Driverless cars, monitored by Google and Uber, appear to be the next major disruption in the automotive industry. Tests IRL have been already starting in several countries. Nevertheless, before this excited dream becomes true, let’s discover how traditional car companies have recently used digital to create new brand services. These recent, tangible innovations aim to globally enhance the customer experience; however, they respond to three more specific objectives: inspire purchasing to the consumer, create a new driving experience, and favour the car sharing among users.
Buying a car is no impulsive decision, even tough it is a very emotional process: it takes generally months for the consumer to determine he needs a new model, to search for information, and eventually to go for it. Automakers spend billions in sponsoring and advertising to be present on the very first steps of the consumer journey. Dealership is also a key touchpoint, as it provides both physical contact and various, precious details on a model. Digital offers new ways to inspire and convince the consumer, and auto manufacturers regularly innovate in this matter.
Maserati has recently shifted its strategy and now looks for selling much more: 75,000 cars in 2018 vs. 15,400 in 2013. In this perspective, it launched a mobile app, exclusively dedicated to its Quattroporte model, enhancing the product’s identity and high quality. The app offers a touch-based tour of the car, introduced from very angle, with quantitative as qualitative information: pictures, videos, zoomable 360° view, colour selector… Finally, users can find links to a car configurator and dealers location. Generally, automakers have a unique app for all their catalogues, limiting de facto the wealth of the information, whereas Maserati enriches the customer experience.
Automakers also seek to create more immersive experiences, to increase the consumer’s desire. From now on, Ferrari sales people (in certain markets) have at their disposal an augmented reality iPad app. Through seven steps, the app allows the consumer to have an in-depth look of the mechanics, learn about the aerodynamics of the car and start to customize (colours, rims…) the vehicle. Customization can be saved in video and sent by email. A further example is a Lexus virtual reality experience, which gives viewers the impression to drive the Lexus RC F on the Ascari (Spain) racetrack. It’ll be available soon on several media: mobile app (and Google Cardboard VR viewer), Youtube VR streaming function and Oculus Rift. In order to influence the consumer to purchase, all these initiatives try to project him in the future, by glorifying a (customized) product and giving a glimpse of the driving experience.
Create a new driving experience
For several years, electronics have profoundly transformed the way we drive, from Formula One to the most common cars. Tough, a growing part of today innovations is less and less about mechanical aspects, but aimed to improve the overall driver experience in a service-based environment. For instance, a shared OS with the smartphone seems ineluctable in the long-term, to benefit from its functionalities. As more technological companies will be either strategic partners, either ferocious competitors (or both!), automakers shall not neglect this part of the consumer journey and offer the best in services during the driving experience.
Lamborghini will launch at the end of 2015 “Track and Play”, a telemetric mobile app joined to specific car accessories. Users will be able to track on a real-time map (with downloadable maps of famous racetracks), save and record (in video) their driving performance. The app is connected to the car and collect data like acceleration, speed, G-Force, gear, steering, tire pressure… “Track and Play” being only available for Lamborghini owners, the brand offers an exclusive service for its consumers. On the opposite, some automakers look for more safety, like Jaguar with its “Sixth Sense” program. The project is still in the research phase but the main idea is to monitor some driver’s physiological data to detect a potential state of distraction or tiredness. The “wellness seat” analyses the breathing and heart rate while the steering wheel reads brainwaves activity. If the driver is less vigilant, the car will “wake” him up. Sixth Sense also includes a haptic accelerator pedal (which vibrates if an hazard is detected) and touchscreens that predict which button the user is going to push, thus reducing the amount of time the driver’s eyes are off the road.
In spring 2016, the next Mercedes E-Class model will feature two major innovations: an “Intelligent Drive system” and a “Remote Parking Pilot”. Thanks to the former, the car can follow a vehicle ahead on long country roads and highways while the user does not need to actually “drive”: the system maintains the speed, a safe distance, makes turns, brakes if necessary… As for the “Remote Parking Pilot”, it’s a mobile app, connected to the car via Bluetooth, which helps drivers to park in tight spaces. First, user must choose a standard parking program and exits the vehicle; then, while the user swipes across on the smartphone screen, the car completes the maneuver by itself. Mercedes creates a new, semi-autonomous driving experience for its consumers, in accordance with future vehicle uses.
Favour the car sharing
Auto sector is obviously influence by technological progress, but recent consumption trends, like the sharing economy, also transform our relationship to vehicles. In addition, as new urbanism and ecological issues arise, automakers start to take in consideration that car ownership may not be the most common pattern in few years. Consumers will increasingly expect more flexibility.
Audi is testing a new service in the San Francisco Bay area: an on-demand car app. Members of this program can rent a model for up to 28 days. A large catalogue is available and users can customize numerous features like child safety seats or ski racks for instance. A concierge delivers the car on a certain location and explains the user all he needs to know about the vehicle. With this service, Audi gives more flexibility to its consumers, as their needs are not always the same, and also creates a new business model for its vehicles, competing with flourishing start-ups like ZipCar. This app is also a new, direct touchpoint with consumers.
Lexus’s Enform app, connected to the vehicle, was made to reassure drivers who lend their cars, by giving them more control over it. The app offers a lot of functionalities (emergency assistance button, automatic notification to local authorities and Lexus assistance in case of collision, remote control over the doors, AC, etc.), and more particularly a Guest Driver Monitor. From their smartphones, users can set a distance radius (and monitor car location), time and speed limits. If the borrower does not respect one of these requirements, users receive a notification. They can also get maintenance alerts about fuel level for instance.
As we know, customer experience has become more crucial to convince and satisfy consumers with growing expectations. Auto industry, especially premium and luxury models, is no exception to this trend. Vehicles are now, thanks to successive digital innovations, the crucible of numerous, new services for the users. Brands can renew and develop further more their bond with the consumer, at each step of his journey: before purchasing, during the driving experience and other uses… As the industry is on the verge of disruption, to offer new-brand services will be indispensable for automakers to maintain leadership over technological companies, albeit potentially insufficient.