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Berlin, Germany - When the car is low on fuel you have to go to the fuel station. Even in the era of networked cars that's not going to change. However, you may soon have a new way to decide which service station to patronise.

IBM has developed a platform for car makers that allows for smarter marketing of services on the road.

For example, explained Dirk Wollschlaeger, general manager of global automotive industry at IBM, the station operator could reward the customer for filling up at his garage by e-mailing them a coupon for a free coffee on the next visit.

The system might even detect that the car has an Isofix mounting and therefore a child seat, and so could offer a juice at a discount.

“Many people buy a chocolate bar or a coffee when they stop for fuel,” said Wollschlaeger, “which is a high profit-margin business for the service stations.”

In addition, the system would keep an eye on the status of all service stations so drivers wouldn't be sent to a busy one where they might need to queue for their fuel.

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Google has its own car-related software platform, Android Auto, that connects Android smartphones to the car’s dashboard display - but it has no plans for a system similar to IBM's, according to Patrick Brady, an Android director of engineering at Google.

He argued: “When a system is optimised for the interests of advertisers, the user is neglected.”

Google was interested in the fuel gauge only in the interests of navigation, he said.

“If Google knows the tank is low, a route can be calculated accordingly,” Brady said. “The driver can see the fuel gauge but must search for themself for a service station.”

In the case of electric vehicles, this issue will be even more important as charging stations are currently rare and need to be taken into account when planning a route.

Nevertheless, Android Auto was aimed at getting information from the internet into the car rather than tapping into vehicle data, Brady said.

‘YOUR CAR KNOWS YOU’

Car makers themselves are becoming increasingly bold in putting forward business models for the networked car. At the Frankfurt motor show in September, Daimler gave the impression of wanting to put Google in the shade when it comes to data analysis.

Daimler boss Dieter Zetsche said: “Your Mercedes knows your route to work, your driving style, appointments, taste in music.”

And Daimler's vision of the future goes even further: “The car seat could independently check some of the vital data of the person sitting in it and so on the road become a physical therapist,” Zetsche said.

He also took a swipe at tech competitors eyeing up the car business, saying that Daimler earned most of its money from selling cars.

“Customers pay for our products with money, not personal data. Unlike some IT companies, we don't have to hit the data to make a profit.”

PRIVACY ISSUE

But Wollschlaeger, who is based in Germany, believes privacy could be an important differentiating feature.

There are significant cultural differences between North America and Europe, which is more sceptical of big data.

A colleague told him that in Canada a car suggested taking the next exit because a shop he'd read about online was located there.

“He was pleased,” said Wollschlaeger, “but over here many would find that completely intolerable.”

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