Although vehicle personalization isn’t a new concept, satisfying an increasing need for security, fuel economy and control demands more than custom infotainment interfaces and aesthetic accessories.

To achieve the level of personalization and optimization that will truly shape the future of driving, auto industry leaders need to focus under the hood, and not just inside the cabin.

Creating unique, tailored driving experiences within the same vehicle for a variety of use cases is the first step in personalization.

Basic functionality and comfort are important, but what about performance? While today’s driver may be concerned about how their vehicle operates in different weather or terrain, the driver of the future will set various performance parameters to ensure their vehicle maximizes function in relation to its environment.

Having the ability to pare down performance for long commutes, distance driving or trips in harsh weather is an invaluable tool for drivers whose passion is high-performance autos. Likewise, being able to tune the performance for a fleet’s specific mission ensures a company’s vehicle investment is efficient, its drivers are safe and its sustainability goals are supported.   

Writing: Key to Personalization

OEMs produce millions of vehicles per year. While they do meet certain safety and quality standards, they’re often one-size-fits-most solutions aimed at broad categories of drivers. Looking ahead, the most innovative driving technologies will be those that offer mission-based, hyper specific solutions rather than a car performing the same way for its owners regardless of the driving intent or environment.

With the engine control unit regulating everything from fuel injection to torque management and idle RPM, future vehicle software solutions will permit drivers to access and adjust a dynamically responsive ECU to power each driving requirement, preference or situation.

Many OEMs offer pre-set performance options (such as sport and eco), but these present a simplistic, static set of driving modes. A truly personalized solution doesn’t exist.

Dozens of new connective solutions that read from a vehicle’s ECU have emerged in recent years. Companies such as State Farm and Verizon Hum leverage such telematics from consumer vehicles to collect data like speed, GPS coordinates and gas mileage in hopes of helping drivers make conscientious decisions. Fleet-services telematics companies such as Telogis and Telematics operate the same for vehicles designed for business use. Although monitoring and reacting to historical data is important, retroactive adjustments miss the opportunity to make real-time changes and an impact.

The key to control, safety and efficiency is the ability to write to the ECU, which is to transform the way the vehicle’s computer makes it perform nearly instantaneously. Software developed by third-party technology providers can make these modifications a reality.

Today’s Gateway to Tomorrow’s Driving Experiences

Thinking beyond the daily commuter, police departments lower cruiser idle RPM annually, saving thousands of dollars through reduced fuel consumption. Looking ahead, big-rig truckers could adjust the performance of their engines to efficiently haul their loads. Rental-car companies could send a file that disables their cars from operating unless seatbelts are fastened, and vehicle-sharing companies could allow drivers to select performance parameters unique to their daily needs.

We’re starting to see auto personalization emerge in other forms.  Avis, the rental company, released a new app that flashes a vehicle’s lights and controls the door locks by means of a renter’s smartphone, and Apple’s CarPlay brings the connectivity and functionality of your iPhone to your car’s built-in display.

These advancements mark progress in the auto industry. Third-party software companies are working tirelessly to truly make personalized driving a near-term reality.

From the simplest adjustment to the most meaningful change in performance, software-driven solutions will shift the market away from generic assembly-line vehicles to driving experiences as unique as a driver’s fingerprint.

 David Thawley is CEO of Derive Systems, a software company that empowers customers to take control of their vehicles.