EV Makers Leverage Dashboard Apps to Stay Ahead

By · August 07, 2014

Apple CarPlay

The emergence of app platforms for cars, like Apple CarPlay, will lead toward better management of electric car charging.

The link between the automobile and the mobile phone is consistently getting stronger, a development that EV makers and application developers should use to their advantage. Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto platforms are starting to appear on dashboards, connecting drivers to their favorite mobile phone features. But that’s just the beginning for EV drivers.

New mobile/automotive platforms will mean big changes for how and when electric cars receive a charge. They will encourage the creation of demand response and so-called “ancillary services,” that help stabilize the grid while earning revenue for EV owners.

Demand Response is a grid service that's already in wide use, primarily by businesses. It allows the electrical grid operator to, at peak demand times, send out a signal causing things like air conditioning units to shut down and thereby reduce load on the grid. Electric car charging stations—or communication systems on board the vehicle—could be built to respond to these signals. In exchange for being willing to pause a charging event, the rate paid for the electricity could be reduced, or rebates could be issued.

As a result, deeper integration between cars and mobile apps, like PlugShare, can partially offset the premium that EV owners pay for their vehicles, and automakers will get a small slice of the grid payments as part of their quest for diversifying revenue, as outlined in Navigant Research’s report, Alternative Revenue Streams for Automakers.

Last year, Ford’s Mike Tinskey said grid services provided by an electric car could earn $200 to 300 per year for an owner.

Apps for Managing Energy

The upcoming Volvo XC90, which will be available as a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, will support Android Auto, and will have an Apple CarPlay ready interior and touch screen. Rival Audi similarly will feature both Android Auto and CarPlay on upcoming vehicles, which will likely include the e-tron models. Other automakers that produce EVs and are using Apple’s operating system include BMW, Ford Mercedes Nissan and Toyota. Meanwhile, Audi, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, Nissan, and many others are members of Google’s Open Automotive Alliance.

Having a familiar on-board operating system that synchs with your phone will encourage drivers to take advantage of the applications. The infotainment features of the dueling auto OSs should make them very popular with consumers and software developers—while the energy management applications will make them essential for EV owners. In some cases, a dongle that snaps into the cars’s diagnostic port, and integrates app info with data from the car’s computer, might be required.

Navigation tools, such as Google Maps and Waze, will efficiently route drivers to their destinations, extending the car’s range and maximizing electric miles driven. EV navigation apps will also showcase charging locations and availability, reducing range anxiety. Energy management applications for scheduling and minimizing the cost of charging, while balancing charging with home energy requirements, should be integrated with the dashboard to ensure safe driving that replaces fumbling with the phone.

As GigaOm correctly points out, there won’t be any dashboard war that would force drivers to pick a car based on if they own an iPhone or Android device. But the latest and greatest apps are likely to found an EV. Navigant Research has long maintained that EVs need to be among the coolest gadget cars to justify their higher cost and satisfy the technology-savvy audience that leans towards EVs. And by virtue of those same technologies and their ability to kick money back to EV owners, the premium for electric cars versus gas cars is dropping.

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