Volvo’s connected offering - sharing data and experience with OEMs and suppliers

David Holecek is the Director of Connected Products and Services at Volvo Car Group, based at the headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden. Simon Duval Smith caught up with him recently to get the Swedish carmaker’s take on the challenges of the new connected automotive world and the implications for suppliers

David Holecek’s team is responsible for all commercial aspects of Volvo Cars’ connectivity products and services, both inside and outside of the car. This includes infotainment features, navigation experience, connected in-car apps, device integration, telematics, and smartphone remote experiences. Additionally, the scope extends to third-party integration (e.g. workshops, working with suppliers, but also other businesses and authorities), as well as new business models. Prior to this position, David was responsible for branding and marketing activities within the area of connectivity. Before that, David headed the Digital Marketing department at Volvo Cars for many years. This included creating a global web platform and pioneering mobile web solutions and smartphone apps. Holecek studied International Business Administration at the School of Business, Economics and Law within the University of Gothenburg, has worked within information technology since 1990 and with digital business development since 1995.

Data sharing and the scale challenge

Holecek says that the sharing of safety and other vehicle data is essential for a cohesive automotive offering from all OEMs and gives an example. “We have shared data in an 'anonymised' and aggregated way and we could still do more sharing like this. For the last couple of years we have shared 'slippery road' data between our cars in Sweden and Norway; this will roll out to other countries also. Since last autumn we have shared this data with Volvo trucks. That data is also shared with the Swedish road authority so that they get information such as that a certain stretch of road is particularly slippery and dangerous and they can go out and treat that road. The limitations on data sharing for Volvo is the scale; we are not big enough, we need to have a larger market share through more connected cars that can talk to each other and this is where I hope there can be more talk within the industry and with governing bodies to standardise the way that we can exchange this type of information.”

Pulling together all the strands of connectivity

I put it to Holecek that if new mobility was a military operation and we were embarking on a terrible world war, the disorganisation and lack of communication would be disastrous. How can we pull it all together, mapping 5g, connectivity generally and what would be his wish list if there was a global administration to appeal to? "That is a very good analogy, 

the way the world is set up at present means we have few options, there is no one OEM who is big enough to create global standards, the coordinating bodies and consortiums are often quite slow to legislate or encourage new mobility programmes and this leads us to other major service players who will come in. They will offer these services to many OEMs and these service providers will do a lot of the coordination and data sharing for and on behalf of the OEMs. There are benefits to this approach and there are also some concerns, some risks that we need to mitigate."

So does he think the push will come from the Googles, the Vodafones etc, pushing the carmakers into adopting systems that are global or Pan-Asian or Pan-European and is this because these major providers have more funds than most carmakers? He says it is a question of scale and cost, "Yes, because they have the money, the infrastructure and the knowledge of how to deal with these challenges, and with their scale and size they can actually create a service that can automatically be used by many different OEMs."

Suppliers and the new mobility age

The changing new mobility landscape could be seen as very threatening to the supplier community, as new soft- and hardware players migrate into the automotive sector from other industries, industries that are already further ahead in the development of connectivity solutions. Holecek agrees with this threat situation but says that, “We are seeing a lot of ‘traditional’ suppliers, makers of steel and chemical products, buying into connected-type companies to get a head start in the new mobility supplier space. If they don’t buy into or take over new technology companies, they are working very hard to develop the tech inside their existing company frameworks.” I ask him if Volvo is working on insourcing a lot of the new technology development, to keep it exclusive to them? He says that, in keeping with Volvo’s data sharing mindset, the OEM wants these new technologies to be widely available. “Safety, environmental protection and vehicle efficiency are challenges for the whole auto industry, and indeed the whole planet. All OEMs need to share their knowledge and developments and this will work its way down to the suppliers, giving them more opportunities than in the past, with the added bonus that the work will be cleaner and better for the operators in the plants. This applies to to everything in the car-making process, from chip-shooting (making circuit boards using silicon and similar electronic chips) to electric vehicle assembly; it will all be better for our associates in plants, who put the supplied components and vehicles together.”

Data protection

Often when I take a road test vehicle out for the first time, I am able to see previous destinations, details of telephone calls and if I hacked a little harder into the car's communication system I could probably see banking transaction details in the car's Internet connection history. I ask Holecek which carmaker is going to be the first to install an automated default setting system that will empty this sensitive data once the vehicle is handed on to the next user? He says that the responsibility for the 'clearing' action cannot just fall on the carmaker. "It is going to be combination of many different approaches but I definitely hope that we (Volvo) be among the first, if not the first, to increase and refine this type of security. This ties in with personalisation so if the car is always being personalised to the customer, with the option of completely opting out of this type of connectivity, and just run the car anonymously which means the user is just a guest in the car but if we go to the personalised experience then the vehicle will adapt to you only if it is you in the car. So if someone else enters the car the they are either a guest or they need to log in." I suggest that this brings us back to using passwords or other identifying criteria, which are prone to hacking or copying. Holecek says that customer recognition by the vehicle needs to become more sophisticated. "The user's identity could be established by many criteria. It could be done by the vehicle recognising the user's phone or by biometric protocols such as retina recognition. We need to be cautious when it comes to applying personal settings on the vehicle's performance, we should start off with ensuring that more general preferences are personalised, such as heating, infotainment and so on, and then move to perhaps tailoring the car's performance to the driver preferences and profile."

Speed limiters and the cost of distracted driving

Blanket speed limits fitted to vehicles have had a mixed reaction from carmakers and legislators; Volvo were the first OEM to state that their vehicles will be speed limited in the future. Many industry observers feel that this could lead to complacent and distracted driving causing more not fewer accidents, and that the speed limit on a vehicle should be combined with sensors and cameras to ensure that the driver is not using the speed-limited cruise control to detach themselves from driving. Holecek says that there are only certain occasions when excess speed is called for and that, Yes, the more the car will do things for the driver, the more distracted the driver can become; this is something we are working very hard on and there will be an integrated solution to this challenge. There are regional differences too, different markets will have different demands in driver behaviour and legislative terms."

Blanket speed limits fitted to vehicles have had a mixed reaction from carmakers and legislators; Volvo were the first OEM to state that their vehicles will be speed limited in the future. Many industry observers feel that this could lead to complacent and distracted driving causing more not fewer accidents, and that the speed limit on a vehicle should be combined with sensors and cameras to ensure that the driver is not using the speed-limited cruise control to detach themselves from driving. Holecek says that there are only certain occasions when excess speed is called for and that, Yes, the more the car will do things for the driver, the more distracted the driver can become; this is something we are working very hard on and there will be an integrated solution to this challenge. There are regional differences too, different markets will have different demands in driver behaviour and legislative terms."

Of course these initiatives are expensive and Volvo is very fortunate, as well as being very successful in sales terms, in having Geely as a benevolent and non-interfering parent company, as Holecek says. “Yes, we are very lucky to have Geely as our parent company, they let us get on with research and development, as long at it shows definite benefits and these benefits do not always have to be to the immediate bottom line, they understand our concern for safety and the environment and encourage Volvo to push the boundaries of what I would call ‘technical endeavour for the benefit of all automotive consumers’. 

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