(By Buzz Knight) As we usher in 2022 and the Consumer Electronics Show I’m excited to share an interview I did with an authority on the Automotive sector and specifically the connected vehicle. Thilo Koslowski is currently CEO of his company AutoDGTL.
Thilo Koslowski has an amazing career centering on the auto industry ranging from his time at Gartner for 19 years to his time as Founder/CEO of Porsche Digital.
Back in 2013 I first met Thilo at Radio Ink’s Convergence conference and he was part of a rather notorious panel I moderated about the connected vehicle.
Buzz: Well, I’m pleased today on our Getting Pumped for CES series to welcome Thilo Koslowski. Thilo is part of the digital renaissance, when we think of automotive, that we’re all witnessing before our very eyes.
He has an amazing history of digital transformation, a great career at companies such as Porsche and Gartner, among others. And he continues to be at the foreground of the future of automotive. So, Thilo, thanks for helping us get pumped for CES.
So, what do you think will be the overall vibe in the auto sector at the show this year?
Thilo: There will definitely be continued focus on the whole concept of connectivity in a car and what the car can do in addition to getting you from point A to point B. And this is something that has been around for the last couple of years, obviously, but I feel like now, in particular, you see that a lot of these technologies that in the last couple of years were premature are now really maturing to the level where you will see them being introduced by vehicle manufacturers going forward.
I started looking into this whole space in 1999 with a vision that the car will become the ultimate mobile device. That’s what I called it back then. And I said it would become a central element in connected lifestyles that people have. Now these connected lifestyles are becoming digital lifestyles that we all have, and the car is becoming a central element of this.
It’s truly mobile if you think about it, that’s the core definition of an automobile, to enable you to be mobile, and now you have more computing capabilities inside the car that will allow you to connect to the outside world so that you can actually interact with the outside world, consume information that you have, and create a very pleasing experience for people while they’re sitting in this mobile environment.
Buzz: So, what do you think the specific challenges that the automotive business is facing today?
Thilo: Definitely figuring out a way to address these needs and desires that consumers demand from a connectivity point of view, and doing this in a meaningful, exciting, and, of course, safe way inside of the vehicle. Ultimately, as the car is becoming this ultimate mobile device, it is competing with other mobile devices that people are using in their daily lives, in particular, our smartphones that we carry around with that, and not just the smartphones, but also the ecosystems that go along with these devices.
The car companies need to figure out how they can create their own ecosystems. And that doesn’t mean that they have to reinvent the wheel, pun intended, for all of these aspects, but it means that often they have to connect to some of these other existing digital ecosystems that people already are favoring in their daily lives.
Quite frankly, that is also the reason why you continue to see some of the big technology companies wanting to get closer to the person driving a vehicle or sitting in a vehicle that’s being driven, meaning the big guys like Apple, Google, et cetera. So, this isn’t just something that the traditional vehicle manufacturers, the auto makers, as we used to call them, will determine going forward. It will be increasing the technology companies, the ones that bring an ecosystem that’s meaningful and can present that information in an exciting way to people. Those will be the ones who will win it. That means the playing field, the competition for the automotive industry, is definitely growing.
Buzz: You touched on something there at Apple and Google, and I know you, specifically, and your team had a seat at the table with the highest up at Apple and Google around this topic. Is there anything that surprised you about their view of the world, when you sat in those meetings with the Tim Cooks and the Eric Schmitz’ of the world?
Thilo: Now I can’t talk too much about meetings that I have with people in the past, but this is something, like I said, that I predicted would happen at some point, right? You see that technologies are converging, the automobile or mobile devices, digital content, all of this is coming together. And this was just a question of time when we would see this. So far, nobody has cracked the code on how to make this best. And again, pun intended, because this is about code.
This is about software, ultimately, and the user interface, how you enable a consumer to consume this information, create content on their own, and have the devices communicate with each other, talk to businesses, et cetera. So, there’s still a lot of things that need to be invented, created, coded, represented through software. And everybody’s trying to chase this, plus putting a business model on top of it.
That’s where I think you will see some of these technology companies thinking broader than typically automotive companies would do. Automotive companies by nature have to find their playground as a device that happens to have four wheels. The technology companies have to find their playground much broader, across multiple device platforms, across clouds, where you have information stored for you. So that’s a different mindset.
They also have one of the most important muscles that you need to have in order to win this kind of game or fight, which is the software muscle and the technology muscle and the ability to think like a technology company, because we’re talking purely and truly about technology innovation here at the end of the day.
This kind of technology is not something necessarily that the traditional car manufacturers have had in their mindsets, in their cultures, for the last decades or even century. And that’s where I think you would see companies winning or losing. Those that can actually activate that muscle, that expertise, change the way they think about this, change their culture, and really focus on the customer experience and the customer value. Those will be the ones that will succeed going forward. And I expect technology companies to definitely highlight the customer experience in all of this, potentially even more so than traditional car companies.
Buzz: We know the last couple of years of this nightmare that we’ve all been through and are going through. I won’t even mention it by name, Thilo, just so we don’t have to hear that name of it, but we all know what we’re talking about. So, we know there’s been the chip shortage, obviously, and other elements of the supply chain. Has this hurt research and development in a big way over the last two years, in your opinion?
Thilo: I don’t think it has hurt research and development. It has hurt the ability to test certain capabilities because we just don’t have some of the hardware that is needed to do this, to actually launch products, launch capabilities, get consumer feedback, et cetera.
