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Electric Cars Capturing Wealth of Data for Carmakers

Ford, IBM, Ecotality and others use streams of data from cars and charging stations to better understand how electric car drivers use their vehicles.

Published: 19-Jun-2012

As I zip silently around the San Francisco Bay Area in a new Ford Focus Electric, the stylish battery-powered car emits not a molecule of carbon pollution. The four-door hatchback, however, is generating cumulus clouds of data every second. A dashboard video screen constantly displays information on the vehicle’s acceleration, braking, battery charge and location. Even when the Focus is parked it’s streaming data on the battery system and even tire pressure to my Microsoft-designed iPhone app.

That’s all useful for the driver but the vehicle charging data is of even more interest to Ford engineers back in Detroit who aggregate the information for insights into customers driving habits. “We’re learning a lot about how often people charge and whether they’re doing it at locations other than their homes,” says Mike Tinksey, Ford’s associate director of global electric vehicle infrastructure. “That will really shape the next generation of our products.”

Ford is not alone. IBM, infrastructure companies and utilities are mining electric vehicle data to plan where to put charging stations, manage the impact on the power grid and develop new services for the nascent EV industry. That data will influence how hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on the roll out of electric charging infrastructure as well as the development of future electric vehicles. “Big data is going to being to be a big issue for electric cars,” says Clay Luthy, IBM’s global distributed energy resource leader. “One of the keys to electric vehicle success is ensuring the grid can support them, especially as vehicle counts grow, and that adopters have absolutely seamless user experience.”

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