Reinventing the Automobile
Automakers are making great profits again.
Who would have thought that two to three years ago. Back then consumer spending was down, economic crisis a global headline and automakers were piling up cars they could not sell.
What happened in between? Well to cut it short, the economy found back on track, automakers learned from their mistakes and focused more on what customers really need instead of selling them illusions which could only be sold thanks to massive marketing efforts. The result: smaller, more green vehicles which more and more are built on interchangeable platforms and which share parts with a large number of cars.
Yet some fundamental problems remain.
Other than 30 years ago auto brands have moved closer together in terms of product quality. This is due to technologial advances but also to the consolidation among suppliers. Today you barely find a „bad“ car which has the reputation of spending more time in the shop than on the street (old Mini Cooper legend).
What counts today is price, efficiency, how green the car is and of course its design. And increasingly another virtue is developing: interaction.
It may not be critical yet, but in the future, autos will continue to become more similar. Already today you can buy almost identical cars which are offered by three different brands. How shall a consumer decide which of the three to buy? In such a case what it boils down to is brand. Or some small features which make one of the three unique, more customizable, more entertaining.
This points to an interesting phenomenon.
Basically cars have a transportation function, second they are fun to drive or provide roles or an image (such as a Porsche as a symbol of success, reward for hard work) you can transfer to yourself.
The brand facet „sporty“ today is closely connected to efficiency. This is something even Porsche has discovered and it proves to be good for the brand. Technological excellence no longer means to get the most power out of a certain engine size but rather to get more power out of the car while at the same time reducing emissions and gas consumption.
What consumers in the future will be calling for is more interaction with the car. More possibilities to customize the car (trend towards individualism). This may no longer mean body work such as in the 90s when tuning your car was the big thing. We are less extroverted today. What counts is the inner values. This can also be oberved with luxury goods. Excessive consumption is considered stupid and unsophisticated. Luxury today is more complicated and less superficial. Sense and context matter.
In terms of cars you can see this trend by the fact that we no longer care about RDS Radio but rather on the need for an AUX interface so we can connect our iPod with our very own, individual taste of music with the car. In the future customization will much more take place on the inside than on the outside of the car.
This tendency can also be oberved in other fields of technology. Mobile phones are not only bought because of the design (let’s not discuss the iPhone now, yes it does look okay) but because of what you can do with them. Today the number of available apps plays a major role in the purchase decision for a mobile phone. Or rather which OS to choose. Windows, Symbian or Android. Manufacturers who opted for Android are highly successful today. Altough 80% per cent of the apps may be crap, it does not matter. There is something for everyone. It is not about what you have but about what you do with it. Finding the best apps to reach your customer needs is a characteristic of cleverness.
I have mentioned this in a previous article, digital to some extent replaces the automobile today. In short, less and less people in Germany and the US have a driver’s license and the automobile is constantly losing its importance. What can be done? Well how about the auto becoming more digital? This may of course not collide with safety on the road and the basic transportation function. But if you today have two similar cars – say an Audi A4 and a 3-series BMW, two of the best cars out there, and one offers entertaining and helpful additional digital features – the tough decision of which one to buy all of a sudden become totally easy!
Automakers will have to find ways to make cars more interesting, more capable to provide answers to consumer problems we usually do not associate with the car. Cars have to become more entertaining, more customizable, loaded with additional features that provide additional sources of utility.
Another thought would be to enable the car to communicate. Here is one: More and more people today are single. Many would like to have an animal to reduce the feeling of loneliness but do not have the time for it. Wouldn’t it be nice to somehow communicate with your car? To constantly check how it is doing, to get notifications from the car directly to your phone? If the car would enable us to serve as an avatar, but not in the digital but the real world. If the car enabled us to get in touch with other drivers? Think back that a car offers an image or a role. Thus dricing the same car could imply that two people share the same value set, world view, political view, etc. What if the roads out there were a social network which enable you to stay in touch with friends, find people with similar interests. What if the car would provide you with information about the area that is specifically designed for you? What if the car becomes a means to transport electricity from A to B? What if you could already from the office or the couch configure which music to be played when you enter the car?
What if your car is always reborn with new software updates and thus new features you can explore? Thus you would have a car you are familiar with and that keeps surprising you with new features – it would never get boring. Sounds like a really good human friend, doesn‘ it?
There is so much the car of the future can do for us. And the better it understands our needs or problems the more we value the car and the more desirable it becomes. And the more loyal we become.
How do you make sure people stick to one software or operating system?
Updates, features, applications, relevance,.. It is so simple.
How do you change the game?
With a new operating system that simply rocks, grows fast, and allows your own developements (open source)…
In a recent study by Roland Berger and JD Power young adults between 18-24 once again confirmed that they would rather live without a car than without the internet. Pretty impressive! Time to rethink the automobile.
short wired article on the growing role of software for for today’s automobiles http://www.wired.com/autopia/2011/04/the-growing-role-of-software-in-our-cars/