ARTICLE: Raconteur – Connectivity and data are carmakers’ tools of choice

Closed-loop manufacturing, which enables continuous data flows shared seamlessly throughout departments, creates a virtuous cycle, resulting in faster product improvements

Henry Ford famously said: “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants, so long as it is black.” The founder of the Ford Motor Company thought simplicity and functionality should be a car manufacturer’s only priority.

But today, over a century later, things couldn’t be more different. The internet of things (IoT), social media and increased car connectivity, mean car manufacturers now have access to more information than ever about what their customers want and how their cars operate on the road.

Using this data to improve the customer experience could add significant value to the industry, particularly in the context of increased mobility services, carpooling and self-driving vehicles.

Car manufacturers must learn to make the most of user data

According to a McKinsey & Company report this March, as a global value pool, data and connectivity may reach between $450 billion and $750 billion worldwide by 2030.

But this depends, the report says: “On the ability of market players to use the data generated by cars, drivers and mobility systems to develop products that create revenue, reduce costs, and enhance safety and security.”

Xavier Mosquet, senior partner at Boston Consulting Group’s automotive sector, says: “User data has significantly increased for the design and evolution of a car, and now directly informs the specification of the next versions, such as what has customer value and what doesn’t.”

Mr Mosquet says car manufacturers are mining social media and online information, as well as taking data from the car itself.

General Motors, for example, equips all its vehicles with connectivity, which it then uses to collect data for the important first six months of on-road operation, so it can analyse the car’s quality and parameters, he says. From this information, the company can determine what works well in the model and what doesn’t.

New connectivity means that car manufacturers can solve problems speedily

Similarly, Harman, a leader in connected car and IoT solutions, is working with nearly every car manufacturer on the planet, according to the company, using its Ignite platform to monitor vehicles.

“Historically, OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] have not had detailed data on who uses what features on vehicles, so when they were making decisions about dropping CD players, for example, they were doing it based on survey and other research data, not precise data,” says Stephen L. Surhigh, vice president of automotive cloud services for Harman, which is a Siemens company.

Now, for example, car manufacturers can quickly identify functionality or usage issues with in-car software and quickly fix them with over-the-air updates.

Furthermore, companies are increasingly keen on monitoring specific vehicle components and the environment in which cars are used, such as weather and location. By combining these different data sets, carmakers can uncover issues before they cause a problem, which can be costly if occurring during the warranty period.

Mr Surhigh provides an example. A manufacturer of a speciality vehicle used in parades that is typically driven at low speeds discovered a vibration that caused certain parts to fail. The carmaker later re-engineered the part to avoid failure. This would have been impossible without knowing how the vehicle was used.

Data can help identify patterns and improve customer experience

The increasing prevalence of cars for specific uses, such as e-mobility, more autonomous driving and car-sharing, mean it is beneficial for manufacturers to know how to design and monitor vehicles for special uses.

“Understanding how those vehicles wear out and therefore being able to optimise their design will be of very high value,” says Mr Mosquet.

Monitoring them on the road, with customer consent, will also enable manufacturers to offer additional services, such as providing predictive maintenance.

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