Finance Your car is a data machine that automakers may use to cash in

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Morgan Stanley says networked cars could be a huge business opportunity.

You aren't by yourself anymore. play

You aren't by yourself anymore.

(iStock/jaredkay)
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In the mid-1980s, I routinely hopped into my Mazda B2200 pickup truck and set out on a 360-mile drive from my hometown to college.

All I had was an AM/FM radio to keep me company. I didn't even have air conditioning. Navigation was at first by paper map, and later by memory.

By the standards of auto travel today, this was primitive mobility. I might as well have been sailing a dark ocean alone with just the stars to guide me, in the eyes of modern drivers with GPS navigation, iPhones, and ornate infotainment systems.

I will say, however, that it was fun to be completely out-of-pocket for seven hours. I'm old enough to remember the automobile as an icon of freedom, and I was certainly free back then. My only connection with people who might worry about where I was consisted of the quarters in my pockets, for payphones along the route.

Those days are gone for good. And there will be no turning back, as Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas points out in a research note published Friday.

Big Data is my copilot. play

Big Data is my copilot.

(Matthew DeBord/Business Insider)

Jonas' note is about many things, but tucked within it is a further articulation of a piece of his "Auto 2.0" thesis: the capturing and monetization of the data generated by driving.

"Connect the cars," Jonas recommends.

"Seems like a no-brainer, right?" he continues. "But how many of the world's 1.2 billion vehicles have a mode that can produce real-time data in a network. We do not know, but we would guess less than 5% of the global car population. Cars travel more than 25 billion miles per day and the vast majority of these miles are totally off the grid ...."

Jonas further argues for capturing and marketing this data, something that major automakers could do but currently are not.

You might logically ask, "Who owns this data and should get paid for it?"

If your answer is, "The car's driver or owner," you'd be wrong. I've asked this question of data ownership to many executives and analysts, and the consensus is that owners won't care about giving up their valuable data if they get good services in return.

Jonas clearly thinks this is a huge unmet opportunity.