YOUR CAR

‘Check engine light’ on?

The (Charleston) Post and CourierJuly 1, 2013 

Imagine if every time you had car trouble, a message came up on your phone that said what was wrong and how much it would cost to fix.

Now, imagine if through the same technology, you could tell how your aging, out-of-state mother’s car was performing or how and where your teenage son was driving his car.

Finally, imagine if all that data could be shared between people and insurance companies and used car dealerships with a few touchscreen jabs and swipes, allowing instant insight into a car’s past and even its future.

That’s the brave new world a Sullivan’s Island man has in mind, and his company is now on the cusp of rolling out its “connected car” product.

It’s called Zubie, and it’s an on-board diagnostic plug-in (like the ones mechanics use to translate your “Check Engine” light) complete with wireless, accelerometer and global-positioning system chips.

It’s at once highly intriguing and a little scary.

“Once you plug it in, you’ll never know it’s there,” said Tim Kelly, the local CEO.

Zubie started at Best Buy last year as GreenLight Connectivity Solutions.

But the big-box store’s wireless partners saw it as competition, according to Kelly, so Best Buy ceded majority control to a Kansas City venture capital group that injected some $5 million into the business.

Open Air Partners, cofounded by former Sprint executive Ron LeMay, in turn hired Kelly, another former Sprint executive, as a consultant late last year and made him chief executive officer in March.

Kelly, a 54-year-old father of five, liked what the GreenLight team had developed but thought the product’s focus — to create usage-based insurance information — was unnecessarily narrow, a “me, too, solution” given what insurers like Progressive already offer policyholders.

He said to “allow the customer to control that information … seemed like a lot smarter way to go.

“That’s what we kind of saw in the business,” he said. “A bigger opportunity … more for the long haul.”

This spring, Kelly has since supplemented the existing Minneapolis-based employees with a handful of former colleagues from Sprint and other businesses.

They changed the name of the company.

Zubie is more memorable, fun and search-engine friendly, and UBI stands for usage-based insurance in the industry, Kelly explained.

And off they went.

The app for Apple’s iPhone is scheduled to come out this month and a version for Android-run mobile devices is due by the end of September.

There are similar products in the marketplace now, Kelly noted.But Zubie brings it all together, he said.

“We can give them a report that says over the next year, we estimate it’s going to cost you $1,200 to maintain this car,” he said.

Kelly said just “a tiny fraction” of the roughly 200 million cars on the road today, generally luxury vehicles, are “connected.”

But even those that are, like the Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz and Jeep in his garage, face an obstacle.

“None of those talk to each other,” Kelly said. “Something like Zubie that can look across different vehicles.”

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