Kenny Hawk

Kenny Hawk

Software platform developer, Mojio, is set to go from strength to strength, working directly with the mobile carriers to connect our older cars. Cat Dow catches up with Mojio CEO Kenny Hawk on what the team does and its plan for the future.

just-auto: What does Mojio do?

KH: What we've built is a cloud-based platform and very easy-to-use mobile app for iOS and Android, which gets you higher speed Wi-Fi in the car through a dongle. We're a software company but we have partnered with a handful of hardware manufacturers, which have these 4G dongles that can plug into the OBD II port in the vehicle. The reality is, your typical car sits on the road for 11-12 years and only one out of 10 people buy a new car each year. So the 1.2 billion cars that are on the road that could be connected that are not connected. This is what we are initially going after with our platform. The dongles can get information off the car, draw power and they provide hotspot in the car for Wi-Fi.

just-auto: So can someone buy a Mojio dongle in a local store?

KH: No, we are going into markets through mobile operators. We have won the Deutsche Telekom account globally, we are the official provider for T mobile nationwide in the US, Rogers and Telus in Canada and we just landed American Mobile which covers Latin America.

just-auto: Why partner with mobile carriers?

KH: What we provided to the carriers is whole new revenue stream. Remember the global operators are losing money since landlines have been in decline four years, smartphone sales are plateauing and they are desperate to get a new revenue stream. They want to find other things that they can connect up to create value around. Basically we give them a turnkey connected car platform, branded under their brand and it gives us a great channel to get access to consumers and cars. We have gone from zero to half a million customers in just under a year. It took Octo eighteen years to get to a few million. We've blown past all of our competitors.

just-auto: Who are your backers?

KH: We are backed by Amazon, Deutsche Telekom and a group of strong US VCs. You'll see an announcement in November about our series B round, where we are adding a few more strategic investors.

just-auto: So this is a particular good time for your platform's growth?

KH: The fact that the car companies are creating at this umbrella of awareness and interest in connected cars and demand for wanting those features. For example, 'Find my car', 'Show me what is going on inside my vehicle', and 'help keep my family and team safe' are the benefits consumers now want, yet only one or two cars are shipped with true connectivity, even in new cars. That will change over the next five or six years but our target is connecting up the unconnected.

just-auto: What makes you so unique?

KH: For a few reasons. Firstly, if you look at Octo [Telematics] they are providing a solution to an insurance company, trying to get data from the driver, but the driver doesn't really get anything out of it other than discount. We are taking a very different approach. For a start, we are thinking up from the driver out. What problems does the driver have? How do we put the driver in control? How do we give them access to what's going on with their vehicle? How do I get them high-speed Wi-Fi? How do we keep the price low instead of those crazy prices being charged through car makers? We're also looking to put the consumer in control of all the privacy so they can decide what they share. One consumer might be willing to share data on an anonymous basis and save money on everything related to the car but they may decide not to share their insurance information because they are a bit of a riskier driver. Parents may want to choose to get access to everything I know exactly what's going on with their teen drivers.

The second thing is, going through the carrier channels, the mobile operators already have a monthly billing relationship with consumers. Adding one more line is very simple, versus having to go through a credit approval process. We are just a new line item on the bill you get from your mobile operator which is a key difference.

Thirdly, we are hardware agnostic, unlike anybody else. We don't design or build our own hardware and so we can take date directly from the telematics built into the car from the OEMs. We can take it from any one of four different devices that we have certified. This gives the mobile operator the flexibility to plug it in the latest greatest least expensive hardware and not have to change their platform for their datamodel. This is how carriers from their mobile operating business and that's how they want to run their connected car business.

just-auto: Wouldn't you have more control if you provided hardware and software though?

KH: They [mobile carriers] don't want to be locked into one specific hardware partner, like Automatic or Zubie. All of those start-ups foolishly made their own hardware and locked the customers into their platform, their app and their hardware. We've seen that as the market has gotten big enough, there's these huge handset makers—ZTE, Huawei, LG—they are all building a few hundred million handsets every year and they have much better economies of scale—building 4G LTE devices in every band and being operator approved, type approved for all the different reasons around the world. And these small little module makers or start ups will never be able to compete with those companies on hardware. So that has given us another huge advantage. All of our capital we have put towards building a really great UI and UX with an easy onboarding experience. I personally feel we have the best platform on the market and that's why were winning every operator deal we have been in.

just-auto: Have you got manufacturers on-board to accept and allow you to plug these things in? I got the impression manufacturers weren't that happy about third parties having access to vehicle data.

