Interview: TomTom's Jan Maarten de Vries

 

TomTom Automotive announced a string of new business deals at the Geneva Motor Show including a deal with Volkswagen for TomTom Traffic and Maps, extending its business with Fiat and Chrysler in Latin America, as well as new business with Hyundai, Kia and others. The goal, according to Jan

Maarten de Vries, vice president automotive, TomTom, is to help vehicle manufacturers make the transition to the truly connected car.

“We focus on connected navigation where this is concerned,” says de Vries. “With the connected car, you will see that there is so much more software coming into the car and so much more electronics. Consumer expectations are much higher so OEMs are trying to find ways to bring a competitive infotainment system in the car that is connected with their ‘cloud’ system, that also meets consumer expectations and competes with devices such as smart phones in a proper way. That’s where we can help because we try to bring that innovation to the automotive domain as fast as possible at an affordable cost.”

 

Development and integration

Historically, several volume carmakers have tried to launch infotainment systems with varying degrees of success.

“I think there are a number of reasons why it has been so difficult to launch a competitive system,” says de Vries, “The number of features is ever expanding.

It’s growing rapidly – people are used to a level of functionality on their smartphones.

Their expectations of the HMI (Human Machine Interface) and the user experience that works flawlessly is high and they are becoming more demanding.

“At the same time these systems need to be integrated with many more sub‐systems in the car and also with the back end and that’s a complex task. Then the manufacturer wants to introduce these infotainment systems across different regions and different car models and all the time the systems are constantly being updated and that is a difficult thing to manage.

“These systems can be uncompetitive if the software and the content is not up to date. After the system has been launched in the car, OEMs have become used to not touching the system, because it’s risky and may cause problems. In the consumer electronics world, it is common practice to update the software and the services on a very frequent basis and even change the hardware every six months or each year.

That’s a huge contrast with what is happening with these embedded systems.

“To make these systems competitive, we need to correct this issue. We are enabling these systems to have fresh and up‐to‐date content, almost on a real‐time basis.”

 

Software updates

De Vries says that TomTom is also applying development practices to their own software development to do so in a way that does not de‐stabilise the system but allows them to add new innovations and features every two months. “We also stimulate manufacturers to upgrade the software after the launch of the car.”

TomTom also has expertise in fusing together data from different sources and using it to benefit users, such as TomTom’s traffic service.

“That’s where the link to telematics is,” says de Vries, “If we refer to Volkswagen, we provide a traffic service to Google, but what you see is a telematics service that is being bought by the OEM.”

GM launched its OnStar system at the Geneva Motor Show for Vauxhall and Opel customers in Europe. The system has been progressively developed in North America over many years. OnStar merges infotainment and real time services

in an installed system.

 

Connectivity, but how?

There were plenty of infotainment systems on display at Geneva and there appear to be some differing trends. Some have opted for embedded SIM cards as the basis of the car’s external connectivity, while others rely on the user’s smartphone to make the connections.

De Vries sees both systems co‐existing in the market place, at least in the short term, “For instance, the deal we announced with Hyundai‐Kia on services makes use of the smartphone for connectivity, but over time what we expect is that embedded connectivity, 3G or 4G will grow at the expense of using the smartphone. That doesn’t mean that it will completely rule out connectivity using smartphones, especially for entry‐level models, where it can still be a cost effective model. It’s more flexible to do it, so they will coexist, but over time we think you will see more embedded connectivity.”

TomTom also has a separate device for eCall, the Europe wide emergency system that was due to come on stream in 2015.

It now looks as though it will be 2017 or 2018 before the system is launched. If a car is involved in a collision, eCall will automatically log the car’s position and call the emergency services, even if the driver is unable to make the call. “Then maybe you will have a separate box for telematics and another for entertainment,” says de Vries, “It seems to make sense, but that is an architecture decision that’s up to the OEMs. Then we will probably see in the architecture more common technology for both the head unit, providing entertainment services as well as the telematics provision unit.”

 

Private/fleet separation

We could also see separation between systems providing information of interest to fleets and those for private drivers.

“The two areas are close together, but the boundaries are getting more blurred,” comments de Vries, “There are still two primary reasons why there are distinct areas. One is the real time services for things like connected navigation and there are things like Spotify that we don’t provide. These are focussed on the consumer, whereas telematics are focused on business customers.

“Consumer services are provided as part of the car, provided by the OEM for the driver, whereas the fleet management solution is typically provided to the fleet owner who may have vehicles from different brands. But because the technology is close together, I think you may start to see changes in the market.”

De Vries can see a trend where vehicles are getting smarter, by offering some of the services that we have already discussed as well as gathering more data from the car, which may help the driver and may also help with remote vehicle diagnostics and data that can be used for third party services.

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for 16 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day. As Business Editor, Natalie ensures the group websites and newsletters are updated with the latest news.

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