LOS ANGELES – Today’s new vehicles come with sensors that alert a driver if a tire is going flat. Tomorrow’s telematics promise to go way beyond that.

Technology in the works would allow auto makers and dealers to “have access to customers while they are in their vehicles,” says Ed Allen, vice president-automotive industry business unit at Oracle, an information-technology firm.   

He gives a near-future example at the Automotive Customer Centricity Summit, hosted by Thought Leadership Summits here.

“If a tire goes flat, vehicle telematics could give the driver the name and location of the nearest dealer selling tires, as well as replacement options and prices,” Allen says. “A dealer could even offer to send someone out to help the motorist.”

He sees such functionality as a competitive edge for auto makers and their retailers. “Imagine a car brand offering this. The industry is moving close to it.”

Modern vehicle infotainment systems are cutting-edge, but even more so are impending vehicle diagnostics, says Rob Policano, a Mercedes product manager.

Remote vehicle-diagnostics technology “will have the greatest impact on the auto business, even more than infotainment,” he says.

Such diagnostic offerings are in their infancy, limited to vehicle owners calling an auto maker’s customer-assistance center when a problem is encountered.

But auto makers are developing systems with the ability to transmit vehicle-diagnostic information automatically to a dealership, he notes.

That information could include knowing if a driver is experiencing road problems, as in Allen’s illustration, to alerting customers of looming issues or when recommended routine maintenance is due.

“There is a whole cascade of things that could be triggered through that diagnostic report in a car,” Policano says. “Right now diagnostics are limited, but the technology is there.”

Whoever gets to market first with such customer connectivity has the advantage, says Brian Simmermon, Subaru of America’s chief information officer.

A number of protocol issues need to be addressed first, says Policano. Among them are establishing rules of engagement with customers, particularly those who may see the technology as intrusive and irksome.

On the other hand, “customers today expect you to know them, their service histories and what they bought,” Allen says.

Byron Pope contributed to this story.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com