KH: The original reason [for the introduction of the OBD II port] was that the California Environmental Protection Agency didn't trust any of the carmakers, believing they were cheating on emissions. At the time, in the mid-nineties, California air was getting so bad it was looking like some cities in China today. It was brown, terrible, smog was everywhere. Tired of it, they put a law in place so every single car have to have a standard emissions testing port to evaluate the raw data. By '97 ,every car sold in California had to have this port and three years later the EU decided to adopt it. Every car sold globally since 2001 needs to have the OBD II port.

just-auto: So there's no friction?

KH: Of course, car companies decided if they have to go through the pain of putting it in there, they may as well use it for diagnostic information too. It helps garages and dealerships make repairs simpler and faster. [So in answer to your original question] I can see why some car companies would like to shut that down, especially since Volkswagen [Dieselgate] was a multi billion-dollar fiasco. Although the the manufacturers are making a lot of noise talking about security and safety of the port,the governments and consumers are never going to let that happen.

just-auto: Some of the ports are very awkward to access. What do they want to do about it if they can't stop people adding devices?

KH: They've talked about having the port only be readable while the car is parked. However, that would only affect a handful of edge use cases, since you would still get all of the information before and after the trip. All of the GPS and accelerometer data comes from the dongle, not from the car itself. Likewise, the high-speed Wi-Fi is also from the dongle so even if some manufacturers are successful in getting that changed, [it wouldn't really affect Mojio too much.]

just-auto: Does adding dongle or an OBD port device invalidate the warranty with the manufacturers? I understood in some cases if you interfered with it, they would penalise you as a consumer.

KH: The idea that they invalidate warranty is bogus. That is not true. That port is there specifically to be able to get access to that information. Massachusetts state was on the verge of passing a law called the 'Right to Repair', which would force all manufacturers to give access to the data in the car so that consumers can repair the car themselves or get a repair from an independent mechanic and not be forced to go to the dealership.

just-auto: That sounds very consumer friendly. It was on the verge, so it never got passed?

KH: It got more complicated. Long story short, there ended up being a settlement between the National Manufacturers' Association and the state of Massachusetts, agreeing that all the data would be provided on an equal and fair basis to everybody starting in 2018. The concept is getting adopted more widely [to apply to other products, much to Apple's frustration. Ed] The idea that you spend $80,000 on a car but you only own the shell and you don't own all of the software—and you don't get access to data to fix something when it goes wrong—is frankly ridiculous. If people are only buying the shell, the price of those cars will have to change. Our view is that data is always going to be available and even more data will become available in the future. And we are starting to see this Ford Volkswagen and other OEMs are beginning to open their data ports.

[Ed's note: The Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act, sometimes also referred to as Right to Repair, is a name for several related proposed bills in US Congress and several states, requiring car makers to provide the same information to independent repair shops as they do for dealer shops. The bill was signed into law on November 26, 2013, after various iterations. Early in 2014, a Memorandum of Understanding between the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, Coalition for Auto Repair Equality, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, and the Association for Global Automakers signed and vehicle manufacturers stipulated that car makers would meet the requirements of the Massachusetts law in all fifty states. Source: Autocare.org]

just-auto: Some years ago the Zubie got hacked. What is your take on the whole security side of things?

KH: We thought a lot about security and we saw the Zubie hack ourselves…and the Jeep hack on a Bluetooth device. Our system is not connecting over Bluetooth. It is a hardwired connection in the OBD port. Our apps and APIs can only get access to cloud data. Mojio's dongle connects to the cloud over a secure a 128-bit encrypted connection. The cloud is only reading data and not writing data. It is also separated from the apps and APIs. So there are a couple of layers of security there there are much tighter than a Bluetooth approach that has been used in the past. We're always paying attention to this and have quite a few white hats and black hats hardening our platform continually to ensure it is secure. In a past security audit at Deutsche Telekom—I swear, it is one of the most brutal things that I have ever been through!—we passed it with flying colours. [It's important to understand] we're building a carrier-grade company, not a consumer electronics company.

just-auto: You are saying that these will be able to be retrofitted into the car that is not yet connected. Is there a cut-off point such as the age of the vehicle?

