Debate on how cars communicate rages in Europe

(Bloomberg) --Qualcomm Inc., BMW AG, and Deutsche Telekom AG are facing off against car-markers including Volkswagen AG, Renault SA and Volvo Group over how automobiles talk to each other.

At issue are the rules of the road for future connected and automated cars in Europe, which will dictate how to send information between vehicles and infrastructure, such as making cars aware of other vehicles on the road as well as relaying signals from traffic lights and other facilities.

In a vote Wednesday, the European Parliament ratified draft rules by the European Commission, the bloc’s executive body, which endorse WiFi technology pushed by VW, General Motors Co., and Volvo Group. The European Council of member states still have a say on the draft rules and could decide to veto it.

The European Council’s legal service raised several concerns on the proposed standard during a recent meeting, including on a promised review clause and lack of neutrality on technology, according to people familiar with the matter.

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The interior of a 2018 Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) i8 Roadster plug-in hybrid vehicle is seen during AutoMobility LA ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. AutoMobility LA brings automakers, tech companies, designers, developers, startups, investors, dealers, government officials and analysts together to unveil the future of transportation with over 50 vehicle debuts. Photographer: Troy Harvey/Bloomberg

The parliament vote deals a blow to BMW and other car and telecom firms who have been urging European Union legislators to scrap the rules. They argue the law would force them to make additional investments to fit a soon-to-be outdated technology, which offers poorer performance than cellular-based technology compatible with future 5G networks.

“We are convinced that mandating WiFi technology will cause significant delays to the European rollout of car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communication,” BMW Chief Executive Officer Harald Krueger and Deutsche Telekom CEO Timotheus Hoettges said in a joint letter to Germany’s Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer.

In a statement published Monday auto and IT associations including 5GAA -- which includes Qualcomm, Ford Motor Co., and Daimler AG as members -- also called on the European Parliament and the European member states to reject the law, saying it will “downsize safety gains, negatively impact the competitiveness of our automotive sector and the development of 5G technology in Europe.”

The cheerleaders for using WiFi -- including Volkswagen, Renault, MAN and NXP Semiconductors NV -- argue that the industry needs clarity on what systems to use as soon as possible, and that it currently is the only proven technology. The second largest truckmaker, Sweden’s Volvo Group, said the draft legislation still leaves room to embrace 5G technology in the future.

"We have worked with this since 2007 and it has proven to be a technology that fulfills all requirements,” Volvo’s director of connected vehicles Hossein Zakizadeh said about WiFi based systems. “Most cellular products are prototypes at this stage, so it’s a little bit too soon to say whether these technologies will be competitors.’’

The critics had scored an early win last week after the parliament’s transport committee rejected the commission’s draft, unveiled in March. In an email obtained by Bloomberg, Dominique Riquet, the vice chair of the parliament’s transport committee, called on his parliament colleagues to reject the draft law in the vote, arguing for tech neutrality.