of accident type, but as such this wish was undeliverable.

What stumbled into reality was eCall – a system which still no member country wanted to pay for, but thanks to the mobile phone revolution is now able to operate on a common platform, and took years to sort out common emergency contact number (112) so that a vehicle registered in one country could contact services in another country. One final sting – the activation of the system could be via the vehicle occupants (manual) or when one or more SRS components deploy (automatic). The standard required that eCall included access to the vehicle systems to enable detection of SRS deployment, an ability to locate the vehicle via GPS and that the data was only used for ‘non-commercial’ purposes.

The vision of eCall – all systems working in perfect harmony from emergency services to managing traffic.

Most vehicle manufacturers and their Tier 1 suppliers were ready with systems capable of operating via a dedicated call centre from about 2005 onwards, and certainly most vehicle built after this time had the electronic systems required built-in. However due to the bureaucracy inertia from Brussles and the lack of action from member states, eCall remained Government fantasy.

Then connectivity became the hot property of the automotive world, as a way of reaching more customers. Manufacturers and data communication partners queued up to access ultimate cash cow – connecting the vehicle user to the dealer network, with the garnish of internet access or seamless integration of the user’s smart phone. Of course provision of the facility attracted a fee, since the back office of a call centre has to be paid for somehow.

Still no one wanted to pay for eCall, but the new directive 2007/46/EC was finally approved by the EU Parliament in April 2015, to take effect on all new types of vehicle by 31st Match 2018 onwards. From this date no new vehicles can be sold if they don’t have eCall capability, but vehicles type approved before this date can have eCall fitted ‘on a voluntary basis’.

Whos’ who

There have been attempts at connectivity dating back to 2000, when Peugeot offered the 607 with a dedicated SIM card based service. Most of the connectivity got underway during 2003/2004 via active SatNav, where live traffic flow based directions also enabled BMW, Volvo and Audi to update the vehicle software as well as provide additional internet based services.

Here is a selection of the services offered by various brands:

  • BMW – iDrive
  • Citroen – eTouch
  • DS – Connect Box
  • FCA (Alfa Romeo / Abarth / Fiat / Fiat Professional / Jeep) – UConnect
  • Ford – SYNC2, and with facelift Ranger T6 / Edge – SYNC3
  • Honda – Connect
  • JLR (Jaguar, Land Rover, Range Rover) – InControl Protect
  • Mercedes-Benz – emergency assist
  • Mini – Connected Services
  • Nissan – NissanConnect
  • Renault – R-Link
  • Peugeot – SOS & Assistance
  • Seat – Full Link
  • Skoda – Smartlink
  • Vauxhall – OnStar
  • Volvo –  Sensus

The range and standard of services on offer is rapidly evolving, which is a clear indication that most vehicle manufacturers are ready to participate in the eCall system. Effectively as BMW have already done, many of these optional services will become standard fitment on all new cars sold by 2018.

In detail

Let’s look into two systems – OnStar and SYNC – to see what is on offer and what is already possible.

Oddly familiar – an almost identical schematic to the eCall version….© Vauxhall Motors Ltd

OnStar is offered in the UK as part of a pan-EU service with dedicated call centres which can handle the client in the language of their choice no matter where the service is activated. The service as launched can:

  • Allow the occupant to ask for road side assistance
  • Automatically send vehicle location data if any of the airbags deploy, and let the call centre contact the vehicle.
  • Access the vehicle diagnostics system to give a status of the vehicle condition – when requested by the occupant.
  • Ask for locations of places to visit, and then get the location data downloaded to the SatNav.
  • Offer a WiFi hotspot, along with an interesting smart phone App that can find the car location as well as remotely unlock it.
  • The occupant can conceal the location of the vehicle, if required. This disables some of the services outlined above.

In the USA OnStar is one of the biggest networks, which in the past was offered to other vehicle manufacturers. In recent times OnStar has been re-focused to GM brands only, and has the capability to provide real time vehicle condition monitoring which was launched with Chevrolet in 2015. The latter service is not due to arrive in the UK, but it shows that the initial offering from OnStar in Europe is a fraction of the system capability. The initial offering is arranged that all work is directed to either the Vauxhall network (in the UK) or to selected ‘partners’. There is no free bidding process for each job, in that ‘partners’ are selected via contracts.

Ford openly encourage App developers to use the SYNC open source developer kit. © Ford Motor Co

SYNC2 is a MicroSoft powered system used by Ford, which will be eclipsed when the European version of the Edge arrives with SYNC3. The SYNC2 service as launched can:

  • Access a wide range of Apps which have been developed to use with SYNC
  • Provides Andriod and iPhone pairing to access voice activated services.
  • If any airbag is deployed (with the exception of the knee airbag – if fitted) and / or the fuel pump is deactivated, the system will give the vehicle position via GPS. The system is able to connect the vehicle directly to the emergency services.
  • There is a network of call centres which can handle information requests in the desired language.
  • The service is free for all vehicles equipped with SYNC.

What’s in this for the repairer?

The bottom line is the transfer of data to and from a vehicle is effectively owned by the system operator. That means in order to be part of the service offer, and ‘partner’ business needs to be contractually part of the system. In turn collision repair work will be directed in the first instance to the preferred ‘partners’ of any given system.

This development, to a certain extent driven by eCall, sits outside Euro V related vehicle repair data access legislation. The European Parliament and the relevant EU Commissioner knew this back in 2012 (or earlier) but have so far managed to get nothing off the ground to restore access and more importantly, open market conditions.

In terms of the next 5 years or so, when EU legislation to restore access to repair information catches up, repairers will be forced to try and become a ‘partner’ to one or more of these vehicle manufacturer connected car systems.  If this is not done the repairer will not see or hear anything about future work, because the whole process will happen inside the communication system. For repairers, insurance companies and above all, the consumer, this represents a rather big problem – a rather closed market.

The OnStar call centre in action. © Vauxhall Motors Ltd



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