Dekra calls for transparency in car data

Stefan Koelbl

The Dekra boss invests in digitization. When it comes to software tests, he doesn’t want to lag behind the car companies.

(Photo: obs)

Stuttgart Dekra boss Stefan Kölbl does not let an important future topic rest with the growing networking of vehicles: “We demand non-discriminatory, independent access to safety and environmentally relevant vehicle data”, says Kölbl. “Without them, the proper condition and safety of the vehicles can no longer be guaranteed in the future.”

The head of the largest non-listed testing company propagates a trustee model for the secure collection and utilization of data in the interests of consumer protection. Direct access from a neutral party without going through the automaker’s servers creates trust that would benefit all parties in the long term.

“If vehicles are permanent, over-the-airIf you receive software updates that have an influence on the driving behavior of the vehicle, ie wirelessly, a general inspection every two years will no longer be sufficient, ”emphasized Kölbl. Then there must be at least random checks in between.

What sounds technical has a very serious background. The vehicles have more and more assistance systems in which they take over tasks that the driver previously performed.

In the event of accidents, Dekra experts are often appointed in court proceedings. But without access to the vehicle data, it is not possible to determine whether the driver or a software error by the automaker was to blame for an accident. So far, manufacturers have only had to disclose these after a court order. “It’s very tedious and complicated,” complains Kölbl.

Manufacturers want to keep data as secret as possible

What the Dekra boss does not say, but an industry insider reveals: With this process, it is not certain whether the manufacturers will actually disclose all the relevant data. “It has also happened that, for some inexplicable reason, software documentation or relevant parts of it were suddenly no longer there,” says the industry expert. Since the diesel scandal, there has been no more unlimited trust in car manufacturers.

They guard their data strictly, always with reference to business secrets. The mobility data can be used commercially. That is why tech giants such as Google and Amazon are also very interested in this data and its evaluation.

However, the testing organizations like Dekra are only concerned with a safety and environmentally relevant evaluation. “The visionary trustee model is an important building block for road safety and consumer protection of the future,” said Kölbl, referring to the “Trust Center” that was launched a year ago-Initiative that is also supported by other testing organizations such as the TÜV.

For example, such data is needed when it comes to the approval of shuttle systems without a driver in the future. Kölbl knows, however, that the resistance is great. Kölbl welcomes the initiative of the federal government to set up a “mobility data room” and put pressure on the car companies.

Drivers are poorly informed

Meanwhile, many motorists are not yet aware of the explosive nature of data security. According to a survey of more than 1,000 drivers commissioned by Dekra, less than a quarter of the participants said that they had already found out what data was collected and stored from their car.

Only 18 percent of those surveyed are very concerned that their driving data could be viewed and misused by unauthorized persons. However, 88 percent of those surveyed are of the opinion that the vehicle owner should decide what to do with the vehicle data.

Dekra invests heavily in software capacities in order to be able to keep up with the development departments of the car companies in the testing and certification of software. The lion’s share of the investments of 120 million euros this year went into digitization, says Kölbl. Almost 800 software positions were created. Since the beginning of 2020, Dekra has been building a center for artificial intelligence, in which experience in the management of claims can be gathered.

When it comes to data analysis, the company is also looking to China. A state-of-the-art test center for testing key technologies relating to wireless communication, connectivity, artificial intelligence, geographic information systems and cybersecurity was set up there with a Chinese partner.

Dekra wants to have digitized its entire service portfolio by 2025. “Covid-19 has further accelerated this transformation process,” says Kölbl. However, in the 2020 financial year the pandemic also ended the 16-year growth path. Sales are expected to drop by around 200 million euros to around 3.2 billion euros.

Kölbl’s annual balance is positive: “We got away with Corona with a black eye.” The company will achieve a significant operating profit, albeit not as high as in the previous year, when the EBIT was 227 million euros.

Dekra has maintained its leading position in Germany when it comes to car inspections. Every third vehicle is scrutinized by Dekra. Dekra also sees itself as the market leader worldwide with 27 million vehicle inspections.
For 2021 Kölbl expects a return to the growth path. His optimism is fed by the recovery trend of the past few months.

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