LAS VEGAS --- In his annual "State of the Telematics Industry" address, ATX Group CEO Steve Millstein noted that the industry is seeing significant growth --- in terms of OEMs, vehicle owners, geographic regions, competitors, differing business models, and the types of devices connected to services. In the near future, the industry will see multiple telematics providers serving the same vehicle with different applications, and vehicle owners choosing telematics for the experience it brings to the daily drive --- rather than solely as a precaution against potential emergencies, Millstein said. The industry's current growth has come after several years of trepidation by automobile manufacturers to invest in an area with promising but unsubstantiated returns, an uncertain regulatory landscape and little consumer awareness of benefits, he added. "Telematics has finally become legitimatized in the marketplace," Millstein said. ATX, a telematics industry pioneer, launched the first consumer vehicle telematics program in 1996 with Ford Motor Co. and Motorola. Now, the state of the telematics industry has never been better, Millstein said, with virtually every auto manufacturer in North America beginning to deploy programs. In fact, some planned programs are global in scope. New options for connecting to telematics, such as personal navigation devices, are developing. The result is the emergence of "T3" telematics --- the industry's third generation --- which will become a radical departure from the traditional subscriber-based, event-driven response services. Millstein predicted the emergence of a global telematics platform in 2008. "The degree of interest throughout the automotive industry since our announcement last summer on entering the Chinese market has been absolutely remarkable. Companies are rushing to be among the first to bring telematics to China," Millstein said. "You will see telematics on cars in China within the next year. And that, in turn, is ratcheting up serious interest in similar deployments in the Indian and Latin American markets, thereby forcing automakers to formulate a global telematics strategy." Millstein said that the global platform emerging will require flexibility in terms of applications. But at this early stage it appears both vehicle theft recovery and automatic collision notification will be the initial, universal applications. "The buildout of telematics in North America, coupled with the expansion throughout Asia, will force a serious a re-examination of the current situation in Europe, where telematics deployment has been stalled for more than a half decade," he said. "There's a new global paradigm. European governments and the automotive and telematics industries must band together to leverage this opportunity to accelerate deployment of the basic safety applications of first-generation telematics." Millstein also asserted that more flexible telematics systems will soon open up the vehicle to receive a variety of applications from various providers --- rather than applications simply tied to a single solution. ATX recently participated in the validation of BMW's new, flexible in-vehicle protocol platform that opens the automaker's vehicles to multiple sources of telematics applications. "We support this approach because this allows BMW the flexibility to tap the best-of-class specialties offered by the entire field of telematics service providers, while ensuring that legacy vehicles will always be able to access new services without having to replace any in-vehicle components," Millstein said. He also sees such flexibility critical in achieving cross-border connectivity as part of a global telematics platform. More diverse channels for telematics to enter the vehicle are on the way, Millstein said. Consumers' expectations will demand that their vehicles be able to connect seamlessly with the smart phones, digital music players and other devices they bring along for the ride. "Your car's a node on the network,” he said. “Telematics providers deliver the optimal connection for the multi-modal car. This ranges from determining least-cost-routing for the signal itself to helping all the devices in a vehicle to work together. In telematics' future, the application will determine which way is best. Drivers are interested in getting things done using familiar commands and interfaces." Telematics will become the technical and information firewall to the vehicle, Millstein said. As telematics increasingly becomes the gateway to the vehicle's network accessibility, Millstein asserted that telematics programs must become the firewall for the OEM's vehicle operating systems and the data protection manager for vehicle owners managing the content and interfaces allowed into their vehicle. Millstein also predicted that telematics will continue to be data-centric. The transition from T1 generation voice services to T2 data-centric services will continue as current programs advance to even more sophisticated use of remote diagnostic and crash data. "You will also see the emergence of data that is more customer-centric and designed to personalize the drive," Millstein said. "However, with this will come the increased potential for mobile spam, which could have an extremely adverse effect on the industry if it emerges." Telematics will create an always-on, personalized driving experience, used on a daily basis --- rather than a one-size-fits-all, shrink-wrapped solution, Millstein forecasted. "Ford's and Microsoft's Sync system, which connects carried-in devices to in-car entertainment systems using Bluetooth wireless, is consistent with where we see the market going," he said. "It allows drivers to personalize their vehicles and integrates the vehicle --- including the information that comes into it, as well as the interface --- with the owner's lifestyle. Telematics will give such systems like Sync much greater connectivity through multi-modal bandwidth to off-board applications. "At this point, Sync is an entertainment unit positioned on the car's CANBUS network, but with strict firewall control between it and any other in-car system," Millstein continued. "When safety and security and both crash and vehicle data applications are added, we believe Ford will eventually transition to an extremely low-cost embedded telematics system. We think the data will be too valuable to ignore and that inevitably this will be what the market will require." Millstein also predicted the emergence of social networking in telematics. Telematics is beginning to enable drivers to communicate with other drivers indirectly as they drive with specific drive- and location-based information. "For example, it's possible that BMW's 7 Series customers, who are all part of the same network, will receive digitized data on deteriorating localized weather conditions based on real-time feedback from other 7 Series drivers," he said. "That data will merge seamlessly with other geo-coded streams so that the driver receives it on a need-to-know, just-in time basis." Further, Millstein expects that applications will continue to be pushed off-board. "Automakers will continue to look off-board for future functionality that telematics providers deliver," he said. “Using thin client content, the provider becomes much more ingrained in the daily drive than what can be provided through on-board systems."

Originally posted on Fleet Financials