For all the talk about in-vehicle connectivity, it may seem as though the age of the connected car has already arrived. However, in some ways, society has barely scratched the surface of what will end up being a decades long, no-going-back-type of global transformation in connected transportation.
While the automotive OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) are pushing the market forward by including embedded connectivity features off the assembly line, most Americans aren’t driving vehicles straight off the assembly line. In fact, according to U.S. DOT (Dept. of Transportation), the average age of the cars and light trucks on the road is 11.4 years old. Therefore, it will likely be many years—decades, even—before the OEMs’ current push toward connectivity fully plays out on the road.
A 2015 survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Pioneer Electronics, www.pioneer.com, similarly found that most Americans aren’t driving new cars, with 61% of respondents saying their daily drivers are at least six years old. Ted Cardenas, vice president of marketing for Pioneer Electronics USA, says because a majority of the vehicles on the road today are older, many do not offer in-vehicle connectivity. Therefore, aftermarket solutions are playing a key role in driving the connected-car space by allowing consumers with older vehicles to take advantage of the latest connectivity and entertainment options at minimal cost—at least when compared to the cost of buying a new vehicle with an option package.
“Drivers can purchase a new head unit from Pioneer and have the same entertainment features and connectivity choices as someone who spends $20,000+ for a new vehicle with the same features,” Cardenas says. “Additionally, aftermarket units have the flexibility to grow and respond quickly to consumer trends. Consider the mismatch of consumer ownership duration between the smartphone and the automobile—many consumers will purchase the latest iPhone or Android smartphone every year; however, the average age of the vehicles on the road in the U.S. is over 11 years old. This technology gap is filled by the aftermarket, offering the ability to upgrade the connectivity of the vehicle to coincide with the latest smartphone features.”
The aftermarket is also democratizing in-vehicle connectivity. For instance, in some cases, consumers can spend less than $100 to add some level of connectivity to their cars. Cardenas gives one example, Pioneer’s MVH-X380BT digital media receiver, which at $95 sets users up with Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free calling and music streaming. By being nimble and adept, aftermarket technology providers are positioned well to keep up with what consumers want.
“This technology gap is filled by the aftermarket, offering the ability to upgrade the connectivity of the vehicle to coincide with the latest smartphone features.” –Ted Cardenas, Pioneer
What Consumers Want
Solutions such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay reflect today’s consumers’ desire to recreate the “smartphone experience” in their vehicles. When shopping for an in-vehicle connectivity solution, consumers look for something intuitive; they want to use familiar controls to access the information and entertainment they’re used to accessing on their mobile devices, such as music and GPS-enabled traffic and navigation. They also want a user-friendly, hands-free interface that allows them to send and receive text messages and to make and receive voice calls.
Jubal Leierer, retail merchandising manager for Clarion, www.clarion.com, says for the past few years, the emphasis for aftermarket automotive innovation has been on connectivity, as more consumers look for ways to bring their mobile world into their vehicles. “From Bluetooth to satellite and HD radio to new smartphone protocols, the push has been to bring more information and entertainment to the consumer,” Leierer says. “The drive for connectivity has spurred development in this arena and the technologies that are pioneered in the aftermarket are making their way into new car models.”
Leierer describes the aftermarket as a sort of proving ground for mainstream auto manufacturers. Since the development cycle is often shorter than it is in the OEM world, the aftermarket plays an important role in the overall adoption of in-vehicle technology because it’s a place where auto manufacturers can measure consumer demand and determine the viability of emerging technologies.
Clarion provides an array of in-vehicle infotainment solutions, from connected head units that integrate smartphones with vehicle entertainment systems to intelligent safety systems that rely on realtime data to help keep drivers safe. By working with both consumers and OEMs, Clarion is looking to meet the needs of all of its customers through value-added connectivity.
“The aftermarket offers many advantages to the consumer,” Leierer adds. “For some, it allows them to customize their vehicle to make it their own. This could take the form of improved audio performance or a host of aesthetic changes. For many others, it allows them to bring new technologies to older vehicles that never offered it.”
Steve Brown, senior development manager for the Restyle program at Alpine Electronics of America, www.alpine-usa.com, says the ability to customize is key to many consumers who turn to the aftermarket for their automotive connectivity needs. “Americans in particular like to make their vehicles special, and the aftermarket allows them to do just that,” Brown says. “They can pick the options they like the best, and spend more on categories that are more important to them on their priority list. They can also tailor their vehicle to have the functionality and safety that fits how they use it.”
Alpine offers a variety of products including audio, video, navigation, connectivity, and drive-assist systems. Alpine of America in particular offers Alpine Restyle, which focuses on large-screen in-dash system solutions for popular U.S. trucks and SUVs. “(Alpine Restyle) is a direct result of a massive amount of consumer data collection about the drivers of these vehicles and how they use them,” Brown explains. “The system is designed to allow truck and SUV users to specify a system superior to anything that was available as an OEM offering.”
Because connectivity inside vehicles has the potential to cause driver distraction, Brown says Alpine’s approach to combine the “right level” of phone integration into a large, easy-to-use aftermarket dashboard system is the way of the future. Further, Brown believes that in the future, a vehicle-specific approach to aftermarket connectivity will be more viable than a “one-size-fits-all” approach. He says: “This (approach) will help keep the aftermarket viable moving forward, and while it’s a challenging engineering endeavor, it’s one we’re making a high level of investment into.”
“Americans in particular like to make their vehicles special, and the aftermarket allows them to do just that.” –Steve Brown, Alpine Electronics of America
Driving Value through Data
Aftermarket solutions are all about delivering value to the cars on the road today, which often takes the form of Bluetooth connectivity/smartphone integration, navigation, and some connected safety features; but in the future, data will play a larger role in both aftermarket and OEM connectivity solutions. In fact, the prominence of IoT (Internet of Things) technology is encouraging consumers to think of their cars as just another part of their connected lives that will benefit from decisionmaking intelligence.
Navin Ganeshan, former vice president of product management for Zubie, www.zubie.com, a connected-car company, says “connected car” is currently an umbrella term that encompasses connectivity, data collection, analytics, and end-user features. “But the real lasting value is not purely in connecting a car to the cloud, but in the data collected and analyzed and the resulting end-user features that this can power,” Ganeshan says. “So we believe that in the next 10 years, connectivity will become more of a commodity, and the center of gravity of the connected-car market will shift more squarely to end-user features such as safe-driving analytics, diagnostics and maintenance insight, and new use cases that leverage vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity and vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity.”
In terms of innovation, then, perhaps the most meaningful trends in the aftermarket going forward are related to the use of data and analytics to redefine existing practices and inform consumer decisionmaking. For example, Ganeshan says this could include developing a better model for maintenance schedules that takes into account driving conditions and driver behavior, or developing better diagnoses of problems using aggregate data from other similar model cars.
“Consumer interest, mostly a function of awareness, is quickly moving beyond basic infotainment (such as) streaming music, etc., and Wi-Fi access to location-based services, app-based monitoring, diagnostics, location tracking, and trip recording,” Ganeshan adds. “Overall market research and our own data also points to a growing interest and willingness to utilize driving data for discounts in insurance and service. In-car Wi-Fi, along with safety-related features, is usually at the top of the list in most surveys.”
These trends benefit aftermarket providers like Zubie, which offers a connected-car services platform that utilizes a cellular OBD-II device and cloud-based analytics platform to deliver vehicle diagnostics, location, and driving behavior information in realtime. In 2015, the company expanded its portfolio by launching an in-car Wi-Fi solution powered by the Verizon 4G LTE (long-term evolution) network.
Aftermarket connectivity solutions are filling a need in the market by empowering the vast majority of cars on the road with connected features and experiences according to a vehicle owner’s needs and wants, as well as his budget. Unlike factory-installed solutions, the aftermarket allows for DIY installation and the ability to move solutions as cars are bought and sold. Plus, innovation can take place separate from lengthy automotive product cycles, offering tremendous value for the current and future connected-car space.
While automakers are driving awareness of connected-car technology through massive marketing campaigns, the reality is that most consumers don’t want to wait until their next car purchase to benefit from connected features. The aftermarket allows consumers to have the best of both worlds—the latest connectivity features without buying the latest car.
Bethanie Hestermann is an editor-at-large for Connected World magazine.