Your future car will have your credit card number

by | Mar 5, 2021 | Articles

Volkswagen announced today a new vehicle called ‘Project Trinity’ that it defines an “electrically powered sedan” that it’ll build in Wolfsburg starting in 2026. They also flat-out said that they’re going to pickup Tesla’s model of charging for certain over-the-air upgrades for future models.

What is “Project Trinity?” A fair guess is that this new EV will be some sort of crossover-ish sedan built on the same platform as the Bentley-Audi-Porsche Landjet project that will underpin all sorts of future vehicles for the Volkswagen Group. The rumored goal for this vehicle is 404 miles of range (though possibly on the European standard, non the EPA one) and any number of technical features, including Level 4 autonomy.

Many of the details of this vehicle, which I will call the Volkswagen Vendaval for no other reason than it amuses me, will probably filter out through the automotive press throughout the coming years. For me, the important bit comes at the end of the company’s press release:

Future vehicle models such as Trinity will be produced with considerably fewer variants, and the hardware will be largely standardised. The cars will then have virtually everything on board and customers will be able to activate desired functions “on demand” at any time via the digital ecosystem in the car. This will significantly reduce complexity in production.

By developing the automobile into a software-based product, Volkswagen is creating the conditions for new, data-based business models. Entry barriers to individual mobility are to be lowered while at the same time offering even more attractive usage packages. Volkswagen intends to generate additional revenue in the usage phase – for charging and energy services, for software-based functions that customers can book as needed, or for automated driving. “In the future, the individual configuration of the vehicle will no longer be determined by the hardware at the time of purchase. Instead, customers will be able to add functions on demand at any time via the digital ecosystem in the car,” says Ralf Brandstätter. 

This is a key paragraph. You can read our thorough history of the Chrysler MyGig system to really appreciate how much of upgrading your vehicle in the past was a physical task achieved by upgrading hardware. As Tesla has shown, electric vehicles offer a lot more opportunities for software upgrades that require nothing more than a click to get thanks to Over-The-Air (OTA) updates. While I have some qualms with calling the Tesla system “Full Self Driving” as it’s definitely not that, it’s great marketing and worth $10,000 to some.

One can imagine how a network of linked cars, as mentioned in Project Trinity, could add a host of upgrades you could pay (once or monthly) to unlock. If you’re going to a new town on vacation and your car gets dirty maybe you can pay your car to drive itself to a local cleaner, get washed, and then have it return to you. People pay for satellite radio on a subscription basis. How much would you pay for a service that lets you know when someone is leaving a prime parking spot so your car can park there?

Much as my phone has my credit card number so that it can buy any number of things I think would be efficient, your car will likely need one as well.