There is a lot of talk still about autonomous vehicles, self-driving cars. And you would see that being represented at CES as well. The question is what happens then when these cars drive themselves? Is horsepower, is performance even relevant at that point anymore? Or will it become more important how you interact with your customers through new interfaces that you have? And it should be probably more than just a touch screen inside the car. If we just replicate what you do on a mobile phone today in the vehicle, that to me isn’t innovation, that would just be a copy and paste, which I don’t think is appropriate.
So, the problems of having some of these shortages from a hardware perspective, but also not having the ability to source enough software developers, people that can actually code, write software, test this in a device that’s out there physically moving from point A to point B, that certainly will slow things down in terms of understanding what works and what doesn’t help consumers perceive and respond to it. But I don’t think necessarily that it will hamper innovation overall by any meaningful time delay.
Buzz: Any key developments that you think we’ll see either continuing to develop, or any new ones this year at the show. You mentioned autonomous, obviously, because we know that’ll be a theme. I’m certain electric vehicles, obviously, will be the other. But what are the other themes you think will be resonating this year?
Thilo: Definitely also you would see innovations as it relates to providing ways to interact with these vehicles going forward. Just the things that I talked about, the UI, the UX elements of these kind of services, and with that; also new ideas on how you can monetize those, because obviously it’s not just about selling your hardware that allows you to interact with these vehicles or services.
You will see probably companies talking about offering subscription-based services in a vehicle, having over the air software updates that provide you with more performance, maybe give you other capabilities in the car. If you go on a longer road trip, you might actually want to splurge on some of those add-on features after the fact, et cetera. You would see advancements in audio technology. You would see advancements in connecting you to the outside world.
The last couple of years, we had a lot of focus on personal assistance in the vehicle and how you could actually interact with those, which again is pretty much an approach of taking what’s happening outside of the vehicle and bringing it into the car. I’m hoping that we’ll see some more unique innovations that focus really on the car experience and go the other way around, if you will, and then try to figure out how the car can actually connect to the outside world rather than the outside world to the vehicle. So that to me is something exciting that I’m looking forward to.
Definitely the EV space. You will see lots of companies talking about what they do. And it is fascinating to me to see that we are now having a new wave of power train that replaces, obviously, the internal combustion engine vehicle to some extent over the next years, and that will bring with it a better understanding and a deeper understanding of software capabilities.
That will put those companies, I believe, in a more beneficial position to really deal with this because software and technology is part of that product itself. And that would be exciting to see what these companies do with that, but just EVs themselves, at least from my perspective, isn’t necessarily enough anymore to stand out and to be successful because everybody’s going to do this. It’s lowering the barriers for market entries for new car companies, and it’s a question of what you do then with these vehicles, especially if you then have self-driving cars where all of a sudden you would free up the driver of the main task of operating the vehicle.
You have to give that person something as a car company or a company who wants to really exploit this from an automotive perspective. If not, then we’ll just probably take our laptops and mobile phones with us while we’re being driven by our autonomous vehicles. And that wouldn’t be necessarily the type of innovation that I foresee. So hopefully we’ll see concepts of how this is differently being considered and being creatively addressed with some new innovations.
Of course, mobility as a whole will just expand further, not just from the vehicle or within the automobile, but also to urban air mobility, other things that you will see going forward. The connectivity between these different means of transportation is going to be another big trend in my eyes. We’ll see some of that at CES in 2022.
Buzz: I’d like to talk about the connected car, the dashboard, and radio’s place there. Now, just as a context, as you remember going back, I believe it was about eight years ago, nine years ago, when I first met you, we were part of something that Radio Inc put on called convergence, and you were part of a panel.
In that discussion, obviously the conversation was about radio, their place in the dashboard, the connected car as it was growing. And that really spurned a lot of talk and controversy at that moment. As we’re here now almost in 2022, obviously that’s still a very important conversation for the radio business.
From your perspective, as someone who has sat in these meetings and board rooms and knows really the insight of what car companies are thinking about, where do you think that all hits today, and what should radio be thinking about as it relates to that perspective?
Thilo: Interesting question, and I think I will give you a very similar answer to what I gave you back then. Content is key. That’s the most important aspect of it.
It depends on your programming. It depends on the value that you can bring to users, to your customers, listeners, that want to actually consume dedicated and probably well-made content. The form of how you deliver this, that’s what’s going to change in my eyes. And we talked about this eight years ago. It might not just be broadcast radio. It might be additional technologies on top of this. Obviously as cars are increasingly being connected, and again, that’s something I mentioned eight years ago as well, now we are there. And if you have that connectivity, then I can actually have content being streamed over the internet, instead of broadcasting the way it has been done over centuries.
My point of view is that regardless of the technology that’s being used, it’s the content that matters most. I do believe that increasingly people will want to consume this type of content over the internet, also while they’re driving in a vehicle that has some advantages to it. It makes it more robust. You can listen to it regardless of where you are. You don’t have the limitations of a broadcast tower, for example. But as long as the content is relevant, and we see actually right now that there is more content being produced and offered because consumers want to find exactly the content that they’re interested in.
That’s good news in my eyes. This isn’t about being limited to only three, four sources, no. We see the opposite. A lot of media companies offering their own stations, their own TV programming, et cetera, right? So, you see already that this offering of more specified it and specific content is going to resonate well with consumers that will continue in those broadcasters or content providers that understand this and really highlight what their niche is, what their value add is, regardless of the technology that they’re using, will be best off. It is definitely, I think, a wrong decision to say that only focusing on radio broadcast in the traditional sense would be a recipe for long term success. That I’m not sure will happen.
Buzz: Thank you for bringing us the insights that you bring us that get us really excited for CES. Your expertise and your candor are greatly appreciated, and I wish you well.
Buzz Knight is the CEO of Buzz Knight Media and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]