Intelligent Energy

How to get a free car, Chapter 2

How to get a free car, Chapter 2

Posting in Energy

Nokia wants to transform cars into smartphones on wheels. Could that trigger innovative pricing models making EVs affordable?

Warning: This story is a bit of stretch. But one day when you acquire a car for “free” as part of a service package, remember where you read about it first.

The news: Nokia has taken another step towards turning your automobile into a smartphone on wheels. Yesterday it announced that drivers will be able to plug in a Nokia phone and surround themselves with an “optimized” all-in-one in-vehicle mapping, navigation, traffic, voice and entertainment system, using a new piece of software called Nokia Car Mode, available later this year.

The Finnish mobile phone company is partnering with automotive audio company Alpine Electronics to project the system’s user interface onto a hands free, console-mounted 7-inch display.

The two companies showed off the technology yesterday at the Frankfurt Motor Show, marking the first products to come out of the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC). The CCC is a group of nearly 30 companies - including many large automakers and phone vendors - that is standardizing the delivery of services to all-singing, all-dancing, all-knowing car-linked gadgets.

Which gets me to the “free” thread in this yarn. The technologies of cars, IT and telecommunications are clearly converging. Myriad cross-industry partnerships have emerged, such as a recent electric vehicle hookup between GM and LG.

Why not extend that convergence into business models and make cars “free” to the end user? Phones like Nokia’s typically come “free” as part of service packages from the Verizons and Vodafones of the world. Consumers commit to a year or two of service, agree to a monthly rate, and pay nothing upfront for the phone – albeit they pay an amount hidden in their bill.

If cars are morphing into vroom-vroom communication devices, is it too much to think that service providers could offer a car/communication package for, say, 2 or 3 years, in exchange for a monthly fee (which, granted, would be a bit more than your current monthly Verizon bill, unless you’re a compulsive international data roamer!)?

As the technologies meld further, those services could eventually include so much more, like engine diagnostics, maintenance alerts, speed trap warnings, even auto-driving of the car, which could all be delivered out of ubiquitous "cloud computing".

Interestingly, at least two members of the Car Connectivity Consortium are telecommunication service providers: Japan’s KDDI and Britain’s BT.

As I noted a few weeks ago in "Chapter 1" on this subject, the service provider could even be a utility that includes monthly lashings of electricity that would power your electric vehicle (EV). High prices are stymieing sales of EVs, so the world could use a shot of innovative financing that would help boost all the innovative technological advances and usher in an era of CO2-reduced transportation.

There are those who would argue that such a “free” model would distort market values of cars. But that’s something that the market itself can settle. Besides, it seems that service packages could certainly play a role in the grand scheme, even if they wouldn’t be for everybody.

As long as I’m taking liberties with the future, let me make one more suggestion: As cars and IT merge, get ready for the 4-wheel Apple iCar and Google SearchMobile. The standard models will include unlimited voice and limited data. The deluxe models will let you watch any live streamed NFL game of your choosing – although they would disable the video unless your car is parked. If you upgrade to the super premium package, the car would drive itself.

Enjoy the monthly arrangement. But please, keep eyes on the road and hands on the wheel - even if the eyes and hands reside in the cloud.

Photos: Top, Nokia; Bottom, inggmartinez/Flickr

Related Posts:

* How to get an electric car for free

* GM, LG partner on electric vehicle development

* No EVs please, we’re British

* China turning its back on EVs

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure