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Auto makers at a watershed

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Automotive brands find themselves at a fascinating watershed in society’s evolution. As is typical of periods of dramatic change, this presents many opportunities and new innovations that communicate with their customers, says TREVOR HILL, Head of Audi SA.

Vehicle manufacturers have had to innovate in developing more integrated mobility solutions and invest heavily in technology and innovation across the entire automotive value chain. These new innovations form part of the digital revolution within the automotive industry.

As a global, premium and innovative automotive brand, Audi‘s digitalisation journey can be found in many areas of the business. The application of artificial intelligence opens up a new dimension of performance for both the product and the entire value chain. As a digital car company, Audi is digitising all processes at the company: from product development with virtual reality; creating a factory environment with intelligent robots and to retail showrooms with the latest digital technology.

Since 2003, Audi has been using virtually created 3D models as a firm element of its vehicle development process. The company is now also testing a so-called virtual reality holodeck so that the design of new automobile models can be virtually assessed at an early stage. With the VR holodeck, a realistic impression of the proportions of future Audi models is obtained and allows employees from development and production to virtually assess the structure of a vehicle before it goes into production.

Additional areas in which virtual-reality technologies are already applied at Audi include virtual training for employees in packing logistics and the Audi VR experience for customer advice. The latter allows potential customers to virtually configure their desired car and to experience all optional equipment in a realistic way.

These digital advancements have presented an exciting time for automotive companies who are prepared to rise to the challenge within the retail environment.

The process of purchasing a car, for instance, needs to be completely re-evaluated. The old ways of driving out to a showroom on the edge of town to ask a Dealer for his advice are numbered.  Today, thanks to the internet, we can all educate ourselves about our options, our price range and our preferences before we even set foot into a Dealer showroom. The average customer is quite knowledgeable by the time he or she meets a sales person for the first time.

The role of company staff has thus changed from being providers of information, to being brand experience custodians.

At Audi, we know that when customers come to us, they already have som experience of our brand. Now they’re looking for a heightened level of engagement with us. They want to feel and live the brand.  We learned some years ago that this can mean a lot more than going for a test drive around the block. An example of this is the Audi City showrooms or the Audi Customer Private Lounge concept.

These showrooms, currently in London, Beijing, Berlin, Paris, Moscow and Istanbul, are interactive experiences that reinvent how a customer goes about buying a car. The virtual, digital nature of these showrooms means that they can be located in the heart of central business districts, where space is at a premium, and can recreate every one of the hundreds of millions of designs combinations which Audi offers, as the client customises the car of his or her choice.

Floor-to-ceiling screens – called powerwalls – produce an immersive experience as the customer creates the Audi of their dreams in photo-real detail, selecting the model variant and every specific detail with the assistance of an Audi professional.  Whether you want an Audi A5 with Java Brown paintwork, leather upholstery and red stitching, or a Vegas Yellow Audi Q2 with stylish wheels, you can create your dream vehicle on a tablet device, and then see it projected before your eyes.

Test drives can be arranged for a later date, but the power of the virtual brand experience is such, that a significant percentage of customers already choose to purchase their Audis without ever having driven a test vehicle!

At the Berlin showroom, we find that customers spend on average of 25% more on their purchases of Audi cars, as the showroom brings their custom specifications to life. The digital showroom concept has already been integrated into many of the Dealerships worldwide.

The idea is to move towards seamlessly integrated automotive shopping, buying and owning – across whichever channel the customer prefers. This all serves to enhance the brand experience, which has now been effectively separated or used to support the physical brick-and-mortar terminal.

The traditional Audi Dealership will also evolve and expand on as the brand prepares itself for the introduction of fully electric vehicles under the Audi e-tron umbrella. Dealerships would need to accommodate for charging station infrastructure and the subsequent storage facilities for the vehicles.

The rise of the sharing economy has seen an increase in ride-hailing and car-sharing services, which means – among other things – that fewer customers are feeling the need to own a car. Automotive manufacturers like Audi are also looking beyond traditional ownership models, and investing in “shared mobility” alternatives, what we term as Audi On Demand. In the future, the success of our companies will be measured in “kilometres travelled” as opposed to “vehicles sold”.

The digital revolution is tangible at Audi. For us, Vorsprung goes far beyond the car. With everything we do, we want to make our customers’ lives easier. We give them time, connect them with their environment, and offer them sustainable solutions and unique experiences.

Cars

Mercedes brings older models to the connected world

The Mercedes Me Adapter is designed to bring older Mercedes Benz models into the connected world, allowing one to keep a close eye on the car via a smartphone. SEAN BACHER installs a unit

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In this day and age, just about any device, from speakers to TVs to alarm systems, can be connected and controlled via a smartphone.

In keeping with this trend, Daimler Chrysler has launched a Mercedes Me Adapter – a system designed to connect your car to your phone.

The Mercedes Me Adapter comprises a hardware and software component. The hardware is an adapter that is no bigger than a match box and plugs into the OBD2 diagnostics socket under the car’s steering wheel column. 

The software component is the Mercedes Me app, which can be downloaded for Android and iOS devices. (See downloading instructions at the end of the review.)

Setting up

Before you can start using the Mercedes Me Adapter, you need to download the app and begin the registration process. This includes setting up an account, inputting the vehicle’s VIN number, the year it was manufactured and the model name – among many other details. This information is sent to Daimler Chrysler. It is advisable to get this done before heading off to Mercedes to have the adapter installed, as it takes quite some time getting all the details in.

