Peter Virk has been involved with Jaguar Land Rover for over 20 years, joining the automaker straight out of high school through a career development programme with Warwick University. He is the perfect person to speak to when analysing the development of the connected car and general technology in the automotive space. “In the late 90s, screens were becoming more common in vehicles through broadcasting, multimedia and audio playback,” he explains. “Then we started to see satellite navigation systems which drove further connectivity, starting to connect phones through basic hands-free calling and downloads.” In-car connectivity started as a way of joining systems together to produce a greater customer experience as the technology developed. Moving into the early 2000s, phones started to become the main area of connectivity for people's lives which introduced new functionalities such as syncing music. So then developers focused on connecting the outside world to the vehicle, creating an extension of customer’s lives, which meant that driver’s could be connected wherever they were. “From 2010 onwards, we saw the roll-out of 3G, which was then followed by 4G, changing the way we utilised data,” adds Virk. Technology has revolutionise the experience within the car and, now, automakers are rolling out IT across their entire fleets, working with app companies and startups so that customers can experience this connectivity across the brand.
Now that we are seeing an entirely connected ecosystem, where the vehicle is linked to the cloud and the infrastructuring around it, the car has become less of a performance tool and more of an extension of our lives. This huge shift, especially in the younger generation, has seen the demand for the 'third living space' rise significantly. This means that an automaker like JLR has to focus on how it will develop, collect and share the technology with the consumer. Connectivity has become a major pulling factor for customers when looking to buy a new car; consumers are now walking into dealerships and, before anything else, asking what technology they will get with the vehicle. The car is no longer a mechanical product, but a mobile phone on wheels, and it is Virk's job to keep JLR ahead of the competition.
People see connectivity in different ways. There are still a number of car enthusiasts that want the automotive design and feel, but there is a growing amount of people who want to bring the two industries together as technology has become such a reliant factor. Virk believes that this sweet spot has been created as we develop future transportation systems that make the vehicle great to drive, but also use connectivity to enhance the experience for the driver and passengers. “Connectivity is helping passengers have a better and new rear seat experience through such innovations as Wi-Fi hotspots which can provide better levels of connectivity through the rooftop antenna,” he explains. “It's all about bringing the added value of how the car can complement the connectivity, which links the two worlds of automotive and technology together.” Just like a mobile phone is not used exclusively for phone calls, we live in the world where people want more and more out of one item, and this also applies to the car. People want to be able to use connectivity features to listen to music, use voice recognition or even make payments whilst behind the steering wheel.
Since everything has started to go digital, the world around us has changed and our lives have become surrounded by technology. In recent years, this has extended to the car which means that consumers now want to continue this connectivity throughout the day, from their homes and through different modes of transport. Virks believe that it is important to find a way of bringing this technology and connectivity into the car to provide the experience that the customer needs. This also extends to safety and information features, notifying the customer if there is any traffic or accidents through a range of apps. “To achieve this, we have had to work alongside different partners in this space and this is where the software world has allowed us to explore and do things differently,” adds Virk. “The only difference between a car and a phone is that you climb into one and have one in your pocket.”
When it comes to technology, we have been spoilt for innovation - and this is great. However, as we see this technology increase in the vehicle, it is important to build a form of defence to prevent cyber attacks getting in the way of progression and putting consumers at risk. Unfortunately, many OEMs have been so used to the mechanical side of the market, with little experience in software, which means that the industry must quickly adapt its approach towards the software. Virk explains to me that it is important to be proactive, thinking about all of the scenarios and getting the right people to evaluate where the boundaries are. “The key thing in this space is creating standards and working with organisations to make sure that you apply the right techniques, building collaboratively in one space to learn from each other and put the best practices in place.” The digital world is a changing landscape; new technologies are being invented and the industry must take a step-by-step approach to identify what it wants to achieve and what policies and standards need to be applied. “By working alongside other people, you can create firewalls and encryptions to secure the systems, utilising the coming together of the automotive and technology industries to stay on top of this issue,” Virk adds.
Due to this, we have seen an explosion of startups within the automotive space, which have greater expertise and knowledge in the field of software and are capable of revolutionising the modern vehicle. The majority of automakers have now understood that they need to cooperate with these companies to produce innovative products and systems that cater to consumers' needs - all while being as safe as possible. “Within JLR's connected car team, we do have agile development where we build software applications and services. The team makes sure that we have a platform that you can build upon, allowing startups which develop cloud-or application-based technologies to incorporate their innovations within the vehicle. We must make sure that our systems are compatible with the capacity to allow innovations like this,” says Virk. JLR has worked with a number of startups around the world, from around Europe to Silicon Valley in California, working alongside startups and software providers. The automaker also hosts its own incubator groups, where it brings companies together to make their technologies relevant in the automotive space. “This is exciting because you can think of things from different domains through these strong partnerships, but you need a platform to build upon and this is how you achieve the sweet spot in this space,” he adds.
Megatrends such as e-hailing, autonomous cars and 5G connectivity will change the way we live, creating an entirely new world where everyone - and thing - is connected. However, it is very difficult to predict the next ten years of automation and transportation, to which Virk agrees. “There are themes that people have identified and they are the pillars that will unlock what we can do. For example, we know that 5G is going to create a huge transformation in terms of how much data you can get to and from the vehicle as well as the infotainment and experiences inside,” he says. “I think that the biggest change that we've seen in the industry is the consumer’s journey, which now extends far beyond the vehicle.” For example, we will all soon be used to activating our cars from our smart phones or watches, heating it up in the winter or cooling it down in the summer - something that is already achievable in a number of vehicles today. Interaction is far beyond what it once was.
Is this lazy? Possibly. However, it illustrates the level of connectivity that the industry has achieved and teases a completely new way of living in the future, blurring the line between the car and consumer’s lifestyle. “As the ecosystems of digital behaviour become intertwined and integrated, it will continue to develop to the point where the technology knows my daily routine and what I am going to do automatically, improving my day-to-day life,” Virk explains. “We will continue to work with content providers to integrate technologies and applications through the cloud and in the vehicle at the same time, pushing these changes so that the experience of driving and ownership is much easier for our lives going forward.” I think the real message here for the future of the automotive industry is simple: make this technology seamless and intelligent, improving everyone’s lives both inside and outside the car.