February 7, 2023

Build vs Buy: Why mobility apps scale with car APIs (+ free guide)

Winona Rajamohan

Content Marketing Manager

Researchers expect 76 million new connected cars to be shipped in 2023, including 400 new EV models. How do mobility apps ensure they can reach as many drivers as possible without spending all their time managing backend integrations?  For a deeper understanding of when to use a platform like Smartcar for your connected car integrations, read this summary of our Build vs Buy guide.

📝 Four roadblocks you can overcome with a car API platform:

  1. API errors
  2. Developer investment
  3. Security infrastructure
  4. Subsequent builds

When mobility apps consider a decision to build or buy vehicle integrations, we hear a few common concerns:

  • Will working with an external provider impact overall service reliability?
  • How will this affect the speed and quality of customer support to end users?
  • Does an off-the-shelf solution introduce friction while rolling out new features?

But the truth is, these concerns don’t define relationships with developer platforms. They’re vendor-specific and aren’t a limiting factor with the right collaboration. If your partnership with an integration provider is rooted in your mission to deliver better products, then you’ll be mitigating these risks by:

👉  Acquiring technical capabilities to minimize customer interruptions

👉  Using pre-built standardized elements to increase speed-to-market

👉  Having more resources on hand to focus on your core competencies

At the end of the day, the question of “do I build or do I buy” boils down to one major component of your business strategy: Your priorities.

In an episode of the Coverager Podcast, host Nick Lamparelli talks about how this decision-making process works for insurance companies breaking into new technologies. “Even if you have commitment [to build], you’re essentially deciding to build a second separate organization,” he says.

“Without a doubt, the Smartcar integration accelerated us by 6 to 12 months and millions of dollars of engineering work compared to building and maintaining API connections to individual auto manufacturers.”

— Scott Case, CEO at Recurrent

Read our Build vs Buy guide to learn how Recurrent leveraged a car API platform to scale their solution 📖

If launching great mobility apps faster is your priority, then here are four roadblocks you want to avoid:

API errors

Each OEM’s vehicle integration returns lots of data, along with unique error states that don’t always make sense. Standardizing this data takes an entire team — case in point being Smartcar as an organization solely focused on building and maintaining these APIs.

Our engineers have spent years (and are continuing to spend their days) figuring out what all these errors mean across brands and simplifying them into plain and simple language.

Error responses in Smartcar's API

And by simple, we mean simple enough that our customers use our error states in their end-user communication. The right integration partner aims to empower your customer support teams by minimizing the number of errors impacting customers at scale.

End-users only interact with Smartcar if rare unknown API errors happen or if they run into issues while trying to connect their cars — which our error descriptions aim to answer. In the latter scenario, your integration partner should work with your customer success team to build a communication loop that meets vehicle owner expectations.

Developer investment

It’s obvious that building vehicle APIs takes a lot of developer resources. But the time and energy that goes into maintaining an integration, let alone a network of integrations, will require you to again, revisit what your priorities are.

Are the integrations you’re building going to be the source of your business value? Or is it the solution you’re building to win customers in your market?

Let’s take EV battery analytics as an example. Almost three times more used vehicles are sold in the US annually compared to new vehicles. The used EV market is seen as a crucial avenue for boosting EV adoption. But vehicle dealers and owners need more information on used EV battery life to make these sales happen. That’s why EV battery report software, Recurrent, used speed to market as its advantage.

Recurrent’s success in their first year using Smartcar.

Recurrent would have needed four to five engineers to manage their EV integrations on an ongoing basis. With only two engineers at the company’s inception, building APIs would have prevented them from quickly launching their business to seize a market opportunity.

DIMO's user-owned drivers' network gives vehicle owners and developers the ability to share data on their terms and get rewarded for it along the way. Built on the principles of web3 technology, their team of automotive experts knew they would benefit more by spending their team shipping valuable features for end-users instead of handling backend integrations.

You can watch DIMO and Recurrent talk about their decision in a replay of our Build vs Buy webinar — here's a short snippet.

It’s also important to remember that the integration you build today isn’t going to look the same in six months.  

That’s because OEM APIs change regularly, with many changing monthly. Your engineers must identify and troubleshoot these odd error states without impacting your product’s reliability and uptime. Smart charging app, Optiwatt, stopped building its vehicle integrations because developers had to frequently switch their focus away from core features and spend their time patching backend API issues instead.

Security infrastructure

On top of building vehicle integrations, there’s the question of security. Do you have the resources to build and secure a user authorization system for end users to log in?

There are a few things you need to protect vehicle owner data:

OAuth2.0 flow

Most vehicle owners aren’t going to trust an app with the login credentials for their connected services account. All requests made to Smartcar’s API require an access token to prevent login credentials from being compromised, and to implement a permissions system based on user preferences. Our customers incorporate this into their app with our pre-built OAuth 2.0 flow, Smartcar Connect, that works across all 30+ of our compatible brands.

Consent-based data sharing

Automotive data marketplaces tend to sell vehicle data that consumers have unknowingly signed away their rights when using certain products and services. As a developer platform, we don’t help companies sell driver data to others. Instead, we want mobility apps to build trust with end users by clearly outlining the vehicle data that is being requested along with a visible call-to-action for vehicle owners to accept or not accept the terms listed. This permission-based consent flow is included in Smartcar’s SDKs.

Enterprise-grade security compliance

From certifications like SOC 2 Type 2 and GDPR to HTTPS data encryption, penetration testing, and more, a custom integration calls for you to cover compliance needs yourself — and cutting corners imposes big risks for both your end users and you. On the other hand, great API providers bridge this gap for you in addition to having dedicated resources for continuous API monitoring and live error reporting.

Subsequent builds

But wait, you’re not done.

In fact, you’re going to do it all over again for each car brand and model you want to serve. And your process will look something like this….(we know because we build a lot of integrations)

Scalability can be a real punch in the gut, especially if you’re trying to reach vehicle owners across multiple brands. Because each integration comes with its own set of edge cases and oddities, you need team members dedicated to the little details — people who can catch the cracks on the surface before they erupt into a crisis.

For example, Optiwatt's mission is to make charging more affordable for EV owners across different brands using smart charging. But with automakers releasing electric models at a rapid pace, it became difficult for the app to keep up with building new integrations while developing a great product and providing a stellar customer experience.

That’s where an API provider gives you value: By giving you the building blocks you need to create the best technical infrastructure to support your growth without compromising your product roadmap.

Build or buy? 4 questions to give your app clarity

When we spoke to transportation consultant Warren Logan about the impact of mobility technology, he shared that emerging transportation apps and solutions are pushing everyday citizens to expect more from their mobility options — and it’s something they can look forward to today, not in a hundred years from now.

Whether you build or buy, your goal is to create apps and services that help as many travelers and commuters as possible. As long as you know your core competencies and capabilities, you can protect your great ideas from technical mishaps and ethical shortcomings.

We’ll leave you with four questions to think about, and a guide you can download to learn more about building and buying vehicle integrations:

  1. Are you integrating with more than one car brand?
  2. Will you have your own systems for user authorization and data-sharing consent?
  3. Will you have sufficient developer resources to maintain a competitive advantage?
  4. Are you giving your engineers enough bandwidth to be creative, detail-oriented, and transformative for your organization?

Everything you need to know about car APIs. Delivered monthly.

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