In the 1980s TV show Knight Rider David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight would use voice commands to direct his artificial-intelligence car, KITT, to help him with his high-tech crime fighting. You may not be a crime-fighter, but according to speakers at The Radio Show, you soon may have a car like KITT.
The Radio Show, a professional gathering sponsored by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB), presented a discussion called “The Connected Car” to give attendees a glimpse of the not-too-distant automotive future.
The discussion was moderated by NAB Chief Technology Officer Sam Matheny. The first of the three panelists involved was Scott Deaver, Chief Marketing Officer of Avis Budget Group.
Drive Me Home, KITT
Matheny began by asking Avis’s Deaver why Avis was investigating this technology.
Deaver explained that Avis was not just a traditional car rental service, but was looking at its future as “a mobility business.” “We’re already on the road to a complete transformational change,” he claimed. “The fundamental way people use cars is going to change.”
Matheny asked, “You mean autonomous, electric, connected, and shared?”
Deaver agreed, but pointed out that you can do one without the other. He said that the fastest growing part of their business was Zipcar, which operates similarly to bicycle sharing. Established now in seven countries, Zipcar allows participants to share cars by walking up to one, unlocking it with a Zipcar card, using it for an hour or up to seven days, parking back in a Zipcar spot, then locking it with the card and walking away.
“The whole model,” he said, “that has been prevalent since Henry Ford, ‘pay to own,’ is changing to a ‘pay to use’ world.”
Matheny compared this to music, citing how rather than owning music, people subscribe to it. “Now they can subscribe to a car.”
Deaver said that for the autonomous part of the future, Avis was partnering with WAYMO, Google’s autonomous car project in Phoenix, Arizona. “We’re partnering with them,” he explained, “because we need to know how this is going to work. We change the oil and they do the software.”
“We see autonomous cars first in highly defined small areas,” he said, “such as Disney World, Manhattan, London, or parts of LA.”
Dude, Where’s My Radio?
Matheny pointed out that cars have been extensions of people – statements about who they are. He asked, “But when you are sharing, how do you replicate that experience?”
Deaver replied, “Urban 20-somethings live in a different world than the one I grew up in. Your electronic device, not your car, is who you are.” There is an issue, however. “When we talk to customers,” Deaver said, “they ask, ‘Why do I have to set my radio stations? Why can’t my phone tell my car what kind of radio station I want to listen to?’”
Matheny asked where radio will fit in to this new world?
Deaver agreed that the things that make radio what it is now aren’t going to change because the ownership of the car has changed.
Matheny asked how much control Avis has over car options.
“That’s still in flux right now,” Deaver said. “OEMs want it to be them. They are starting to see the new world, but Ford still wants you to pick Ford products. We are working with aftermarket and third party manufacturers to create devices that give us varying degrees of connectivity and uniformity.”
Matheny pointed out that car radio is still the number-one way music is discovered.
Deaver said, “There is a growing demand for individualization and personalization. Shared cars are harder than owned cars, but I think that short-term pressure for entertainment, talk, and texting will help reduce government regulations about what can be turned off and on in the car with a phone.”
(Photos by author unless otherwise noted.)