I remember when I was a kid watching Knight Rider how much I wanted a car that would speak to me, a car that would give me directions, a car that would drive itself. Well, this idea of a real-life KIT is not too farfetched. With today’s in-vehicle navigation and communication systems, this may soon become reality and our marketing may reap the benefits of it.

Telematics

The technical term for in-vehicle navigation and communication systems is referred to as telematics. Telematics describes many different solutions from the Ford SYNC system, to Mercedes’ mbrace and GM’s OnStar. The goal of these systems is to enhance the driving experience and offer additional functionality. Each shares the ability to employ wireless technology to connect in-vehicle entertainment and information systems to outside networks.

The difference between these various solutions is how the wireless technology is enabled. Some solutions employ an embedded wireless communications module while others make use of the driver’s own cell phone. Today, more telematics systems include in-vehicle Internet access or the ability to connect to a smart phone with Internet access. These new Internet accessible telematics could lead to a wide variety of new services including weather reports, parking information, the nearest electric charging station, the use of Internet radio stations such as Pandora, remote diagnostic information and having your emails read aloud while driving.

The Telematics Market

The market for telematics systems has been growing steadily over the last decade, but a recent report notes that the market for in-vehicle wireless communication devices is about to enter a dynamic growth phase. A report from IMS Research, entitled “The World Market for OE In-Vehicle Telematics Systems,” forecasts that all major automotive manufacturers will sell an increasing number of their vehicles with telematics systems during the next decade. According to the report, globally, the percentage of new vehicles fitted with telematics is forecast to grow from 9% in 2009 to 46% in 2017.” A second report from ABI Research echoes these findings and predicts growth from 37 million telematics users in 2010 to more than 211 million in 2015.

The Future and Digital Marketing Opportunities

BMW’s manager of marketing communications, Patrick McKenna, believes the future of telematics lies with mobile devices such as iPhones and Blackberries. In a recent MediaPost article, McKenna commented that “in-vehicle technology is a two-pronged business for us. First, we are marketers looking at mobile as a way to communicate the BMW brand. The second prong is a car’s relationship to mobile with the car acting as a portal to mobile devices. For many years, lots of technology was fixed, built in and designed to stay with the car. Now, what the car runs will come through a mobile device that stays in your pocket. Those apps run through the car but aren’t based in it,” he said. “Technology inside the car is a challenge partly because when it is fixed in the car and stays with car, it ages and depreciates at a faster rate than the car. If we can rely on mobile devices being operating systems, the car is neutral.”

Understanding that mobile may be the future of telematics, mobile marketing will become an even more important tactic in a digital marketing strategy. Geo-targeted and location-based ads can be used to target specific individuals based on their current location or their destination. Mobile search marketing will also become increasingly important. Envision someone searching for “pizza.” They may see an ad for the nearest pizza shop based on their location. By clicking on the ad, a user will be able to get more information, special offers or coupons, a menu and options such as calling the restaurant. Telematics cannot only provide this information, but it can also provide turn-by-turn directions that deliver the driver right to the restaurant. The future of marketing your business may not only be in the hands of your customers, it may be in their driver’s seat.

So, what about a car that drives itself? Well, of all companies, Google is conducting research and will soon have a real “smart” car. My dream of owning my own KIT may soon be here!