The next step is locating your nearest Merc dealer to get the adapter installed. You have to produce the registration papers and a copy of your ID – something Mercedes neglects to mention on its website, or anywhere else, for that matter.

What it does

The Mercedes Me Adapter is designed to show the car’s vital statistics on your mobile device. On the home screen, information like parking time, odometer reading and fuel level is displayed.

Below that is information about your most recent journeys, such as the distance, time taken, departure address and destination address. Your driving style is also indicated in percentage – taking into account acceleration, braking and coasting.

A Start Cockpit button displayed on the home screen includes a range of widgets offering additional information, including where your car is parked – right down to the address – as well as battery voltage, total driving time, distance and driver score since the adapter was installed. A variety of other widgets can be added to the screen, allowing for complete customisation.

Many users have have pointed out that that there is no real point to the adapter. However it does offer benefits. Firstly, your trips can be organised into personal and business categories and then exported into a spreadsheet for tax purposes. Secondly, you can keep a very close eye on your fuel consumption, as it automatically measures how many litres you put in each time you visit the garage and the cost (the cost per litre must be entered manually so it can work out total refuelling costs). This is also quite beneficial in terms of working out how much fuel you go through, without keeping all the pesky slips when it comes to claiming at the end of the month.

Probably the most important benefit is that it monitors the engine, electrical, transmission and gearbox, sending notifications as soon as any faults are detected. A perfect example was encountered on a recent trip I made to Pretoria. Upon arriving, I received a notification that I needed to check my engine, with the Mercedes roadside assist number blinking and ready for me to dial.

The notification did not even show up on the actual fault detection system, except for the faint glow of the orange engine light, which I would never have noticed in the bright light. I immediately took it Mercedes and they diagnosed it as an intermittent thermostat error, which they said is fine for now but that I have to keep an eye on the engine temperature.

Conclusion

The convenience of easily being able to export mileage for tax purposes and refuelling stops as well as being able to locate your car at anytime should be more than enough to qualify it as a pretty useful companion for your car.

Add to this the fact that it is completely free from Mercedes, and that makes it an absolute no-brainer. Should you not like it, simply unplug the adapter and uninstall the app. The only thing lost is half an hour while the Mercedes technician sets it up, ensures it is working and gives you a crash course on how to operate the app.

The adapter will only work in Mercedes Benz models from 2002 onwards. No warranties are lost, as the adapter does not increase the car’s performance and is a genuine Mercedes part.

2017 models and above do not need the adapter as everything is installed when the car is manufactured. All one needs to do is install the app and pair it with the car.

Get the Mercedes me iOS app here

Get the Mercedes Me Android app here

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Cars

LHI is coming to save your car from hazards

Local Hazard Information will give drivers advance warning of potential dangers lurking around the corner

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There are many times when knowing what is around the corner could be useful. But for drivers that knowledge could be critical. Now, thanks to Ford’s new connected car technology, it is also a reality.

Local Hazard Information (LHI) marks a significant step on the journey towards a connected transport infrastructure by helping drivers prepare for and potentially avoid dangers on the road. When drivers ahead encounter sudden tailbacks, accidents or spilled loads, the driver behind – and possibly out of sight – is given advance warning. This could also apply to everything from freak hailstorms, to sudden flooding, or even landslides.

The triggers for the system come from what is happening in the cars ahead. It could be that airbags have been activated, hazard warning lights are flashing, or windscreen wipers are in operation. Previous traffic incident alert systems have relied on drivers to input information in order to generate alerts. LHI works autonomously, without the need for any driver interaction, to generate information and issue warnings.

Hazards are only displayed – via the dashboard display – if the incident is likely to impact on the driver’s journey. LHI is designed to be more beneficial to drivers than hazard information from current radio broadcasting systems, which often deliver notifications not relevant to them.

Already featuring as standard and free of charge for the first year on the new Ford Puma, LHI technology is being rolled out across more than 80 per cent of Ford’s passenger vehicle line-up by the end of this year. Crucially, the benefit will not be limited only to those travelling in Ford vehicles. Information sent can be used to alert drivers of other manufacturers’ vehicles, and vice-versa.

“What makes Local Hazard Information different is that it is the cars that are connected – via the Internet of Things. There is no reliance on third party apps. This is a significant step forward. Warnings are specific, relevant and tailored to try to help improve your specific journey.” Joerg Beyer, executive director, Engineering, Ford of Europe

How it works

Sensors monitor activities including emergency braking, fog lights and traction control to detect adverse weather or road conditions. Data from these activities is then computed to determine the hazard location and whether a traffic incident has occurred.

The vehicle automatically provides updates through a secure connection to “the cloud” using the Ford Pass Connect modem. Ford’s technology partner HERE Technologies operates the central cloud-based platform that collates information from multiple vehicle brands, governed by a business-to-business agreement.

The more cars are connected to the network, the greater the efficiency of the system. When many vehicles generate the same warning, others in the vicinity receive incident information from the cloud via the cellular network, enabling drivers to reduce speed or take appropriate action.

Additional information is sourced from public authority incident databases and traffic reports to provide drivers with further advance warnings including approaching vehicles driving on the wrong side of the carriageway, animals or people in the road ahead, and roadworks.

The on-board modem will be connected at the time of vehicle delivery. Customers may choose to opt in/opt out of certain data sharing.

Local Hazard Information data provided by HERE Technologies.

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