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Point of View: Losing Our Connection?

As whimsical an idea as it was at the time, the flying cars in the 1960s animated television sitcom “The Jetsons” were something that captured the imagination of many of us. Now, 50 years later, that cartoon idea is possible, and, according to a April 7 item on CNN.com, not that far from reality – at least in the mind of one future-thinking entrepreneur.

Carl Dietrich, the chief executive and co-founder of aerospace company Terrafugia, announced last May that Terrafugia had started working on the concept of TF-X, a four-seat, plug-in hybrid electric car that can do vertical take-offs and landings. In fact, Terrafugia, founded in 2006, made headlines in recent years with Transition, a street-legal airplane that can be flown in and out of general aviation airports.

And even though the automotive fleet is still grounded, advancing technology is quickly moving into the future in regard to alternative fuels, computer-controls and connectivity. And, in regard to that last item – connectivity – over the next several years, more and more of the vehicles on the road will be connected, having a profound affect on car manufacturers, mobile carriers and application developers. Make no mistake, this can and will have a monumental impact on our industry as well.

“The strategy of most [auto] manufacturers is to make their cars connected,” said Samuel Ropert, project leader of a recent report from Digiworld by IDATE, a French-based entity tracking telecom, Internet and media markets. “The main driver here is based on the regulation related to safety issues in Europe and the underlying revenue opportunity for them. In the USA, the recent GM announcement to embed 4G modules in all new cars is seen as a key trigger for market take-off.”

The IDATE report notes that three main technical solutions exist for this trend toward connectivity. “The embedded module system (in the car itself) is the most technically advantageous system as it has a dedicated system for connected services,” according to IDATE. “The next option consists of the use of the smartphone for connectivity tethering, with the technical limitation (use of the miniature antenna). The last model is a combination of the first two other models (use of embedded system for telematics and smartphone tethering for entertainment (mobile Internet-like services).

In fact, IDATE projects that 420 million vehicles will be connected by 2018. The embedded systems will lead the market with 222 million units by 2018.

The central question, though, is where will we – the independent auto care industry – be as this all develops. For now, the aftermarket seems to be at the window, peering in, not yet finding our place in the car connectivity computation, where we are part of the connection, not just the carmakers and their dealers.

Until our place is set at the table, it could be slim pickings for the aftermarket — a challenge we must meet to survive.
Gary A. Molinaro

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