Goal: 'zero emissions, crashes, congestion'
The automobile is fast becoming an Internet, mobile phone and general factotum on wheels, thanks to new technologies that connect car interiors with mobile platforms.
It’s all called “connectivity,” and it promises smart, safe driving experiences for car owners. Systems can now connect cars to the city’s smart transit system so that drivers can tap into driving conditions and traffic alerts.
Connected cars access the Internet, send and receive signals, and “sense” the physical environment around them.
“If we compare today with the first time I came to Shanghai in 1995, we can see connectivity is becoming a more popular feature,” Matt Tsien, president of General Motors China, told Shanghai Daily in an interview.
Tsien said General Motors attaches great importance to vehicle connectivity, noting that the carmaker was a pioneer in the field by bringing its OnStar service to China in 2008.
OnStar offers on-board communications and vehicle security features now used by more than a million Chinese. It provides connections to a call center where a driver can turn for assistance. It offers cloud-based services and a mobile app that monitors fuel consumption and driving behavior.
All Cadillac, Buick and Chevrolet models will be equipped with connectivity features by 2020, the company said.
General Motors is not alone in focusing on a new generation of smart cars. Many automakers have announced plans to provide vehicle connectivity technology to the world’s largest auto market. Ford and Volkswagen have both said all their new vehicles sold in China will be “connected” by the end of 2019.
According to China’s industrial roadmap for 2025, 80 percent of locally produced vehicles will be equipped with telematics and 30 percent of the vehicles will apply V2X, or “vehicle of everything” technology. That means cars will have the capability to talk with one another, with outside infrastructure and with the Internet.
Shanghai is a leader in the development of intelligent, connected vehicles in China. Last November, the city government promulgated what it called the “Shanghai Declaration,” which calls for more international cooperation and efforts in the development of smart cars.
The city is seeking to build a transport system with zero emissions, zero crashes and zero congestion.
Shanghai has advantages in the development. Its testing base, called the National Intelligent Connected Vehicle Shanghai Pilot Zone, is a 100 square-kilometer site in the Jiading District that is the first of its kind in China.
Rong Wenwei, general manager of Shanghai International Automobile City, said the city plans to accelerate research, development and application of intelligent and connected vehicles.
Mega-cities like Shanghai must now cope with increased traffic congestions, vehicle emissions and more road accidents. A smarter, cleaner and safer transportation system is obviously needed.
Automakers play a role in these plans of the future.
Most of them are actively shifting from mere manufacturers to mobility services providers to help solve problems caused by urban development.
General Motors said connected vehicles could help the city to achieve the goal of zero congestion. Vehicle-to-infrastructure technology, for example, can provide information on traffic accidents or backed up traffic and suggest alternative routes to drivers.
Last November, GM demonstrated its vehicle-to-infrastructure capability on public roads in Shanghai. The test vehicles received real-time data from traffic lights on signal timing to enable a smoother flow of traffic.
“Shanghai is in a great position to become a leader linking connectivity technology with traffic management, which will greatly aid the flow of vehicles in dense urban settings,” said Tsien.
Chinese consumers seem to like the new trend.
A survey of 8,500 consumers from 13 countries published by Kantar TNS, showed that 65 percent of Chinese consumers are willing to accept connectivity features inside vehicles. That was higher than 40 percent in Europe and 32 percent in North America.
A report from PwC showed that 40 percent of Chinese car buyers are willing to switch car brands to obtain connected technology. Chinese consumers rank safety-related features such as collision prevention, danger warnings and emergency calling highest on the list of what they want from a connected car, the report said.
Zhang Haoran, who works at a Shanghai-based consulting firm, is an OnStar user.
“This service really solves many of my driving problems,” Zhang said. “I use the navigation function most often. I just press a button in the car, connect to the call center and customer service sends navigation information back to me. I don’t need to check the route on my mobile phone. I can also discuss vehicle issues and basic maintenance with the OnStar advisor.”
Analysts said full connectivity is some time off. Installation costs are high and there is still insufficient funding for further research and development.
“The sector needs cooperation and the joint efforts of the government, automakers, Internet providers and insurance companies,” said David Zhang, an independent automotive consultant.
“GM’s OnStar and SAIC Motor’s Inkanet have been the leaders in terms of connectivity in China,” he added. “These two companies have sufficient funding to develop new features, but not all providers do.”