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The road ahead for telematics

Automotive applications such as navigation and traffic-information systems are set to explode. But will automakers again wind up providing the infrastructure for others to exploit?

Vehicles are being transformed by a wireless revolution that will substantially enlarge the telematics market over the next decade.

But carmakers are unlikely to win much of the revenue from this expanding market unless they aggressively shape the environment so that telematics applications can succeed commercially.

Merely installing telematics units in vehicles won't be enough. It will also be necessary to develop more frequent and closer contacts with customers; to join forces with the best technology, service and content providers; and to engage the regulators.

Telematics includes in-vehicle applications such as navigation and traffic-information systems, collision avoidance systems, and mobile communications gear. Far more sophisticated devices lie on the horizon.

Three distinct submarkets are emerging. The "front seat" market, constrained by the need to avoid distracting motorists, will revolve around safety, security and features that make driving easier. The "rear seat" market will include interactive games, music and video-on-demand. The third market, for engine and other mechanical applications, will use data collected by on-board computers to provide tools such as remote diagnostics, remote engine tuning, and the intelligent ordering of replacement parts.

In all, these markets could generate up to $100 billion--depending on customer demand and regulatory decisions--in the United States, Japan and Western Europe by 2010. The car market as a whole now comes to about $750 billion in those three regions.

What's in it for automakers?
The big question for carmakers is how much of this revenue they can actually capture. Mobile-telephone operators, car-stereo equipment suppliers and commercial radio stations have all done well thanks to the increasing amounts of time people now spend on the road. Yet carmakers have seen their margins erode on options such as air bags and often end up merely providing the costly infrastructure that others exploit.

Much of the revenue in the telematics market will come not from hardware sales but from the provision of recurring services, such as information for drivers and rear-seat "infotainment," which most carmakers are ill-placed to deliver.

Customers buy new cars infrequently and have limited contact with manufacturers. The latter have entered the after-sales market--a move reflecting its significant proportion of a car's lifetime value--but telematics will demand much bolder moves: Providing recurring services through subscriptions or pay-per-use schemes calls for an entirely different range of customer relationship management skills.

Not that carmakers are standing still. General Motors has set up OnStar, a voice-based telematics system that comes free for a year with most of the company's new cars. OnStar services include guidance for drivers who have lost their way, an automatic help service when air bags deploy, and remote unlocking for drivers who have locked themselves out.

Although OnStar had a user base of about 600,000 by the end of 2000, a majority of these people don't pay. In 2001, Mercedes-Benz USA is providing a safety and security system called Tele Aid as part of its standard offering; PSA, together with Vivendi Universal, is developing an Internet portal for European motorists; and Ford has formed a joint venture called Wingcast with Qualcomm, a U.S. specialist in digital wireless services.

Companies from other industries are also gearing up to grab a share of the business. Clarion is promoting the Auto PC, an in-car personal computer based on Microsoft Windows. Microsoft itself recently announced the introduction of its Car.Net infrastructure technology. Meanwhile, Delphi and Palm are developing MobileAria, a docking station to be launched in mid-2001 for use with existing portable devices.

Shifting gears
If carmakers are to profit from the wireless revolution, they will have to change the way they operate and work closely with other players along the value chain. Shorter product cycles and dissimilar consumer demands mean that the telematics business moves at a pace different from that of the car business. To learn which telematics applications customers will pay for, carmakers must interact with them early and react to their feedback effectively. This new business will clearly have broad implications for the carmakers' strategies and organizations.

That isn't all. Regulatory agencies, which will control the development of the telematics market, may restrict certain applications on grounds of safety. They might make other applications, such as automatic collision notification, compulsory. To ensure that the full social and economic potential of telematics can be realized, carmakers must work with the regulators to shape the terms of such requirements.

Although the challenge is considerable, so are the potential rewards. At the end of 2000, we estimate that DaimlerChrysler's average market capitalization per customer was $1,700, while Ford's was $900 and GM's $600. Toyota, which has invested in mobile telecommunications and e-business, did far better: At $4,500, its market capitalization per customer was nearly 2.5 times the industry average, suggesting that all carmakers should embrace the changing role of the car and, more broadly, the New Economy.

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