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The congress featured a panel discussion on big data in the auto industry (Photo: Sylvia Steinbach)

LONDON -- The auto industry is coming to grips with the broad implications of connectivity, but it will be a while before carmakers and drivers will start reaping the full benefits of new information technologies. In the meantime, ties between traditional carmakers and new automotive players will have to be strengthened; car retailing is in the middle of a paradigm shift as the old dealer sales model all but disappears; and IT is redefining the driving experience to the point where it will have little or nothing to do with the way cars are operated today.

Those were just some of the conclusions that could be drawn from presentations at the first automotiveIT International Congress, which took place in London July 1 and 2. More than 20 speakers differed over the speed of implementation and the priorities that need to be set. They also focused on vastly different areas of the automotive IT revolution. But most agreed that new technologies properly applied will be a boon to the car industry.

The automotiveIT International Congress was held at the Siemens Crystal in the London Docklands. The first-time conference, whose motto was Connected Mobility 3.0 - IT Moves the Auto Industry, was attended by 260 registered attendees from 20 countries. Forty percent of attendees represented major automotive brands.

Safety and security was a big issue in the discussions about tomorrow's connected cars. "We have to be in a position where we can be sure that cars are safe," said Mike Bell, head of connected services at Jaguar Land Rover. Added Hubertus von Roenne, who is in charge of the manufacturing industry activities of BT's Global Services division: "There seems to be a need to get a good grip on security around the connected car."

Digital lifestyle

Several speakers focused on the way cars will be operated in the near future and there was broad consensus that connected vehicles will open up a new range of possibilities. "We have to make the car one of these devices that people expect to be connected," said Maurits Aalberse, director of connected services at new carmaker Qoros. "The car is one of the screens you are using for your digital lifestyle," he said. Such a new use case for the car was also espoused by Continental executive Otmar Schreiner, who said: "In the future, the car will become a digital companion."

Volvo Cars provided an example how it is upgrading its in-car displays and controls to function in the digital era. The first new Volvo, the XC90 SUV, will be unveiled at the Paris auto show later this year and Volvo's head of electric and electronic development, Thomas Mueller, told the Congress that a novel holistic approach to infotainment will be behind the improved functionality. Mueller disputed that, in the battle to mitigate driver distraction, a carmaker has to cut back on the functions available in the car. "It's not about preventing driver distraction by not offering functions," he said, "but it's about designing a system that's non-distractive and intuitive to use."

Digital retail

Next to in-car functionality, digital retail was another important focus of the Congress, which started off with a visit to Audi City, the London-based digital dealership established by Audi two years ago. Audi saw a 70 percent increase in sales at its London site following the launch of Audi City and 70 percent of customers are new to the brand.

Streamlining retail and making better use of customer data were topics of the two panel sessions held at the conference. The need for action on the retail side was highlighted earlier in the day by Arndt Ellinghorst, chief automotive analyst at ISI Group. He pointed out that overly large dealer bodies eats up as much as 10 percent of the cost of a car. And he noted that, in Europe, 60 percent of all cars are sold at a loss.

One way to lower costs is to cooperate on the underlying architecture of in-car infotainment, Philippe Gicquel, president of Genivi said. The Genivi alliance has 170 members, including 13 automakers. A shared approach to dealing with the growing complexity of in-car infotainment is "absolutely necessary," Gicquel told the Congress.

Autonomous driving

One of the most complex but also most exciting prospects for the auto industry, autonomous driving, was addressed by Otmar Schreiner, director R&D Interior Electronics Solutions at supplier Continental. Schreiner cited well-known statistics that attribute 90 percent of car-related accidents to human errors and also pointed out that drivers lose inordinate amounts of time being stuck in traffic. The self-driving car will address these issues, the Continental executive said, but he listed several challenges that need to be overcome before a car can "look around a corner" and drive itself.

The final speaker of the automotiveIT International Congress was Peter van Manen, vice president McLaren Applied Technologies. Van Manen noted that, with all the automotive focus on connected cars, the industry seems to forget that Formula 1 cars have been connected for decades. During each Formula 1 race, cars transmit roughly 1.5 Gigabytes of data in real time. The data are analyzed back at headquarters and used for the "permanent further development of the cars," van Manen said. He noted that, partly because of the availability of these performance data, Formula 1 race car makers have far shorter development-to-production cycles than regular car makers.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: A LONGER VERSION OF THIS STORY IS PUBLISHED IN THE AUTOMOTIVEIT INTERNATIONAL EXECUTIVE REPORT. TO SUBSCRIBE, PLEASE GO TO: WWW.AUTOMOTIVEIT.COM/EXECUTIVE-REPORT)

-By Werner Beutnagel, Hilmar Dunker and Arjen Bongard