Smart set of wheels

Sophisticated data processing technologies are enabling mid-range car brands to emulate the luxury marques with systems that make the driving experience easier and safer.


Car companies have long been masters of marketing new models by claiming a dedication to innovation and cutting-edge technologies. But now they are using complex data-led innovation to stay ahead of the competition.

‘Connected automotive systems’, which exchange data with smartphones, the internet and even other cars, are no longer exclusive to premium models. These systems are expected to grow to 189 million units worldwide by 2016, up from a predicted 41 million at the end of 2011, according to a study by ABI Research.

Many data-led systems that exist in the US market, such as Ford Sync and Toyota Entune, are being modified for launch in Europe this autumn and early next year. The voice-controlled Ford Sync, a version of which is due to launch in Europe in 2012 in the new Ford Focus, enables users to send maps to their car from Google Maps and Mapquest, receives real-time traffic information and will automatically call an emergency operator and provide the vehicle’s location data following an accident when the airbag is deployed.

Ford is also developing cars that can network with other vehicles using Wi-Fi within a half-mile radius. Each car works as one node in a mesh of networked vehicles, sending data to the central network, which in turn can inform drivers of localised traffic jams.

Audi’s A6, A7 and A8 models use GPS location data to detect whether the vehicle is driving in a city or on a remote country road so the driver can adjust the length of the headlight beam accordingly. It can detect if the car is being used abroad and automatically turn the lights to suit driving on the other side of the road, along with changing the clock to reflect the new time zone.

The data has provided Audi with a variety of ways to simplify consumers’ lives, which can then be communicated through marketing. Audi UK senior product manager James Allitt says: “It’s not necessarily complicated. It’s just joined-up thinking.”

Allitt adds that data-led technologies can no longer be seen as add-ons to vehicles but are part of a holistic system of interacting technologies. The data allows brands to fine-tune the role a car can play in consumers’ lives.

Daniel Knight, product representative for BMW’s telematics system, ConnectedDrive, explains: “Within developed economies, technical connectivity infrastructures are now firmly embedded in our social and business environments. Consumers depend heavily on this infrastructure to maintain their daily routines. They expect to be ’connected’ whether they are at home, on foot or in their vehicles.”

Fuel efficiency, safety and social connectivity are the three pillars driving data-led innovation, irrespective of the brand’s demographic and price. This fits with consumer needs as 91% of people believe that fuel efficiency is the most important reason for their car purchase, with safety at 82%, according to KPMG’s 2011 Global Auto Executive Survey.

Case study: BMW

For BMW, showcasing its emerging technologies is a key part of its digital marketing and PR strategy. To strengthen the brand’s reputation as a pioneer of new technology and vehicle innovations, BMW has chosen to share developments with the public that would normally be kept under wraps.


Daniel Knight, BMW’s product representative for ConnectedDrive, explains: “It is very important to us that we share
our forward-thinking mentality with our current customer base so that existing

BMW drivers can continue to enjoy our products and new generations of consumers can be inspired by the brand.”

Among data-led innovations being developed by BMW is a near-field communication key, which uses the same technology as an Oyster card on the London Underground. As well as holding data remotely about the car, such as its GPS location and how much fuel is in the tank, the key can be used to download tickets to function as a contactless payment system.

The aim is that, once the external infrastructure is in place, the NFC key will allow customers to book a train ticket on the way to the railway station using in-car internet, then download it to the key. The key would then be scanned by ticket inspectors, once the driver is on the train, cutting out time-consuming queues for paper tickets. This type of technology could also be used as an electronic key for hotel rooms booked online to bypass checking in.

BMW ConnectedDrive’s website features a video-led section called Future Lab, which showcases emerging technologies at different stages of maturity. Knight says the website aims to get consumers up to speed with its innovation processes.

“It builds on the principle of intelligently networking the driver, vehicle and outside world,” he argues. “It provides a transparent overview of this strategic direction and demonstrates a clear commitment to forging new ground in vehicle innovation.”

Toyota’s Touch and Go connectivity system will come as standard on selected models of its third-generation Yaris, which launches this month. Touch and Go uses Bluetooth to connect to drivers’ smartphones via an in-car interface, providing access to satellite navigation, speed and safety camera alerts, Google Local Search and localised information, such as petrol prices, weather reports and parking availability.

Toyota UK brand manager Nik Pearson says: “Smartphone technology has revolutionised the way we live and has become ubiquitous very quickly. One in three people have a smartphone in the UK, so incorporating that into something like the Yaris actively associates with this forward-thinking technology.”

While the Touch and Go equivalent in the US, Toyota Entune, features link-ups with internet radio stations Pandora and iHeartRadio, as well as online booking services such as and Opentable, the European version only features Google Local Search and apps specific to Toyota, with a view to expand the range in future.

The decision to start simple is partly an effort to keep costs low. Pearson explains: “The price point in Europe is absolutely key. We want to get below the £500 recommended selling price for the system with the added benefit of a stronger residual value. Historically, the outlay on satellite navigation has been more than £1,000. In our segment, we want to keep it relevant – that’s why the £500 level is so important.”

The importance of fuel efficiency to customers is also economically driven. Fiat won a Marketing Week Engage Award earlier this year for its eco:Drive campaign, which taught owners how to drive more efficiently, saving more than £3m in fuel costs.

Brane Bosancic, corporate marketing manager of Fiat Group UK, says: “We live in an austere time now. Eco means two things: ecology and economy. Although the ecology was the main focus for us, it became quite apparent that people are very aware of the fuel prices and how much they’re spending. So economy also became an important part of the eco:Drive.”

