Small fleets of BMWs and Smarts now running on Germany's roads could in time help change the way traffic jams are managed around the world.

BMW is running three research cars in Munich to prove that the cars' telematics systems can be used to turn the vehicles into mobile sensors that automatically and instantly report to a traffic control centre.

All the cars need is a small software upgrade, according to Automotive News Europe.

BMW's system is known as Extended Floating Car Data (XFCD) while DaimlerChrysler's programme is called FleetNet.

"The cost of putting XFCD into cars is not significant because everything necessary is already in the car when fitted with [satellite navigation]", said Susanna Breiten-berger, BMW group research engineer and team leader for the XFCD project.
In a parallel project, the DaimlerChrysler Research Centre has six Smart cars on the streets of Ulm testing car-to-car communications using short-range radio.

Said D/C's FleetNet program leader Walter Franz: "Imagine you are driving at high speed and there has just been an accident round the next bend. No problem! You apply the brakes in time because your car has warned you before you could even see the accident."

Both projects involve Siemens VDO Automotive and are partially funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research.

The projects also will provide crucial technology to the recently formed Car2Car Communications Consortium, whose members include Audi, BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Fiat, Renault and Volkswagen.

"XFCD is connected with the Car2Car initiative, developing the information systems that could eventually become international," Breitenberger said.

What holds back car-to-car communication is insufficient industry collaboration.

"We are talking to Daimler-Chrysler, to Ford through Volvo, and to VW through Audi," said Breitenberger. "We have to get the others on board to get a significant number of cars on the road. There are basically no other problems. Technology is no problem."

According to the German auto club ADAC, about five million of the country's 45 million cars have satellite navigation systems, a number that is growing by 19% a year.

This could mean that by 2015, about 2.14 million cars would be able to transmit XFCD.