Technology & Innovation

Technology on the roads

January 14, 2015


January 14, 2015

Zoe Tabary


Zoe is an Editor with Amnesty International whose role entails researching and producing reports on human rights issues. Before this Zoe was an Editor with The Economist Intelligence Unit's Thought Leadership team for almost four years. In that time she managed research projects for a number of clients across the energy, healthcare and sustainability sectors. Prior to joining The Economist Intelligence Unit she worked as a journalist in France and the UK. She holds a Master of Science in Marketing and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Sciences Po Paris, and is fluent in French, Spanish and German.


I spoke to Massimiliano Lenardi, research and development laboratory manager and senior research engineer at Hitachi in Europe, about the impact of digital technology on the automotive industry.

Cars are becoming digital. The typical contemporary automobile runs on 100m lines of software code and contains dozens of microprocessors. In-car WiFi is becoming a must-have for many car buyers.

This is changing the way that we think about our cars and the way we drive them. In fact, soon we may not be driving them at all—as exemplified by plans from carmakers Nissan, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, among others, to put fully autonomous vehicles into production.

I spoke to Massimiliano Lenardi, research and development laboratory manager and senior research engineer at Hitachi in Europe, about the impact of digital technology on the automotive industry.


What are the main technological advances that have had, or could have an impact on the automotive sector?

Massimiliano Lenardi, Hitachi: Communication systems between vehicles and infrastructure providers have the potential to revolutionise the transport sector. While “connected cars” (ie, vehicles enabled to communicate with infrastructure through embedded devices) have existed for several years, communication and cooperation between vehicles and connected transport-related infrastructures (such as traffic lights, parking lots, etc.) is a new phenomenon.

By installing “V2X” communications (vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications—basically a variant of WiFi) in vehicles, carmakers can interact directly with other vehicles and provide advanced applications by exploiting real-time data from vehicles and infrastructure.

These systems can be used to improve road safety, traffic efficiency and passenger comfort. A cooperative connected car, for example, would receive not just information about a hazard detected by its own sensors (through a sound or vibration, which is more likely to catch the driver’s attention than a road sign), but also through alerts from a vehicle further along the road. V2X communications can also help to provide more real-time information about traffic hold-ups.

How are public and private transport providers adapting to these technological changes?

Carmakers are expected to deploy V2X communication technologies in vehicles by 2016, by partnering with road operators and suppliers such as Renesas, a Japanese semiconductor manufacturer. Unfortunately, not all transport providers operate within a level playing field, in terms of investment and timescales. Public providers typically have a more reduced horizon than private ones—their budgets are often for short-term investments and must be spent on technologies that are already available, rather than on research & development.

Are transport providers moving at the same pace as customer expectations?

This depends on the location. Where consumers welcome new technologies, like in Japan, there is a faster deployment of new technologies in transport when they become available. Advances in communication, like V2X, might face market penetration problems in areas where consumers tend to prioritise comfort over safety or efficiency.

Consumers’ expectations are also rising, as they embrace new technologies in their day-to-day lives. Transport providers need to take these expectations into account, but they must also properly test and verify technologies before introducing them, for safety reasons.

Which countries or regions have successfully harnessed digital technologies in transport?

Japan has been a pioneer in introducing communication technologies in cars such as the Vehicle Information and Communication System (VICS), which delivers traffic and travel information to road vehicle drivers. In Europe, the Car2Car Communication Consortium (C2C-CC -- initiated by Audi, BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Fiat, Renault and Volkswagen) aims to facilitate the deployment of standardised V2X technologies. China, India and countries in the Middle East also show a lot of growth potential for V2X communications.

This interview is part of a series managed by The Economist Intelligence Unit for HSBC Commercial Banking. Visit HSBC Global Connections for more insight on international business. 


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Economist Intelligence Unit Limited (EIU) or any other member of The Economist Group. The Economist Group (including the EIU) cannot accept any responsibility or liability for reliance by any person on this article or any of the information, opinions or conclusions set out in the article.

Enjoy in-depth insights and expert analysis - subscribe to our Perspectives newsletter, delivered every week