Department of Transportation:The Motor Is the Message
Is this the dawn of the sponsored car? Carmakers - even once-technophobic, domestic ones - are deploying sophisticated new communications systems that can feed traffic, data and more targeted and complex information into autos. And they can do it today on existing networks - no advanced, yet-to-be-rolled-out wireless schemes or blue-sky broadband technologies needed. These systems work now.
"We are at the beginning of the third wave of the in-car telematics and navigation experience," says Scott Sedlik, vice president of product marketing for inrix, the Kirkland, Wash.-based automotive information and traffic company,
The first wave of information that worked in cars focused on embedded and portable devices that were completely disconnected but provided some value, such as routing and mapping. The second wave brought one-way broadcast data connectivity, which allows, for example, bmw, mini and Volvo drivers to use their Garmin or TomTom gpss to receive real-time traffic information over fm data signals.
And this third wave brings true two-way connectivity into the vehicle.
Earlier this year, the Ford Motor Company announced a significant upgrade to its sync in-car connectivity system. sync was deployed last year as a relatively simple voice-activated control technology for media, telephony and other basic functions. But in its new riff, sync offers hands-free, voice-activated and voice-delivered traffic reports, precise turn-by-turn directions, and up-to-date, personalized information such as business listings, news, sports and weather. And the system, which is enabled from technology developed by Seattle-based Airbiquity, does not rely on complex, not-fully-deployed broadband or wireless systems; rather, it runs on readily available spare bandwidth once used by the pager network in markets across America.
And while Ford's solution doesn't include advertising today, the technology platform will be opened up to third-party developers some time this year. That will quickly enable a broad range of marketing opportunities that were once considered strictly blue-sky stuff: robust local search, accurate weather, very accurate mapping integration with personal and sponsored points of interest, song tagging, and many others.
These new digital applications are not only tantalizing for marketers, but are pressuring automakers to start acting like consumer electronics companies and roll out new tools in 18-month cycles, rather than the traditional 2-4-year cycle of the auto industry.
For example, Ford is already riffing on itself, now offering connected data products aimed at small businesses under the Ford Work Solutions brand. And the expectation is gm will quickly follow suit with similar branded products as part of OnStar, its smart vehicle technology.
"Car manufacturers are scrambling to find differentiation for their vehicles," says Kamyar Moinzadeh, ceo of Airbiquity. And Moinzadeh says that in-vehicle data is the perfect way to make cars unique, one ideal for advertising. "You have a completely closed loop on measuring how, and if, ad dollars are working."