KH: Every car since 1997 in the US and every car since 2001 in the rest of the world has an OBD II port fitted. That is 16 years' worth of cars, equivalent to 1.2 billion vehicles. That is our initial market.

just-auto: Fairly vast…

KH: When you look at our customer base out of the 500,000, a large percentage are 2015, 2016 and 2017 vehicles. These are brand-new cars that either don't have connectivity or the OEM is charging too much for connectivity and the consumer has decided to do it better/faster/cheaper with their own mobile operator, which incidentally also carries a better UI/UX.

just-auto: What do you think is the main draw for a product like Mojio?

KH: The three main use cases that are driving adoption is high-speed Wi-Fi at a fair price, that doesn't drain your battery. Carriers have adopted new rate plans for connected cars and that is the key point. The secondary cases around safety if the car is safer to drive, what does the check engine light mean? Do I need to pullover or can I fix it myself? Or do I need to get towed because I could potentially cause more damage to my car by continuing to drive? Today in most cars or you get is the check engine light and you have no idea how serious the issue is. We give the consumer the visibility.

just-auto: So what are Mojio's plans for the future?

KH: In time we expect the OEMs to allow our device to ingest their data, and we will also share the revenue that comes out of that with the OEM. Also you'll see launch in the future, the estimated repair costs for that particular repair in your area, so when you go into your garage, you have a completely different experience because you have anchor price point—rather than going in as an unsophisticated car enthusiast and hoping the mechanic is telling you the truth. It will give the consumer a lot more power. We launched roadside assistance with T mobile and in Q4, we'll be launch in Q4. Eventually, anything related to your car you'll be able to manage inside this core app, which is branded by the carrier.

just-auto: To clarify the app hasn't been integrated into the centre console via apple carplay or android auto?

KH: That's right, but the data is available outside of the car. For example when you are on vacation in Spain, if anyone messes with your car you'll get an alert because your car has its own LTE in Wi-Fi connection. 14 drivers or aged parents this is reassuring. Similarly for fleet managers, they can keep an eye on how the employees are taking care of their cars, that the employees are where they are or should be.

just-auto: Is there a desire to have some real estate on that centre console screen at some point in the future?

KH: Yes. One of our strategic investors is Amazon. They invested in us for two big reasons: 1) they want to be able to deliver packages directly to the car and we can help make that possible. From Amazon's perspective they no longer need to worry about packages been stolen off your front doorstep if you're not in. 2) Amazon are keen to get a Alexa into the vehicle and they know it will take a long time through the car manufacturers because they are so big slow and difficult. We help them get Alexa into the car sooner. This is something you will see from us later next year.

just-auto: Finally, how do you feel about the whole over-the-air (OTA) updates? It seems to be taking of manufacturers a long time to get on board with this.

KH: It's a good question. The car is a very different beast than your phone. If you get this software wrong in the car, you could cause accidents and even death. So the liability, quality and security of the car is even more important. On one hand, that could mean it's a long time before your car gets OTA . The other argument you could make is for faster, safer recalls of course. For example, if you have a catastrophic transmission failure caused by software affecting around 13,000 cars and you are sending recall notices the old-fashioned way via postcard, that's a considerable downside. It crosses over into the whole ethical domain and you are talking about lives and what is the right thing to do in order to update this many people as possible. There is so much software in the cars [they really do need regular updates]. Could you imagine only updating your computer once a year? Yet, expecting people to go into a dealership for updates is somewhat ridiculous. You expect them to take it off work and to sit around waiting for the dealership. My prediction is when you see more OTA updates from the new cars, they [car makers] will want to find a way to do OTA updates for all cars and they would save a lot of money and reduce the number of accidents. In the long run, the benefits will outweigh the costs and of course, Mojio is a great way to get access to all of those vehicles.

This interview first appeared on just-auto's research platform, QUBE, which includes a dedicated section on vehicle connectivity and associated emerging technologies. Learn more.