Poised for growth: Telematics has had a slow start, but that's predicted to change quickly.
The digital wireless revolution is beginning to spark big changes in the automotive field, with telematics and television signals becoming more readily available in cars. Automakers are pushing to devise technologies and tactics that will get them in on the ground floor of a new growth area.
After flopping along with the dot-com boom, telematics is now being touted as a technology that's supported by a solid business case. A focus on customer service is being augmented by getting companies from insurance firms to restaurant chains to support the ongoing business costs.
It isn't just carmakers who eye the market as a field with plenty of growth potential. "We're entering the age of enlightenment, when the real business value of telematics will come into view," says James Ruthven, Program Director for IBM Telematic Solutions (www-1.ibm.com/industries/automotive/) of Armonk, NY. IBM is making telematics a major part of its automotive business.
General Motors is generally viewed as the only automaker to see success with OnStar, but the automaker doesn't plan to stop there. "We're very optimistic, and we're going strong with telematics and infotainment, " says Rozalina Ebrahimian, Director of Global Telematics for GM. She notes that mating fast-changing consumer electronics to the slower pace of automotive development and testing is a key research area at GM. GM anticipates links with both home and office environments via wireless networks. Users, for example, could access MP3 files they have downloaded to their desktop PC, playing them on an MP3 playback system in their car.
Other automotive companies are responding in many different ways. Rolls-Royce Motor Cars NA of Woodcliff, NJ, will begin offering telematics services on all Phantom models beginning this fall. ATX Inc. (www.atxtechnologies.com), an Irving, TX supplier of telematic services, will provide service-based routing assistance and location-based emergency responses.
Focusing on entertainment, both DaimlerChrysler and Mercedes Benz are buying a European TV reception system for digital and analog transmissions. The hybrid system from Delphi Delco Electronics Systems (www.delphi.com) of Kokomo, IN, is designed to receive Europe's new Digital Video Broadcasting signals, and existing analog broadcasts.
Many countries are already transmitting DVB signals alongside analog transmissions, and some analog stations in Germany were set to be turned off in September. "Mobile TV reception systems must be able to move seamlessly from analog to digital and back without any intervention by the user," says Michael Heise, antenna and TV system product line manager at Delphi. To make sure that these vehicles can receive broadcasts clearly, DaimlerChrysler is also buying Delphi's Fuba Reception Systems. That antenna system receives remote keyless entry and radio broadcasts as well as both types of TV signals.
Elsewhere in Europe, Belgium's »largest security firm contracted with Acunia N.V. of Leuven, Belgium (www.acunia.com/fleet), to improve the efficiency of its fleet of vehicles. Guards from Securis Security Systems of Brussels will be guided to the scene using GPS data, then they will be able to access alarm consoles and pull site plans from the company's computers. Dispatchers will also be able to monitor vehicles better so they can be efficiently directed to sites as necessary, saving time and improving use of resources in the process.
That underscores another aspect of telematics. Businesses are buying telematic systems when they get new vehicles, then they're focusing the services on their specific needs.
"There are more applications in business to business, with mobile IT and other services, than on the average consumer side," said Bob Schumacher, General Director of Wireless Products and Mobile Multimedia at Delphi Automotive Systems.