Fleet News

Who will control vehicle data?

Gerry Keaney, BVRLA

by Gerry Keaney, chief executive, BVRLA

The recently published position paper on connected vehicles and data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT) makes interesting reading for any fleet operator.

Today’s automobiles are much more than a combustion engine and a chassis. They are capable of doing things that would have seemed like science fiction only a decade ago. There are probably as many software engineers as mechanical engineers working on today’s cars, vans and trucks. The next generation of cars will be the most complex consumer product on the planet – with hundreds of sensors and millions of lines of code.

The SMMT paper provides some useful clarity on the position of makers on connected and autonomous vehicles. It talks about vehicle data, cyber security, connectivity, infrastructure and the future regulatory environment. 

It won’t surprise you to hear that the fleet industry also has a position. Our sector knows that connected vehicles have the potential to reduce costs, emissions and the number of road accidents. The business value lies not only with the connectivity itself, but the enormous volumes of data it provides – be it data about driving style, vehicle health, usage patterns or location.

Our industry already obtains this kind of information from telematics devices, but the era of the connected vehicle means every vehicle will have its own built-in telematics device and the functionality of a smartphone.

The data this generates opens up a whole new range of opportunities to develop new fleet and driver-focused business models. It promises to revolutionise the ways vehicles are maintained and managed, enabling vehicle owners to share them between multiple users, fix them before they breakdown or streamline the repair and servicing process. There are huge amounts of money to be made or saved here if you have access to the data.

An argument is brewing over such access, with manufacturers on one side and a coalition of vehicle owners, repairers and insurers on the other. The concern is not about ownership – there is no legal concept of data ownership – it is about control. We believe there is a balance to be struck – creating a level playing field while ensuring makers’ concerns are addressed. 

Manufacturers say the data generated by their vehicles is sensitive because it affects their intellectual property. They also say they need to control the way this data is accessed to protect vehicles from malicious or poorly designed hardware and software.

The Extended Vehicle concept being put forward by some – whereby vehicle-generated data will only be available via the manufacturer’s back-end server – will prevent owners directly accessing information about the performance or condition of their car or van. Instead, the proposals would see owners – rental and leasing companies – having to pay for access to this data, which will be bound by strict terms and conditions.

The BVRLA believes that, by controlling and having preferential access to this data, manufacturers will gain a position of unfair market dominance in delivering mobility services, insurance or repair and servicing. As a result, independent providers will suffer and there will be less choice for consumers and vehicle owners.

At present, owners are able to install or use third-party devices and software to access data from their vehicle. We believe the best way to preserve this right is for manufacturers to develop an open telematics platform that would provide vehicle-generated data free.

At the same time, we are urging policymakers in the EU and UK to revise and update competition law and the technical regulation that underpins it, to reflect the arrival of this new data economy. 

The BVRLA continues to fight on behalf of fleets in this area. We’re running a workshop with KPMG in May, we’re working on a seminar for our members to get up-to-speed with data protection regulations, and we’re also hosting our fourth annual Fleet Technology Congress in July. One thing’s for sure – this issue is not going away any time soon.

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