Electric cars: Connectivity could finally solve one of their biggest issues

Cars are collecting more and more data, and it could help solve some of the major issues around electrification.
Mike Brown
Electric cars charging
Electric cars charging

Дмитрий Ларичев/iStock 

Getting cars online could help improve electric vehicle infrastructure and make cars more efficient, an industry expert explained Thursday.

During a presentation at the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Steve Greenfield, founder and CEO of venture capital firm Automotive Ventures, detailed how large-scale data collection can help manufacturers identify where consumers need electric vehicle charging points most and place service centers in desirable locations. It can also improve car efficiency through over-the-air software updates aimed at making existing hardware put resources to better use.

It's all part of what Greenfield described as a new era for cars, where data and software creates a new relationship between car manufacturers and consumers.

"We are going to see more change in the next five to 10 years than we've seen in this industry in the past 100," Greenfield declared.

Solving these two issues in particular could help answer some of consumers' greatest concerns. Greenfield at CES cited data from OC&C Strategy, which found that 60 percent of would-be electric vehicle buyers have concerns around battery range between charges. Around 50 percent also cited concerns around the availability of electric car chargers.

This could help electric cars reach more consumers than ever. IHS Markit data found that around 10 percent of new cars sold in the United States are plug-in models, but this is projected to expand to around half of new sales by 2030 to 2032.

Electric cars: Connectivity could finally solve one of their biggest issues
Steve Greenfield, founder and CEO of venture capital firm Automotive Ventures

Connected cars and data privacy

Beyond charging points, an increase in data access can also make manufacturers more reactive to consumer needs in other areas. Greenfield noted that Tesla removed adjustable lumbar support for passenger sears in June 2021, as the company's data found that a tiny fraction of customers ever used the feature.

Greenfield noted that while almost all new cars collect consumer data, they do this to varying degrees. Tesla has been at the forefront of many of these efforts — in 2018, the automaker asked Model 3 owners for permission to start collection of location and video data. The company aims to use this data to improve its autonomous driving efforts.

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These high-tech cars also mean that consumers can expect improvements to their vehicles over time. Greenfield highlighted how Tesla was able to improve the braking system on the Model 3 through an over-the-air software update.

But this large-scale data gathering could set manufacturers on a collision course with privacy groups. In May 2022, the Electronic Frontier Foundation warned that car sensors and data could be used by police for surveillance without adequate safeguards in place.

"Consumer privacy is going to come to the forefront," Greenfield said at CES.

While these advancements could mean more chargers where consumers need them most, it could also lead to questions about how much more automakers know than before.