BRUSSELS – A first set of technical standards saying how European manufacturers should build technologies that enable vehicles to communicate with each other and with roadside communications infrastructure has been released.

The European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) have issued an initial set of standards for cooperative intelligence transport systems (C-ITS) – called Release 1 – following a request from the European Commission in 2009. Technical committees in both bodies continue to develop more standards on intelligent transport systems.

At present the EC has no plans to write these standards into mandatory European Union vehicle regulations. But Ryan Heath, the spokesman for EU digital agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes, says the commission may consider adopting “normative measures” if the standards are not heeded.

“Having suitable standards for cooperative intelligent-transport systems is vital for enabling European manufacturers to produce the next generation of connected cars," CEN Director General Elena Santiago has said. "The Release 1 specifications will be tested under real road conditions and may be improved if necessary.”

“The Commission is supporting and promoting the deployment of these systems and continuing to support standardization activities,” Heath says. The EC’s goal is to “steer the consensus among the different stakeholders involved in the deployment (including automakers, suppliers, telecom companies, road operators, service providers and traffic managers) to promote smooth implementation” of the technology.

Cooperation also is under way with agencies such as the International Organization for Standardization to promote global harmonization of technical standards for intelligent transport systems, Heath notes.

Lawmakers in Brussels hope to see connected cars on the road as soon as 2015. Authorities in Austria, Germany and the Netherlands already have agreed to cooperate on installing roadside communication infrastructure.

“For connected cars to become a reality, it is up to national and regional authorities who are in charge of transport infrastructure as well as car manufacturers and of consumers,” CEN Communications Manager Ben Carlin tells WardsAuto. “But how many people are willing to pay extra for a vehicle that has additional functionalities?”

Kroes counters the new guidelines will help promote the development of connected cars: “Direct communication between vehicles and infrastructures will ensure safer and more efficient traffic flows, with great benefits for drivers, pedestrians, the environment and our economy,” she says. “Europe should grab this opportunity to show its digital advantage and get out in front in the race to develop the next generation of cars.”

The International Automobile Federation (FIA) has welcomed EU plans for developing open, standardized and secure telematics platforms and wants the EC to ensure multiple service providers can access and use them.

“When it comes to connected vehicles we must make sure that the consumer, who will be the one paying for the technology, is informed and gives consent before their data is shared,” Jacob Bangsgaard, director-general of FIA Region I (Europe, Middle East and Africa) tells WardsAuto.

Consumer Protection Factor in Discussions

The FIA believes three basic principles must be respected when developing and using this emerging technology: consumers’ freedom of choice; fair competition; and data protection.

Although Bangsgaard says European standards would increase the technology’s market penetration, he believes consumer protection also needs to be part of the discussion from the beginning.

The ACEA agrees. For Secretary General Erik Joannaert, there are still some outstanding issues regarding privacy, data protection, driver distraction and liability.

“The European automobile industry invests a large portion of its €32 billion ($44 billion) of its research and development budget into research into connected cars and related ITS projects,” he says.

“(The) ACEA believes that vehicle-to-vehicle communications and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) networking are two of many vital components for a future safer, more efficient and sustainable transport system.”

The European automakers organization acknowledges much of the technology still is being developed, but Jonnaert says significant infrastructure investment and a certain level of vehicle and infrastructure deployment will be needed for it to work.

Philippe De Backer, a Liberal member of the European Parliament who serves on the institution’s transport committee, believes such intelligent transport systems could give the EU auto industry a key technical edge “to keep up with countries like Japan and the U.S.”

But another transport committee member, Conservative Reformist Peter Van Dalen of the Netherlands, is concerned about potential privacy abuses. “I do not desire a system which, in theory, exactly knows where I drive at any moment,” he says.

The FIA’s Bangsgaard predicts the auto industry likely will see new models of car ownership, such as car sharing, that will “fundamentally change the way consumers interact with their vehicles.”

The federation believes that like the booming smartphone-app business, vehicle telematics will have great potential to generate new business and offer consumers a range of useful services. But the FIA does not think the technology necessarily will result in increased sales of automobiles.

“It may mean that the sales (will) shift from the vehicle itself to the provision of services and applications for that vehicle,” Bangsgaard says. “It also opens the door to additional service providers to develop applications. We will likely see new players emerge in this field, leading to opportunities and high-tech jobs for Europeans.”