LOS ANGELES –Thilio Koslowski envisions a day when the likes of T-Mobile and Verizon give free cars to customers who sign lifetime data-use contracts.

“I’m not talking about giving away a Porsche, but it could be profitable for a data provider because the car of the future will be totally wired,” says the lead automotive analyst for Gartner, an information-technology research firm.

Get in, log on and zip down the information highway. Next stop, the Internet zone. “We may see bizarre and wild concepts going forward,” Koslowski says here at the Automotive Customer Centricity Summit hosted by Thought Leadership Summits.

The world will witness more technological changes in the next 15 years than it has seen in the last 100, he says during a presentation, “Key Trends and Technologies That Will Shape the Auto Industry’s Future.”

“By 2020, 80% of cars sold will have connectivity,” Koslowski says, adding that auto makers are hastening to define new ways to meet evolving consumer needs.

Technology innovations are expected to expand value propositions beyond core transportation benefits and enhance the overall customer experience.

People want to lead their digital lifestyles wherever they are, “and that includes automobiles,” Koslowski says. 

Members of Generation Y are making their connected-vehicle desires known. A survey says people age 18 to 24 are six times more likely than their elders to opt for Internet access over car ownership, if they had to decide on one or the other.

But auto makers are quickly making the choice unnecessary, Koslowski says, describing the vehicle of tomorrow as “the ultimate mobile device.”

He predicts cars soon will provide features such as wireless navigation-map updates, parking-spot locators and automatic software updates.

They also will contain advanced remote-diagnostic capabilities. Some auto makers provide a “very basic” form of that today, Koslowski says. “This is a real chance for dealers and OEMs to stay in touch with customers, delight them and keep them.”

Such onboard diagnostics would relay information to a dealer, who can then respond accordingly about maintenance, repair and roadside-service issues. “It is a way to communicate valuable data to customers, not spam them,” Koslowski says.

Some premium auto makers currently offer in-car access to Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. But consumers don’t seem much interested in that.

“People indicate they use their mobile devices for social media,” Koslowski says. “Young consumers in particular don’t want Facebook in their cars.”

The younger set is four times more likely to use a smartphone app while driving. Koslowski says. Nearly 75% of smartphone owners use apps to access social networks at least once a day, according to digital marketer Hubspot.

Forty-seven percent of polled consumers say they would like a mobile app in their cars as long as it is safe to operate while driving. But that becomes subjective. “The question is: what’s safe?” Koslowski says.  

Good news on the safety front is that high on auto-consumer priority lists are hands-free-calling features and collision-avoidance systems, he says. Also up there are navigation and stolen-car tracking systems.

Not great news for auto makers is that polled young people say they are three times more likely to use car-sharing services, Koslowski says.

Americans are “crazy about connectivity” and that feeling remains when they’re in a vehicle, Frank Hirschenberger, senior director-product innovation at roadside assistance firm Agero, said at the 2013 WardsAuto Interiors Conference last month.

He disputes claims that young Americans are shying away from auto ownership. Agero research shows them as emotionally attached to their vehicles as to their smartphones.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com