Commission wants manufacturers to build more internet-connected cars

Online, while driving. [mroach/Flickr]T]

The European Commission wants car companies to make sure new models have a slew of digital technologies that can cut fuel use and be safer on roads, as part of an EU strategy on internet-connected vehicles published today (30 November).

By 2019, cars should come with digital systems that warn drivers about traffic, road work, weather and approaching emergency vehicles. Soon after that, the Commission wants new car models to have high-tech parking information and systems to help protect pedestrians and cyclists.

Some cars already do have those safety and fuel-saving functions, and even entertainment systems that rely on the internet, but the EU executive is putting pressure on manufacturers to include those in every model—not just high-end vehicles that are unaffordable for most drivers.

Car costs will likely rise drastically because of the new technologies, but will level off by 2023, according to Commission estimates. The total annual cost of new technologies built into cars could reach an estimated €1.25 billion by 2030. But the executive predicts that drivers will save on fuel spendings.

Commission officials said there could also be a new EU law within the next two years that would require manufacturers to take steps that would make cars more digitally equipped. The EU executive’s transport policy unit is analysing whether it should introduce specific rules guaranteeing data protection and internet connectivity for cars by 2018.

The European Commission has been promoting car technologies that rely on internet connection. Some internet-based features could cut fuel consumption by guiding drivers into the quickest and least congested routes, or even make vehicles weigh less so they can run on less energy.

Others could help to decrease the number of people who are killed or injured in traffic collisions around the EU.

Violeta Bulc, the Commission’s transport policy chief, has hailed driverless cars as a potential fix for the EU’s stagnating road safety record. Last year, the number of road deaths rose slightly across the EU, threatening the executive’s promise to bring that figure down to around 17,000 per year by 2020. In 2015, 26,000 people were killed by cars in Europe.

Commission wants driverless cars to fix growing number of road deaths

EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc is turning to driverless cars as a way to improve the bloc’s floundering record on road deaths.

Bulc isn’t the only Commissioner who has tried to push Europe’s manufacturers to build cars with more internet-based functions in an effort to improve the bloc’s track record on road deaths and energy use.

Günther Oettinger, who will leave his job as digital policy chief early next year when he is promoted to a new role in control of the EU’s budget, will host a meeting on connected vehicles tomorrow (1 December) with representatives from car companies and telecoms operators. Oettinger has encouraged operators to set up fast 5G mobile telecoms networks in Europe by 2019 in a bid to compete with mobile speeds in Asia and the US. A separate group run by the Commission’s internal market chief, Elzbieta Bienkowska, focuses on driverless car technologies.

Cars that rely on an increasing amount of internet functions will need to use a mix of Wi-Fi and 5G mobile internet networks—once those are available in Europe, according to the Commission strategy.

Demand for internet bandwidth has exploded in Europe over the last few years, largely owing to the popularity of video streaming. One Commission official said entertainment systems in cars aren’t “the focus of transport policy”.

Instead, DG Move, the transport policy unit run by Bulc, is prodding telecoms companies to provide internet connections that have enough bandwidth to increase safety and fuel efficiency. But the car functions that could make those improvements can run smoothly with slower 3G or 4G connections, officials said.

“If we have to choose between having a small glitch in a Youtube video and avoiding an accident, that’s no choice at all,” the official said.

The Commission strategy on internet-connected vehicles also slaps down car manufacturers’ hope to have free rein to use, process and sell off drivers’ personal data to partnering firms like entertainment providers. Car companies have looked to driver data as a way to cash in on the trend of consumers who increasingly rely on the internet and produce data that reveal their habits and interests. Manufacturers hope companies that make in-car entertainment systems will be willing to pay a high price to access that personalised data.

“Users must have the assurance that personal data are not a commodity, and know they can effectively control how and for what purposes their data are being used,” the strategy reads.

Car industry association ACEA wants manufacturers to have control over drivers’ data and be able to sell access to that data through contracts with internet providers or entertainment companies.

DG Connect, the European Commission’s technology policy unit, is expected to announce its own strategy on data ownership next year.

Carmakers fear EU plans to ease data flows will help tech rivals

European car manufacturers are seeking full control over the data sent to them by connected vehicles they put on the road, and fear a move by Brussels that would impose sharing that data with rivals.

Connected cars' use internet connectivity to perform various functions, including measuring location, road conditions and car performance.

Autonomous or driverless cars do not need driver intervention to function. Car companies have been calling for laws that would allow autonomous cars to drive more freely in Europe.

The EU has been leading initiatives to promote road safety and traffic management by pooling information provided by cars that are hooked up to the digital network infrastructure, as early back as 2010. In particular, the EU executive wants the industry to convert their efforts into "a global market success" via enhanced co-operation and standardisation of ICT-aided cars. Car manufacturers have also invested heavily in these.

"With connected cars, we need co-operative research to help develop global standards," said Neelie Kroes, the EU's former Digital Agenda Commissioner.

Commissioner Günther Oettinger announced an initiative to tackle data localization within the EU, as well as data ownership and data sharing between companies that is expected in early 2017.

In 2001, the European Commission adopted an action programme with the objective of halving the number of road fatalities by 2010, from around 40,000 per year. The programme was broadly successful, resulting in a reduction of casualties to over 35,000 in 2009, which is the equivalent of a medium-sized town.

The programme has since been replaced by a new one running until 2020, with seven strategic objectives. Measures include mandatory safety measures for vehicles, safer road infrastructure, better safety enforcement and a focus on motorcyclists.

The Commission wants to halve the number of road deaths in the EU between 2010 and 2020. As of the end of 2015, the figure had only dropped by 17%.

European Commission: connected car strategy

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