The Role of APIs in the Automotive Sector Posted in Platforms Art Anthony October 10, 2023 Just ten or twenty years ago, people would think you were crazy if you started talking about the role of web APIs in the automotive space. Not just because APIs as we know them today haven’t been around for long, but because it’s difficult to see much overlap between them. Although the relationship between APIs and automobiles is in its infancy, it definitely does exist. In fact, according to Postman’s 2023 State of the API Report, around 2% of folks who work with APIs do so in the automotive space. That might not sound like much compared with equivalent stats for Technology and Business/IT Services (29% and 27%, respectively). However, it’s still significant given the millions of developers working with APIs. In fact, Postman states that “large organizations [with thousands of developers] are most heavily represented by the financial services, tech, and automotive sectors.” This begs the question, what are all these automotive API developers working on? Let’s find out. Below, we’ll explore the role APIs are playing in the automotive sector, looking into specific use cases such as connected car platforms, manufacturing data, electric charging stations, and more. The Rise of APIs in Automobiles For a long time, most consumer vehicles were (what are now being called) analog cars. With most modern cars now using 50+ computer systems, that’s certainly not the case anymore. So how did we get here? The answer lies as much in entertainment as it does driver inputs. As digital systems meshed with steering, braking, gear selection, and so on under the hood, consumers were getting used to them in the driver’s seat via the addition of digital radio stations, Apple CarPlay, Spotify integration, and so on. And, where you find such digital systems, you also find APIs. But, in truth, automotive APIs have been around for a while. We’ve previously written about the role of APIs in connected cars, perhaps the most obvious use case of automotive APIs, back in 2018. That post delves into the growing appetite for collaboration between external developers and auto manufacturers, which already existed five years ago and is still going strong. There is also the opportunity to use APIs to surface data related to cars. Services like CarAPI, for example, serve up information about everything from the year, make, model, and trims through to interior and exterior color options and VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) lookup. In other words, the sort of information that’s invaluable for dealerships or rental car companies looking to build their car database. APIs, EVs, and MaaS (Mobility-as-a-Service) Although the rise of electric vehicles (EVs) and open APIs feel like they should be totally symbiotic, that hasn’t necessarily been the case. For example, TeslaAPI.io, a community of developers reverse engineering Tesla’s API, has emerged since the company hasn’t always been forthcoming in providing open access to its API. It’s worth noting, however, that Uber now uses Tesla API data for a range-based trip planner that can be used by EV drivers. At the time of this article’s writing, industry experts believe that Tesla’s preparations to support third-party apps is a strong indicator that a Tesla App Store may be on the way. Automotive APIs aren’t exclusive to electric vehicles, either. APIs like CarMD, for example, provide maintenance information and repair reports that are useful for potential buyers and auto insurance companies alike. But, as the adoption of EVs spreads, APIs are likely to shape the future of vehicle use for both consumers and mobility businesses. Smartcar, used by the likes of Uber and Turo, is one of the most intriguing vehicle APIs on the market. Their vehicle API can be used to verify mileage, manage EV charging, issue digital car keys, and more, literally transforming the MaaS (Mobility-as-a-Service) space. How APIs Are Aiding Public Transportation and Haulage Of course, automotive APIs aren’t limited solely to cars: buses, vans, and trucks are also up for discussion. And as we’ll see below, different vehicle types have some intriguing possibilities associated with them. Some truckers, for example, are ditching the CB radio in favor of services like the Bing Maps Truck Routing APIs. Commercial vehicle drivers can use such products in conjunction with information about their trucks (like height, weight, hazardous materials, or road conditions) for optimized routing. In 2021, more than 50 haulage APIs were launched by PSA Corporation Ltd in Singapore to streamline and automate work processes. Impressively, in their first year of activity, more than 100,000 containers were handled using APIs. There’s an old saying that goes, “you wait ages for a bus, then three come along at once.” Well, not if APIs have anything to do with it. Transport For London offers a single RESTful API that offers, along with Tube, Oyster, and Cycle Hire usage data, tons of information about buses. The API includes live bus (and river bus) arrivals, bus stop locations, bus routes, and bus stop localities, as well as live traffic and road disruptions. When all of this information is used together — whether via apps, on-board displays, or smart screens at bus stops — it can be an extremely powerful resource for passengers and drivers alike. Elsewhere, UK-based TransportAPI offers managed services to blue chip companies, including First Group, Heathrow, National Express West Midlands, and Ford. Their offerings include APIs for Bus Information, Bus Fares, Journey Planners, Bus Performance, and more. Although they offer the option to blend in proprietary data, TransportAPI’s services “ingest, blend, and manage all the relevant open data sources in the UK.” Looking at their lengthy Credits, it’s genuinely impressive just how much open data there is to fuel APIs in Britain. What’s Next for Automotive APIs? As we’ve seen above, there’s much more going on with automotive APIs than just cars. But perhaps the biggest hurdle here is consistency. Different car makers, and even different models, use a variety of hardware and software solutions. As a result, exactly what APIs can be used to achieve varies massively. Consider, for example, the variance in this list of vehicles compatible with Smartcar’s API. Still, whether drivers are hauling goods, transporting passengers, or just moving themselves, APIs are changing the way they’re doing it. McKinsey estimates that the automotive software and electronics space will see a 5.5% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) from 2019 to 2030. Based on what we’ve seen above, we can confidently say that APIs will represent a significant portion of that growth.