NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, have received a lot of coverage in the past year since an NFT by digital artist Beeple sold for almost A$100 million at auction. , with the NFT art trade – and NFT scams – exploding ever since. However, while the automotive world has already flirted with NFTs – largely in the form of certificates of ownership for rare or highly desirable cars – Italian automaker Alfa Romeo has announced that it will award an NFT to every Tonale small SUV. that it produces.
That’s a bold move for an automaker given that NFT technology is still in its infancy, but Alfa’s plan for implementing NFTs is really quite ingenious, and a far cry from the jump-on-the-fly behavior of other car manufacturers.
Why? It’s a service record that you can’t tamper with.
Find out more about the ALFA ROMEO Tonale
The “F” in NFT stands for “fungible”, meaning it cannot be copied or imitated. Each NFT is, in theory, as unique as your fingerprint, giving them great utility when it comes to making information reliable.
And for Alfa Romeo’s NFT strategy, “trust” is the buzzword they’re looking for, not “NFT”. All Tonales produced will receive their own NFT-based service record (although Alfa Romeo says its activation will be on an opt-in basis), which will be used to track “key life stages of an individual vehicle ”, which we can assume is its production, purchase, maintenance and possibly also any repair work and transfer of ownership.
Because NFTs can be updated with new information, they replace traditional paper documentation and dealer-level electronic documentation as a record of what happened to a car, and when. For people looking to buy a Tonale in the used car market, having a reliable source of this information would undoubtedly be invaluable.
But what makes an NFT so reliable anyway? Because they operate on the principle of the blockchain, where a network of computers work together to validate the creation of tokens as well as every transaction involving them (which, in this case, would be when one of these life events occurs, such as an oil change or accident repair), an NFT-based record cannot be changed after the fact by a single rogue operator – they would need the network as a whole to validate the transaction, and given of these events, would likely also be dated, adding a few extra oil change records on a car whose scheduled maintenance has been neglected over time would simply not be possible.
But what else could be stored on a vehicle’s NFT? Well, it turns out almost anything.
“Black box” data, for starters. Electronic control units (ECUs) in modern cars are capable of recording a startling level of data, with peak data such as engine speed, vehicle speed, brake activation and more often living as a recording on an ECU until it is overwritten by new data, or erased by a technician. This information usually stays on the car until needed (either by technicians trying to diagnose a fault or, more grimly, by accident investigators trying to piece together the circumstances of an accident), but this information could also be written to an NFT.
Does the seller say he never took the car to the racetrack or that it was only used to go to church on Sundays? NFT research might tell a different story.
Now Alfa Romeo has only just announced NFT functionality for the Tonale, so details are still scarce (we don’t even know, for example, what specific blockchain it will run on), but something that would definitely help bolster the Reliability aspect of Tonale’s NFT service record would be details of the exact parts that were used for its servicing.
Were these new original parts? Were these refurbished originals? Maybe they were more like aftermarket parts? All of this could be recorded on the NFT, along with any other relevant information like the specific part number or even its serial number. Not only would this add transparency to the service record, but it could make it much easier for the manufacturer to issue reminders in a faster and more targeted manner.
But… it’s not perfect.
As clever as Alfa Romeo’s NFT idea is, it’s not entirely foolproof. To begin with, one would assume that an Alfa Romeo service department would know how to keep the NFT up to date and would be incentivized to do so, but what happens when a car goes out of that system and is taken to a independent mechanic? Will Alfa Romeo share the necessary information with third parties or withhold it to force owners to remain in its dealership ecosystem?
There is also the potential environmental cost. NFTs are known to be particularly energy-intensive to create and process (remember, an entire network of computers is usually needed to create them, and those networks can number millions of computers), and adding shows indirect CO2 to a car does not. seems like a wise move in 2022.
However, we do not know which blockchain Alfa Romeo will use, and not all NFT blockchains operate on energy-intensive principles. In fact, some have deliberately adopted a much less demanding methodology (if you fancy getting sucked into a Wikipedia wormhole, look up the differences between ‘proof of work’ and ‘proof of stake’) and it would be reasonable to assume that Alfa Romeo would opt for one of these options. At this point, however, we just don’t know. We also don’t know if cars bound for Australia will have NFT enabled, and we probably won’t know until its local debut in 2023.
But what is evident is that this is certainly the first mature use case of NFT technology as a tool, rather than a speculative investment instrument or a digital certificate of authenticity. It will not only be interesting to see how it will be implemented once the Tonale hits showrooms, but also which brands will adopt the technology as well. With Alfa Romeo being part of the Stellantis family, NFT cars could expand to brands like Chrysler, Dodge, Peugeot, Citroen, Opel and Jeep in the not too distant future.