The Audi A8: Features a navigation system with Google connectivity

Eco:Drive software can be downloaded from a computer, saved to a memory stick and then plugged into the customer’s Fiat. Journey data is recorded, sent to a server in Milan, processed through a system of complex algorithms and presented to the customer via their PC with easy-to-understand facts, figures and personalised tutorials.

The data is first collected by the car’s on-board computer, which controls the electronic stability program and braking system.

Bosancic says: “The computer looks at the performance of all the different parts of the vehicle at all times in split-second increments.

Our boffins in Turin thought that if the data was available to the car, we could extract some of it and get it out to the customer.”

With innovations so focused on complex data analysis and exchange, a key challenge for marketers is to convey the benefits of new technologies without confusing customers.

Audi’s Allitt admits: “Compared to traditional ways of car marketing – using performance or efficiency as the main hook – it takes a lot more explaining. It is being integrated into our overall communications strategy so we can explain the customer benefits a little bit better.”

Audi, BMW and Fiat focus on video content in their digital marketing to explain their telematics systems in a visual, immediate way.

For eco:Drive, Fiat created an animation that showed the journey its data was taking. Bosancic says: “We live in a digital age and the easiest way to communicate with people is online. Our video is simple and fun. If you want more information, you can go to the website and find out exactly what is happening to your data and what is going on in the car.”

Pearson agrees: “The key thing for us to communicate is that Touch and Go is easy to use. Our drivers are not like Gadget Guy [a character in Toyota’s current advertising campaign, above] as he’s got a million different things that do a million separate actions and none of them very well.”

Gadget Guy: Animation for Toyota’s Touch and Go technology

To explain complex features, car brands have also been forming partnerships with well-known businesses in this area, such as Google Earth and Local Search. The idea is that consumers already understand these technologies and recognise the benefit.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that being associated with Google would help to sell our brand, but it’s important to explain that we’re interested in using technology and integrating it into what we’re doing,” says Audi’s Allitt.

With so much personal and performance data being used by car manufacturers, security is a key concern for marketers. Fiat’s Bosancic says that while the UK has tight privacy laws, other countries are even more stringent and there is no barrier to where consumers drive their cars. When it markets its data-led projects, the brand always emphasises the fact that the information is anonymous. “We assure people that it’s not ’Big Brother is watching how you’re driving’,” he notes.

Concern over how best to communicate data-led innovations does not mean car brands are holding back on their development. They are looking to consolidate their efforts to create new industry standards. Ford and Toyota are planning to collaborate on back-end technology and innovation, such as how to safely transfer data to and from a vehicle.

Toyota’s Pearson says: “It stops 32 different manufacturers creating 32 different data standards. It makes sense to have common data standards, especially in the US where Ford and Toyota are such major players. It makes it much easier for consumers to understand and for developers who want to create products for those platforms.”

Car brands promoting their data-led services have a tricky balance to find. They need to keep customers informed of their technological advances, such as Toyota’s collaboration with Microsoft to develop the Windows Azure cloud-computing platform for the car and BMW’s experiments with near-field communication technologies [see box, below]. These position the brands on the cutting edge. But at the same time, consumers need to feel confident that their car will not be out of date in six months’ time.

Audi’s Allitt says that because software is easier to update than hardware, using online data updates to cars’ operating systems will be key. Because updates can be made to systems that are already owned, consumers can feel they are getting new elements to their cars without having to change the model entirely.

Toyota’s Pearson says that in future, car data systems may even become open source. This would allow manufacturers to offer consumers even more personalised products and services through their vehicles. He predicts: “This will allow the system to be more dynamic, agile and relevant to more consumers.”

Q&A: Nik Pearson, brand manager, Toyota UK

Marketing Week (MW): How is data-led innovation impacting on your marketing strategy?

Nik Pearson (NP): The whole premise of Yaris since it launched in 1998 has been ’Piccolo Genio’, which means ’Little Genius’. Back then, it was all about city agility and a ’bigger on the inside’ philosophy, but now we’ve moved on in the story to talk about connectivity -it’s the next logical step for the whole concept of the vehicle.

MW: Google Local Search features heavily in your communications – why?

NP: It’s quite simple and intuitive but gives you the ’wow factor’. It’s impressive to drivers that you can find a restaurant or shop and then link it back into the navigation system. We wanted to pick something to communicate that’s easy to grasp but still has the inspiring feeling of: “Oh, I didn’t think you could do that”.

MW: How will you assure customers of the safety of their data?

NP: The system’s phonebook feature feeds off your phone rather than downloading your contacts, so you don’t have any privacy issues if your car is stolen. When you de-link your phone from the car, your contacts go with it. The portal system, which is how you access the connected services, requires a username and password, which demands the vehicle identification number and the Navi ID to set up – information that would be hard for anyone else to get hold of.

MW: How are you attempting to attract the less tech-savvy?

NP: We’ve taken the decision that until 30 November, every order on 95% of our models will come with the full Touch and Go system for free. It means that 95% of our customers, whether they’re tech-savvy or not, will have it. The key thing is that they’ll actually experience the system and see how easy it is to use.


One-third of all Supermini (Yaris’s segment) customers say a multimedia solution is important to them. This figure has increased for the past three years.

30% of customers say that the absence of multimedia features in a new car would change their brand choice.

Data-driven services, such as Google Local Search, have become the third-most-important feature for a car-based multimedia system to have, after traffic and speed camera information.



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