There's a lot to read about with Tesla's latest earnings reports, and some are worried about Elon Musk's electric speedster and its chances to survive long-term. The electric vehicle industry has had much of the press' attention, but there are startups that are aiming at much smaller, more intricate ways to change the way that 90% of Americans get to work. This includes the cars themselves, the way they pay for them and even help them become better at doing so.
Verizon and "Hum"
Well-known for their cellphone and internet services, Verizon has created a device called "Hum" that plugs into the OBD slot (a diagnostic slot in many older cars) adding functionality found in many modern cars. It comes with a cellular clip-on device that can report potential issues with your car to your cellphone, contact help (much like GM's OnStar) if you need road-side assistance, ask for directions or simply find your car in the parking lot. It costs $14.99 on a two-year contract, and doesn't require you to be a current Verizon customer. It's a great way to modernize even older vehicles.
Co-founded by Igor Katsman and based in San Mateo, Driveway Software makes mobile telematics solutions, which translates to systems that monitor your driving from your smartphone. This push into the big data of car insurance and driver evaluation was first pioneered by Progressive and others, using a click-in device that tracked policy-holders' cars driving habits. Driveway reports using the technology inside your smartphone (Android and iOS) how you're driving, if you opt-in with an insurance carrier, to potentially lower your rates. Their consumer app also tells you how you're driving and gives you helpful tips as to how to improve, and compete against your friends to get a better driving "score." They raised $10m in funding in July.
While modern cars are increasingly getting fancy features through Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and their own internal operating systems, many older cars are left in the dust. Vinli, much like Verizon's Hum, plugs into the car's OBD slot and adds an entire app store as well as a 4G internet connection to any car with the correct slot. The app store includes simple apps like "Dash," which adds the smart car functionality of many modern vehicles to older cars, "Beagle," an app that can track your teen driver's moves, and Lock & Key, a service that tracks your car if it's lost or stolen and alerts the authorities. The $149.99 device is available with a monthly fee dependent on the amount of bandwidth you intend to use.
Buying or selling a used car has always been a hard to predict experience, unless you go through companies like Carmax or skim Autotrader listings for hours. Beepi, a Los Altos-based company, will come and pick up your used car and sell it within thirty days (or buy it from you for the same price) providing you're in their coverage zone. They will also give every car they buy a full two-hour inspection, then proceed to get it on the market through their app or website. If you're buying a car from them, they'll drive it to you to test drive it. If you want to buy it, they'll handle finding the paperwork and all you'll need is to pay them on the spot to drive it away. They've also got a 10-day guarantee on any vehicle if you don't like it.
TechCrunch Disrupt 2012 winner YourMechanic grew out of the idea that you shouldn't have to shop around mechanics in your area to find someone trustworthy just using Yelp reviews, or even go to a mechanic again. YourMechanic's vetted inspectors and mechanics will come to you all over the country and make one of over 150 different repairs to your car. While no mechanic can promise a perfect repair on any vehicle, they will give an instant quote and a 12-month/12,000-mile warranty on any repair that they handle, as well as saving you a claimed 30% from repair shops.
If Google has their way (and maybe even Uber), we may never need to drive again (though some of us may want to). However, major developments by startups and large companies are clearly going to keep happening before then to keep driving smarter, safer and more satisfying between now and the five to ten years it will take to deliver automation.