FCA is Israeli startup’s latest automotive partner for data

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Ben Volkow’s first attempts to play matchmaker between two reluctant partners were a lonely endeavor.

The founder of Otonomo sought to connect automakers holding troves of new vehicular data with third parties that could buy the information on the company’s new platform and find novel uses for it. Early on, it was difficult to find companies willing to take the first step.

“With a marketplace, it’s very hard to start,” said Volkow, CEO of the Israeli startup, which he founded in 2015. “It’s like starting a tango. The OEMs wanted to know which companies had signed up, and the other guys wanted to know what OEMs were signed up and supplying data. It was two steps forward, one step back for a long while.”

Not anymore. As the number of connected vehicles reaching roads worldwide has increased, the company has gained traction on both sides of its marketplace. The latest development came Tuesday, when Fiat Chrysler Automobiles signed an agreement to use the company’s platform in select models across Europe.

The partnership marks Otonomo’s third with an automaker in 2020 and ninth overall. Otonomo’s platform now ingests data from roughly 25 million vehicles across those nine partnerships, according to Volkow.

There was no immediate comment from FCA.

Those vehicles can provide as many as 180 data points every five seconds, and the breadth and volume is giving the company newfound visibility among third parties interested in utilizing that data.

By 2019, Volkow said 64 companies had joined the platform to use that data to provide services for electric vehicles, preventive maintenance, usage-based insurance, emergency services, parking and more. So far this year, he says the number of third parties using the data is “in the low hundreds.”

“It’s because we have more data, because we are better, because we have a mature ecosystem,” Volkow said.

Investors have noticed.

Otonomo raised $46 million in a Series C funding round that closed at the end of April. Korean IT company SK holdings led the round, and Bessemer Venture Partners, Avis Budget Group and Alliance Ventures also participated.

Given the timing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Volkow viewed the fresh funding as a vote of confidence. Overall, Otonomo has raised $89 million since its inception.

Volkow estimates Otonomo extracts more than half of its data from vehicles in Europe, where the European Union’s stringent privacy laws have sent automakers such as Daimler and BMW searching for help in ensuring they comply with the laws and ensure customer privacy.

Otonomo’s data-services platform applies a blurring technique to incoming data that strips identifying information from data and gives customers the means to opt in or out of particular services.

But Volkow expects business to increase elsewhere, including with FCA, though details of an expanded partnership are not yet final.

“The momentum is moving faster and faster,” he said. “Initially, some of the OEMs wanted to do things on their own. It took them about a year and a half to say, ‘You know what? Maybe it makes sense to do some of these things with partners.’ ”

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Saurabh Shukla

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