To connect and serve: Carmakers’ latest digital services
From app-based ‘digital keys’ to built-in telematics hardware, and emergency assistance, high-speed data connections are unlocking new services for fleets. Alex Grant finds out what’s available today, and what’s on the horizon…
From the A4 upwards, all Audis can be equipped with a data SIM. This enables eCall and remote checks of location, fuel levels, and theft notifications via the MyAudi app and web portal, as well as the ability to upload navigation routes and RSS news feeds to the car. Multiple vehicles can be added to one MyAudi account, but a fleet portal is under development.
All BMWs include a 4G SIM card and eCall, including telematics and app or web portal control of locking, charging and ventilation, and status and location checks active for life. Drivers can also upload routes and download previous journey data, but there is no option to integrate with third-party management software. Concierge services (via a call centre) are a £70 option, and tracking is separate. Digital keys arrive with the new 3 Series, X5 and 8 Series.
Mopar Connect, a telematics box which can be retrofitted, is optional on all Fiat cars and vans, Alfa Romeos, the Jeep Renegade, Compass and Cherokee and the Abarth 595. It offers app-based checks of vehicle status and location, with the ability to add eCall and theft monitoring, as a yearly subscription. FCA is also launching multi-vehicle Mopar Connect Fleet management in Q4 2018.
The new Focus introduces the FordPass Connect modem, with two years of live infotainment features, plus health, status and location checks with remote starting via an app which can manage multiple vehicles. A fleet-targeted service will launch early next year, with Ford offering its own management portal or enabling businesses to integrate vehicle data into third-party software. Commercial vehicles will get this first, but passenger cars will follow and there will be a retro-fit option.
The new CR-V will be Honda’s first model with eCall, but a £255 diagnostic port dongle is also available to retro-fit features to older cars, with a three-year subscription. This enables drivers to download journey information and health checks, book servicing, monitor its location and access emergency assistance services.
Hyundai’s BlueLink system, which offers emergency assistance, vehicle checks and remote control of selected functions, is not available in Europe yet. Connected navigation is available on most models.
A data connection is standard on the Q30, QX30, Q50 and Q60, with remote health checks, assistance and (on the Q50 and Q60) control of vehicle functions. Tracking and immobilisation is £11.49 per month.
Jaguar Land Rover
A data connection and eCall are included range-wide, active for at least the warranty period of the vehicle, if not for life. The InControl Remote smartphone app can access vehicle health data, previous journeys, and enables drivers to send routes to the navigation, and it works with multiple vehicles – though this isn’t aimed at fleets. It can also unlock the car and start the engine, but does not permit it to be driven away.
Kia offers live traffic, weather and speed camera data for all vehicles with navigation, but no eCall or other connected services yet.
Live traffic is included for three months, and Mazda offers media functions utilising a smartphone data connection.
Since 2014, all Mercedes-Benz cars have eCall and a data connection. This underpins the ability to check the location and health of the car, download journey data and control selected features, via the Mercedes Me smartphone app and web portal. Selected models also offer app-controlled parking with nobody at the wheel, the ability to send and receive data from other cars and the road network, and a concierge service, which can recommend and book hotels, restaurants and events, and order gifts.
This data connection (which can be retrofitted) can also be integrated with third party software and Daimler’s own Connect Business fleet management suite, which adds driver behaviour monitoring and the ability for operators to send messages to the car. Digital key capability was introduced with the A-Class, but doesn’t offer the ability to drive away yet.
A lifetime data connection is included range-wide, and so is eCall. But the 4G upgrade, with app-based vehicle access, health checks, ventilation and the ability to send route data to the car, is only standard on the Clubman and Countryman (optional elsewhere). MINI also offers a concierge service as part of the Navigation Plus package.
Mitsubishi doesn’t offer a data connection, but will benefit from the wider Alliance agreement with Google, with the first cars getting Android operating systems and apps from 2021.
The Leaf and e-NV200 electric van are both compatible with NissanConnect EV, which offers remote monitoring of range and charging, and the ability to download previous journeys and energy data for multiple cars.
Peugeot, Citroën and DS
DS will spearhead PSA Group’s connected features, but it’s adding eCall and the associated data connection as vehicles are refreshed or replaced. This will enable them to integrate with PSA’s multi-marque Free2Move Connect Fleet management software, or third-party systems, providing data directly from the vehicle’s CAN bus. Drivers can also download data via smartphone apps.
Vehicles equipped with the R-Link infotainment system can download additional apps and updates for three years. Renault also offers a concierge service in France, but not in the UK yet.
The Leon and Ateca, if fitted with navigation, feature an on-board data connection with WiFi, which also means drivers can interact with their Alexa device. Vehicle status can be downloaded via the Seat DriveApp.
Connectivity is coming, but Suzuki does not offer this on any models yet.
Tesla introduced a new ‘Premium Connectivity’ pack for new orders this summer, which unlocks the full suite of mobile data functions. This includes a mobile app for status and location checks, climate control settings and digital key functionality, with the ability to drive the car away, as well as over-the-air updates without relying on WiFi. Tesla claims 90% of problems can be diagnosed remotely, and they can usually be fixed over the air too.
Toyota & Lexus
Connected navigation is standard in most Lexus and Toyota models. The Lexus ES gets eCall from January, to be rolled out to other models afterwards.
PSA is phasing out the European arm of GM’s OnStar service, aiming to closing it down altogether at the end of 2020. This offers a suite of driver and fleet-targeted remote control, status and location, and telematics features, and a concierge service based out of Luton. A replacement, PSA-owned system will launch with the new Corsa next year, with details yet to be announced.
Car-Net is available on everything except the Up, including connected navigation functions with fuel prices, parking and EV charging information, as well as remote status checks. A larger suite of features, including location checking and geofencing, driving data and remote control of selected functions, as well as eCall, is also available. Cars built since 2008 can add some of that smartphone-controlled functionality via the Volkswagen Connect Box, which plugs into the diagnostic port. Volkswagen We, a ‘digital ecosystem’ of services for owners, is being extended and will be compatible with both systems.
Volvo On Call is optional on the V40 and standard on all other models, with a three year subscription from new. This includes eCall, and a smartphone app which enables drivers to unlock the car, control climate and other functions, send routes to the navigation, and download trip data and fuel use from the last 100 days. The app can work with multiple cars, but there’s a dedicated fleet management solution in the pipeline. Volvo is also working on digital keys – enabling car sharing – and an in-car delivery service developed with Amazon.
Enabling Flexible leasing
Aside from the benefits of better visibility over asset use, Daniel Layne, founder and CTO of Quotevine, believes connected cars could re-shape the way fleets are funded. And, as acceptance of ‘car-as-a-service’ grows, finance companies will need to adapt quickly, he says.
“[Connected cars] will provide a big opportunity, enabling lessors to use real-time vehicle and driver data to offer customers more refined packages suited to their driving habits, usage and budgets,” he explains.
“The future will see fleet leasing businesses assume more of a proactive advisory role, using the right mix of data to counsel enterprise customers on how to best optimise vehicle usage. Real-time visibility will be key, giving fleet managers visualisation dashboards and real-time notifications of driver behaviour, vehicle usage and maintenance requirements.”
“Customers will expect lessors to be responsive – if their situation changes, they don’t expect to be slapped with an early termination charge, but served new relevant options that fit their new circumstances. Regulation in this area regularly refers to treating the customer ‘fairly’. I’d argue that this won’t be enough in future – lessors need to show that they are treating both fleet and retail customers with excellence.”