The recent carjacking of a Volkswagen Atlas with a child occupant in Chicago underlines, yet again, the importance of connected vehicle emergency services. While both car and child were subsequently recovered safely, the initial tracking by police authorities was stymied by a “process failure” related to “a request for a subscription payment prior to obtaining vehicle locator information.”
This prompted Volkswagen of America, Inc. to declare that it would be offering connected vehicle emergency services free for five years on most of its 2020-2023 model year gas-powered vehicles equipped with Car-Net hardware. While gas-powered vehicles will have Automatic Crash Notifications, Emergency Assistance, Stolen Vehicle Locator, and Anti-Theft Alerts, Volkswagen’s ID.4 EV models will offer Automatic Crash Notifications and Emergency Assistance. This will be effective June 1, 2023.
The services come in three plans. The Safe & Secure Plan allows vehicle owners to activate Emergency Assistance through an SOS button in the car. Depending on cellular access, it can also alert a Volkswagen Car-Net service center operator who, in turn, can assist emergency responders by guiding them to the vehicle location. The Automatic Crash Notification follows a similar pattern in the event of a collision. Other services include Anti-Theft Alerts which alerts vehicle owners when the vehicle’s anti-theft alarm is triggered, Stolen Vehicle Location Assistance that helps track and locate stolen vehicles, and Information Assistance where vehicle occupants can speak to a Car-Net agent for account information or points of interest.
Remote Access offers a suite of additional services like the ability to remotely start/stop the car, lock/unlock the doors, flashlights on/off, and horn, among others. Information on key parameters like estimated fuel level and mileage, Family Guardian services such as alerts related to speed and breaching set boundaries, and Roadside Call Assist are the other offerings.
The Wi-Fi Hotspot data plan subscription supports Internet access with up to four connected devices simultaneously.
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Vehicle connectivity enables myriad features that support comfort, convenience, and safety. In particular, safety is a priority area, with the connected vehicle emergency services being offered by Volkswagen falling into this category.
For instance, Emergency Assistance is critical to minimize serious injuries or fatalities in the event of a crash. Emergency call services (eCall) and automatic crash detection ensure that there is immediate access to critical information like the location of the accident and its severity. This, in turn, allows emergency responders to respond quickly and more effectively.
There is a clear understanding that whether crash detection or collision notifications, roadside assistance or emergency call services, connectivity-enabled vehicles are enhancing driver, vehicle and road safety. While eCall has been mandatory in the EU since 2018, it has yet to be signed into law in other parts of the world, including North America. This feature has made it easy for first responders to access vehicle location in the event of an emergency. In the EU, eCall services are estimated to have saved nearly 2,500 lives and $31 billion in accident-related costs. In North America, the decision to offer eCall services continues to be left to the discretion of the vehicle manufacturer; while most automakers offer this feature, there is no regulation that penalizes OEMs that do not want to provide it.
The lack of mandates has meant, therefore, that safety critical features offered in cars vary by automaker and by vehicle model. Indeed, while emergency services have started being offered in newer top-end models, either as an inclusive feature or as an optional add-on, they are still conspicuous by their absence in the volume model segments.
Volkswagen’s decision, therefore, to offer connected vehicle emergency services at no extra cost for five years is a competitive differentiator. On the one hand, Emergency Assistance and Automatic Crash Notifications will enhance safety in the case of an accident or collision. On the other hand, there is improved security in the form of Stolen Vehicle Locator and Anti-Theft Alerts since it allows real-time location identification and tracking.
This decision, while impelled by a desire to set a “new standard for customer peace of mind”, also represents an opportunity for Volkswagen to strengthen customer trust and loyalty, deepen the value proposition, and further build the brand.
Besides the obvious benefits of enhanced safety and security, the data generated by these safety features/services represent considerable monetization opportunities. For automakers, the quest now will be to find ways to rapidly and cost-effectively deploy these solutions at scale.