Concerns over eCall and connected cars

Posted on June 22nd, 2015 by Rob Marshall

connectedWhile the connected car is already here, it is certain that its popularity will grow, particularly as the EU will make eCall systems mandatory on all cars, from April 2018.

What is a connected car?

A connected car is one that both sends and receives data from the Internet, as it is driven. In the event of a crash (usually prompted by an airbag deployment) eCall ensures that the car dials-up the emergency services automatically, as well as providing the precise GPS location of the vehicle. Therefore, it is likely that vital time would be saved and the Institute of Mechanical Engineers has stated that the technology will cut road deaths by up to 10%.

The worry

While the safety advantages appear to be considerable, there is a mounting concern about the destinations of the data, which adds to the more obvious privacy and security worries. While it is thought that the connected car will revolutionise the service and repair industries, the connected car sends data currently to the motor manufacturer alone.

Last month, a colleague’s Bluetooth-connected telephone rang on his BMW i3. He switched the phone off, only for the ring tone to continue through the car’s speakers. Once the call was answered (hands free, of course), a BMW employee told the driver that the car had an airbag fault and that not only had the car been booked into a local dealership’s workshop automatically but also, because the car’s previous journeys had been tracked, BMW deduced it was a place of work and, therefore, gave the owner the option of having the car collected from his office, or later in the evening, from his home address.

While few people can deny that this is excellent service, the aftermarket garage industry views that, by the manufacturer only receiving the data files, the car companies are placing themselves at an unfair competitive advantage. After speaking to several technicians on the matter, they had clear concerns that a carmaker could force a car off the road, by making the running gear adopt a ‘limp home’ mode, via an instruction sent through the Internet. While this is fair enough, if there is a serious fault present, it is felt that this degree of control could be used to direct not only how and where the vehicle is maintained but also to insist that only manufacturer-branded replacement parts are fitted, both of which are significant revenue earners for franchised dealerships, a significant proportion of which are owned by the manufacturer.

As it stands, this type of behaviour could be construed as anti-competitive, being contrary to current block-exemption legislation. However, some critics feel that ‘safety’ could be used as justification to restrict consumer choice and would, ultimately, result in a worse off deal for the car owner. Calls are being made for legislators to support the aftermarket, with additional legislation that would not result in the potential of car manufacturers gaining an uncompetitive advantage. This includes the Figiefa, the latest video from which is here:

The connected car – FIGIEFA from FIGIEFA on Vimeo.