Can vehicle data answer the key challenges facing the car industry?

Car makers have probably been frustrated over the years that so much of the value derived from driving has been absorbed by companies that have nothing to do with vehicle manufacturing – with the oil companies, of course, foremost in their thoughts.

With this in mind, the idea that the data they are now collecting from cars may be as valuable to them in the future as oil is today, has to be an attractive proposition.

There are certainly encouraging signs. The observation that “data is the new oil” is traced back to the retail industry, when leading UK supermarket retailer Tesco used the term to explain its decision to introduce a customer loyalty card. As well as encouraging customer loyalty, Tesco was hoping to tap into the opportunity to make big money from broking enormous quantities of consumer data.

The opportunity to access a massive new source of potential revenue – especially from your existing customer base – is certainly compelling for the automotive industry, which is still dealing with structural issues. For example, cyclical over-capacity has depressed automotive margins for decades. The strong possibility of a new outbreak of global tariff wars is unlikely to improve the situation and all the major car brands are currently under pressure to raise profits, which increases the pressure.

However, if data is a potential new road to profitability, then the car industry has had a particular problem in this area. Historically, it has had no direct relationship with the owners of its cars. These are bought from, serviced by and usually exchanged at third-party dealerships, which own the customer relationship. This means the auto industry currently has little experience dealing with user-data, let alone turning it into a revenue stream.

The incredible transitions currently sweeping through the car industry – although complex and difficult to manage – are also creating the opportunity to reboot the OEM/customer relationship. Cars are now increasingly electronic and fitted with an array of data-driven technologies such as cameras, GPS systems, and safety systems such as lane assistance and distance monitoring. And autonomous cars – not so far away now – will only amplify this trend.

From our work with a number of global vehicle manufacturers on autonomous vehicles, in Japan and Europe, Fujitsu knows that the volume of data being generated in a test car is running at about 500MB per minute. Because there is no infrastructure in the auto industry currently capable of sharing this amount of data, these cars must drive to the engineering HQ to offload something like 25TB every day, via manual transfer.

Data created while driving is increasingly being communicated back to systems with the capability to create the relationships with car owners that the manufacturers crave. But even managing the data, before we get to the value creation dimension, is still an issue.

You can see there is a strategic bottleneck here for the manufacturers. Resolving and managing this interchange of data is the focal point for Fujitsu’s work in the automotive industry. A major plus point for Fujitsu, in the eyes of the manufacturers, is that we are not seeking to own the data and interpose ourselves commercially between the vehicle and the driver.

For example, in our work with Toyota, we are building the platform to manage the highly-secure interchange of data between the car and the OEM. This is a three-way partnership between Toyota, Fujitsu and VMware. It was announced at VMworld several months ago where VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger spoke about the new vehicle architecture we are co-creating with Toyota to become a fully-updating platform.

This works in two directions. It allows Toyota to get data out of its cars and into its data center. There it can overlay data analytics capability, run digital twins, build user profiles and – informed by all this analysis – construct value added services. One example could be a stolen car tracking service that automatically triggers the intervention of the police.

But the data flow in the opposite direction is just as important. This is another area where Fujitsu is innovating with its Over-the-Air (OTA) Reprograming Solution. This gives car makers the capability to install or update on board software, potentially upgrading the car in the process. This functionality extends product lifecycle, refreshes and updates the user experience and creates new, monetizable functions.

This sort of real-time upgrade capability will really come into its own as car ownership is replaced by shared ownership and car-as-a-service models come to the fore. In these scenarios – already emerging in urban areas where younger drivers no longer want to own an asset they will only use at weekends – the new fleet-owning car makers can offer the option to upgrade – over the air. Perhaps you’d like to add four-wheel drive for the afternoon? Or a little extra power for the autobahn?

The data problem is complex. Fujitsu is concentrating on how to get information into and out of the vehicle and manage it in an intelligent way that meets stringent data security requirements as well as data privacy legislation such as GDPR. Our capabilities in these areas, plus our global scale and capacities, make Fujitsu a strong partner choice for car makers.

Looking further ahead, we are also addressing the application of artificial intelligence to the issue of data overload from vehicles, which is only going to grow. Imagine when cars are equipped with six 4k cameras, all permanently recording while the car is in use. We have already created an innovative approach which reduces the bandwidth needed for video data transfer by a factor of 1,000. But ultimately, AI is the only way to disentangle what data within this torrent is relevant enough to be worth transferring back to the data center. Here, Fujitsu’s experience and intellectual property puts us in a great position to resolve the coming issues.

I’m always interested to hear from people engaged in the automotive industry with ideas how data will transform how we make and consume transport, particularly co-creation opportunities. You can reach me at

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