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An Interview with the President of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA)


By: Julia John-Scheder

An Interview with the President of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA)

© Verband der Automobilindustrie e. V. (VDA)

The German Center for Research and Innovation (GCRI) conducted an interview with Matthias Wissmann, the president of the VDA, an organization with over 600 German companies among its members. These global companies manufacture cars, trailers, bodies, and buses as well as vehicle parts and accessories. The VDA was also a partner of the research project simTD, aimed at increasing traffic safety and efficiency in Germany.

Mr. Wissmann is a lawyer and a partner with the law firm WilmerHale. He previously served as the Federal Minister of Transport in the German government and as Minister of Research and Technology. He has significantly advanced the privatization of the German railway system and Lufthansa.

We asked Mr. Wissmann about the latest developments in car-to-x technology and future trends in cyber-related attacks with respect to car-to-car communication.

What are some of the latest developments in car-to-x technology, and what kind of enhancements can we expect over the next few years?

In the very near future car-to-x technology will inform the driver of dangerous situations, such as broken-down vehicles, accidents or bad weather. Once we have a critical mass of vehicles communicating with each other and with the surrounding environment, transportation in cities will also become more efficient and comfortable: In the future, when cars communicate with traffic lights, traffic flow can be improved. Intelligent traffic management systems can evaluate the traffic situation in real time and suggest alternative routes to drivers, avoiding traffic jams or directing them to available parking spaces.

What kind of systems are in place to prevent hacking and other cyber-related attacks with respect to car-to-car communication?

The German automotive industry sets high engineering standards when it comes to the digitalization of the automotive; this includes measures to prevent misuse and manipulation. But of course, as we experience the increasing pace of digitalization, we have to focus even more on security and the safety of car passengers. We are strongly committed to establishing and further developing standards for vehicle engineering and to ensuring that the vehicle remains secure when using car-to-x technology. This was the motivation for the VDA position paper “Access to the vehicle and vehicle generated data” published in 2016. We always have to be one step ahead of the competition.

Is there a difference in meaning between smart and intelligent mobility? If so, what is the difference?

Intelligent as well as smart mobility describe the same phenomena. Both terms mean the use of emerging technologies to enable a smarter, greener and more efficient movement of people and goods around the world; encompassing everything from driverless vehicles to seamless multimodal journey planning systems.

What are the greatest challenges that exist today in the area of intelligent mobility and what is being done to address them?

The networking of automobiles using car-to-x technology will make our streets safer. Vehicles that communicate with other vehicles and with the traffic infrastructure “see” farther than humans. However, making this work requires our infrastructure to evolve alongside corresponding automotive technologies: “Vision zero” can only become a reality if the transportation infrastructure is modernized in the coming years.

Also, the technological advancements that enable the introduction of driverless functions and vehicles onto our streets will need to be aligned with legislative amendments. Fortunately, Germany’s federal government is about to reform its national road traffic laws and has presented a draft bill to enable the next generation of automated functions to be used by the customer. For driverless functions, further changes are necessary in the international legal frameworks – above all to the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic.

How would you like to see the latency issue addressed when it comes to the implementation of intelligent mobility systems?

The need for real-time machine-to-machine communication depends very much on the application. Let’s first have a look at the “Highway Pilot”. This system is making calculations and judgements in real time to determine how it should be navigating on the road – the vehicle adjusts the throttle, brakes, and operates the steering inputs on its own without communication with other vehicles. In comparison, a sophisticated truck platooning function requires the technology that enables the “Highway Pilot” to be further enhanced with communication technology to enable the trucks to interact in real time. This real time interaction enables multiple trucks to travel safely in tightly-spaced groups, helping to improve aerodynamics by maximizing the slipstream effect, which reduces fuel consumption and greenhouse emissions.

Could you explain to a layman how the Internet of Things (IoT) is connected to intelligent mobility?

The Internet of Things is a network of internet-connected objects able to collect and exchange data using embedded sensors. Those objects can be smart phones, kitchen appliances, but also buildings and perhaps in the future, cars.

The primary concern of the automotive industry is the security of the vehicle and the safety of its occupants. The vehicle is and will remain a safety relevant device. This fact sets the car apart from the smart phone. Increasing levels of vehicle automation will mean an increasing dependence on machine intelligence. The integrity of the vehicle (the machine) must be protected at all times if it is to make the correct decisions. Data generated by vehicle sensors can contribute to intelligent mobility solutions, but the exchange of this data must be done in a way that does not risk compromising vehicle integrity.