Connected Cars: Moving from gimmicky jargon to the bedrock of future cars

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Quick pedestal rant: with anything new or trending, media outlets and business leaders love to name and then profusely overuse their bestowed name for a movement, new business trend, or scandal. They add “-gate” as a suffix to any trivial scandal that probably takes away from the severity of Watergate and they add the words “disruption” and “innovation” to situations and ideas that are probably not either in the hopes of garnering audience attention.

No doubt this type of jargon showboating is effective in bringing new ideas to the public. In the automotive industry, “autonomous”, “access over ownership”, “internet of things”, and “connected” sound cool enough to go viral, yet vague enough for leaders and the media to use them superfluously without ever actually having to explain what they mean or how we accomplish them.

The term “connected car”, above all other auto jargon, leaves a particularly unpleasant tang on my tongue – mostly because carmakers describe connected features more like cute gizmos that you’ll use as much as you use the cigarette lighter for it’s intended purpose rather than game-changing capabilities that enable the driver in unprecedented ways.

WiFi hotspots, a proprietary suite of apps, and using your car to pay for gas are the various touted features of connected vehicles. Groundbreaking. My iPhone does all the same things. There is no value to customers in these features, and there sure as hell isn’t a business case for them either. To be fair, things like WiFi hotspots will lay the groundwork for over-the-air updates which does add value, but carmakers seem very hesitant to say or do anything beyond these gimmicky features.

Ironically, the tables are turned on the autonomous front, technically also a connected technology. Every carmaker has checked the box for buying a very expensive “testing ground” for the technology, touting how fast they’re going to bring a fully-autonomous car to market while confusing customers through their lackadaisical distinctions between automated and autonomous driving, two starkly different concepts.

Another consequence of overusing jargon, terms like “connected” generally lose their meaning as stakeholders and journalists layer on their own definitions and point of view. Fundamentally, connected technology is based on leveraging the internal sensors, transmitters, software, and network connectivity to enable everything from autonomous cars to over-the-air updates to vehicle-to-vehicle communication and beyond.

Connected cars are truly the bedrock of the new automobile, centered around developing and honing the driver-car relationship beyond what we’ve ever been able to accomplish. We’ll create performance cars that respond viscerally to your fingertips on a screen, off-road SUVs that leverage on-board sensors to show the driver the most effective path to take through a HUD (heads-up display) windshield, and luxury vehicles that know your preferences and desires without you asking.

As mentioned, the basis of the connected car is the relationship with its driver. Cars have been probably the one product we purchase with which we genuinely bond. Connected cars will connect (sorry for the pun) people with their cars to forge deeper bonds than has ever been possible. In doing so, we’ll start alleviating some of the pain points with driving (namely traffic and crashes), create cheaper options and ownership methods to enable more people to access cars, and lay the groundwork for an even farther out vision of connecting multiple forms of transportation through the car (think of being able to jump in your car in San Francisco, take the high-speed train to LA, and drive to your office all without leaving your car.)

“The cars of the future will undoubtedly be amazingly connected,” but we’re passed the point at which it should be acceptable to end the sentence with that phrase. If we’re ever going to get there, we have to get beyond WiFi hotspots and proprietary app stores, beyond how fast fully autonomous cars will come to market, and focus on what is going to truly bring value to the driver. The question before any business decision is made with regard to new car tech should be: How does this strengthen the relationship between car and driver? Unconvincing answers should be scrapped.


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