What is the future of eCall in Europe?

Last month the European Commission (EC) generated widespread discussion within the automotive telematics industry by issuing a warning that it is planning to take regulatory measures if it does not see significant progress in the deployment of eCall services by the end of 2009.

But there is some confusion about the EC’s proposals for promoting eCall across Europe.

If the legislative option is taken by the Commission, fitment in new Type-Approved vehicles could be mandated by 2014.

In addition to requiring that Vehicle Manufacturers (VMs) install the in-vehicle equipment needed for eCall automatic location-enhanced emergency assistance services, the EC will also demand action from the mobile phone network operators and Member States responsible for Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) emergency assistance infrastructure.

It is clear that the European Commission is now serious about getting eCall implemented on a pan-European basis. It has spent considerable amounts of Euros, time and political energy on encouraging deployment and the loss of face would be too great to let the idea fade away.

The most likely outcome is that some form of legislation will be passed mandating eCall deployment while the existing private proprietary services already provided by some vehicle manufacturers will continue in parallel.

But many issues remain to be solved including the timing of the legislative process and technical and standardisation activities. One key question is whether services have to be truly pan-European from the outset. What will happen if there are gaps in the deployment by Member States or in the less-developed members of the EU that do not have full PSAP infrastructures?

ACEA, the association of European vehicle manufacturers, has to be seen to be supporting the EC’s eCall plans, but behind the scenes there is little agreement within its membership.

The fragmented automotive industry can be categorised into four groups –

1. Vehicle manufacturers that already provide their own eCall services. This group will be least affected and could have a competitive advantage if pan-European services are eventually required in all new vehicles.

2. VMs that are aware of eCall and are pre-emptively developing private eCall services to prepare and gain knowledge before a mass-market implementation is required.

3. VMs that are doing nothing in response to eCall and will simply follow the market requirements when they arrive. By waiting until the last minute to react, this group potentially risks underestimating the complexity of launching telematics services across a large vehicle range of vehicles and a large number of markets.

4. VMs that are lobbying against the EC’s plans. This group is questioning both the EC’s technical approach and why the automotive industry has to bear so much of the cost of public ecall.

The EC is leading an eCall Summit of the key players at the end of October. Vehicle manufacturers should keep a close eye on this event so they can gain an indication of what the Commission is planning as a next step.

VMs should also monitor the finalisation of standards needed for eCall and watch what is happening within the mobile network operators, who have a key role in this field.

Increasing political pressure is expected to be placed on the national governments, such as France and the UK, that have not yet expressed commitment to supporting eCall. These countries are not convinced that the benefits outweigh the costs and the investment in eCall could be better spent on other road safety strategies.

Courtesy: SBD.

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