Tussle for in-vehicle data hits high gear in era of the connected car

Car manufacturers have resisted specific regulations for in-vehicle data, saying that protecting consumers is paramount. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS) - Where you go. What you pass. Where you stop. What you listen to. What you watch. Your good habits. Your bad habits.

Companies in Europe and beyond are vying for control of the crown jewels of the connected car era: your vehicle's data.

The contest is entering a pivotal phase as European Union regulators look to hammer out the world's first laws for the ballooning industry around Web-enabled vehicles, pitting carmakers against a coalition of insurers, leasing companies and repair shops.

European Commission sources said the EU executive should have launched an industry consultation on in-vehicle data last week which could lead to legislation later this year - the first of its kind globally.

Many companies view data as the gold of the new wired world, though for some it is more akin to air or water.

"If you don't have access to data in the future, eventually you'll be squeezed out," said Mr Tim Albertsen, chief executive of ALD, Societe Generale's car leasing division, which commands millions of vehicles.

"You'll not be efficient, you'll not have the right services, you just can't operate at the end of the day."

EU regulators are looking to hammer out the world's first laws for the ballooning industry around Web-enabled vehicles. PHOTO: REUTERS

Car manufacturers, guarding their gatekeeper role in accessing data from their vehicles, have resisted specific regulations for in-vehicle data, saying that protecting consumers is paramount.

"Europe's auto industry is committed to giving access to the data generated by the vehicles it produces," said a spokesman for the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association. "However, uncontrolled access to in-vehicle data poses major safety, (cyber) security, data protection and privacy threats."

Yet the companies lined up against them say limiting or charging what they consider unfair amounts for access to in-vehicle data could kill off competition for carmakers who already operate their own leasing firms, car subscription services and repair shops.

In some cases, they say, carmakers are already restricting access to vehicle data and charging independent repair shops more for access.

"The manufacturers are in direct contact with the vehicle, so they get all the data," said Ms Sylvia Gotzen, chief executive of the International Federation of Automotive Aftermarket Distributors, or Figiefa, which is part of a broader alliance of repair shops and parts makers that employ 3.5 million people in Europe.

"They get the full buffet and all we get is some crumbs."

Vehicle manufacturers have big plans for data.

For example, Stellantis, the world's No. 4 carmaker, expects to generate €20 billion (S$30 billion) annually by 2030 from software products and subscription services. Such offerings are also central to General Motors' plan to double annual revenue to around US$280 billion (S$380 billion).

Volkswagen said data is becoming the "key source of value creation and innovation", adding that customers have "full control" over it, citing vehicle security and customer sovereignty as its main focuses.

BMW rejected suggestions it was withholding data.

The German company said it can share nearly 100 data points with third parties if drivers requested it and could make more available if companies prove a real business need for them and a willingness to take responsibility for cybersecurity risks.

Auto supplier groups like Figiefa say carmakers can access thousands of data points.

Vehicle manufacturers have big plans for data. PHOTO: AFP

A BMW spokesman said the carmaker would like all sides to sit down with a mediator such as the European Commission and hammer out a list of data points that is acceptable to everyone.

Stellantis chief executive Carlos Tavares told reporters on March 11 that the carmaker aggregated data, which cost money, and so needed to be paid for it. He cited, as an example, data that Stellantis sells to cities to measure how often anti-lock braking systems are engaged at junctions and gauge which are the most dangerous.

"It is not only collecting the data, (but) it is also about crunching the data in a way that is going to create value for somebody willing to pay for it," Mr Tavares said.

Yet other companies in the auto ecosystem, such as ALD, say they want the EU to ensure a level playing field. ALD, in the process of buying Dutch rival LeasePlan to give it a combined fleet of 3.5 million vehicles, has a car-sharing platform that needs to run diagnostics, read the odometer, check the fuel gauge and switch cars between users.

It also offers an insurance product that lowers your premium based on good driving behaviour - monitoring how you accelerate and brake.

"Access to data is absolutely key for us to provide the services we do today," Mr Albertsen said.

To extract car data, ALD plugs a wireless "dongle" into the vehicle that transmits information to an in-house developed platform that it pays United States start-up Vinli to operate. Carmakers running similar services get that data directly, putting ALD at a competitive disadvantage, Mr Albertsen said.

Stellantis, for instance, offers car sharing and rentals through its Free2Move unit. Volkswagen could take over rental company Europcar to take advantage of car sharing and subscription services.

And most major carmakers have their own leasing units, like BMW's Alphabet and Mercedes-Benz's Athlon.

Mr Albertsen said major fleet customers were willing to pay for the data, but he wanted regulations to ensure that ALD's car-sharing unit paid the same as, for instance, Stellantis charges its own Free2Move division.

Insurers and car repair shops say it is paramount that the EU let drivers choose who accesses their vehicles' data.

"There is a need to regulate this, as you cannot leave this in the hands of car manufacturers," said Mr Nicolas Jeanmart, industry group Insurance Europe's head of personal and general insurance. "It should be for each driver to decide what they want to do with their data."

Figiefa's Ms Gotzen said that would allow car owners to link their preferred repair shop to their car and have it run remote diagnostics if they had car trouble, instead of relying solely on the manufacturer's recommendations.

"All of this is technically possible now, but we are hampered because car manufacturers prevent us from doing this," she said.

Insurers and car repair shops say it is paramount that the EU let drivers choose who accesses their vehicles' data. PHOTO: REUTERS

She said Figiefa's members are willing to adopt carmakers' cyber-security processes and requirements, but added that cyber security could serve as an excuse for carmakers to restrict access.

Mr Richard Knubben, deputy director-general of Leaseurope, which represents Europe's leasing and car rental firms, said that the longer the EU takes to legislate car data, the more independent repair shops are at risk of going out of business because they lack access to it.

"By the time we get legislation we may already be stuck with an imbalance that we can't fix any more," Mr Knubben said.

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