There were only minor difficulties with the audio set-up, when there was interference in the form of a disembodied voice from the LTE event next door. And there were really long breaks for coffee and lunch, which gave attendees a chance to have a proper look at the exhibition, talk to each other, or just go out for a breather.

ConnectedCarsWorld Day 1 was an odd mixture of hubris and humility. The automotive OEMs lined up to describe their connected car strategies, and for the most part they told similar stories. Where there was difference it was mainly about the extent to which they welcomed the smartphone into their vehicles and their service strategies.

Apps smartphone

There weren’t many exciting new service concepts that hadn’t been aired before. Armer Aijaz from Volvo talked about how the car could become part of drivers’ digital lives, with predictive maintenance, service booking, and software downloads for bug fixes and performance enhancements.

Roger Giralt of SEAT explained how the manufacturer has embraced all three of Android Auto, MirrorLink and Apple’s Car Play with its own platform-agnostic SEAT Full Link. This enables the head unit to mirror the content and applications of the driver’s smartphone, adapting the presentation appropriately according to the prescriptions of the smartphone platform.

Oddly it’s Android Auto that’s strictest here, with different apps all having to use the same interface based on Google Now. MirrorLink is the most liberal, with the OEM having control over how apps look and feel, while Car Play insists on the Siri interface for voice control and telephony but lets third party entertainment app developers maintain their own look and feel.

SEAT has two apps of its own, by the way; Drive App, which is based on MirrorLink, and Connect App, which is a joint venture with Samsung and provides more features for drivers with smartphones from that manufacturer.

Michael Gruffke from BMW presented the company’s latest moves with its own Connected Drive platform, which now included a dedicated apps store from which customers can buy additional applications (ranging in price from Euro15 to Euro500) for the embedded in-vehicle system; only a few apps, such as the emergency call app, come bundled with the system.

The most hubris-laden presentation of the entire conference was mainly about BMW, but was delivered by Hakan Kostepen of Panasonic – who presented a slightly queasy scenario in which BMW key fobs become the centre of digital existence as a well as a passport to a life of privileged access to ‘executive’ life-style perks. Oddly, this included access to promotions from McDonalds meals.

For me the most interesting presentation of the whole event wasn’t really about cars at all. John Ellis, formerly of Ford, and Greg Krueger of Leidos, talked about how automotive OEMs could monetize data collected from connected cars by selling information about traffic flows and road conditions to highways agencies around the world.

They convincingly estimated the opportunity for this information to be worth something like $5bn, based on what these agencies already spend on collecting data – which they mainly do by installing expensive detector-based infrastructure.

It would be fair to say that the presentation didn’t set the hall on fire. Automotive OEMs are conservative, engineering-led organisations, and they feel like that they’re already taking on all the change that they can reasonably be expected to handle. They know that the data that could be harvested from sensors in vehicles (and for that matter, in apps on drivers’ smartphones) is potentially of great value.

But they are wary about who owns the data, and about how customers will feel about having their data monetized to someone else’s benefit. They know that some other organisations have sold data for a while – like Vodafone selling mobility management data to TomTom for traffic flow information, and TomTom selling data to the Dutch highway police to help them position speed cameras.

So far the precedents don’t seem great. (By the way, there was a great presentation from TomTom at the conference, about how they were using positioning data gathered from their devices and applications to crowdsource much more detailed road maps, for use in future autonomous driving deployments).

Most of all, the OEMs are not ready to get into a new line of business, with new products and new customers. They can understand how they might use data from their existing customers to sell more of the same to those customers – more parts, more servicing, and so on. So JLR can create a service that collects road condition information and then provides it to other JLR drivers, as described here.

They can even imagine using data to sell new kinds of things to those same customers – promotional offers for petrol or roadside attractions, for example. But selling data itself? To customers that they’ve never sold to before. We’ll get back to you on that.