When some of us were young, the year 2015 offered a future vision of fashionable shiny silver suits and levitating cars that flew around gleaming glass cities. Though neither prediction is likely to be realized within the next year, the car industry is currently undergoing one of its most radical changes since Henry Ford created the assembly line in 1913. A confluence of factors is contributing to this shift and, together, they are profoundly effecting people’s relationships with the world’s car brands.
One factor is increasing urbanization, which is clogging our roads and polluting our air. The need for cleaner, more efficient, smarter forms of mobility is accelerating automotive innovation. The scramble for dominance in the zero-emission, post-internal-combustion-engine world is well documented. Virtually every manufacturer is now developing electric vehicles, or fuel cell technology, as an alternative, cleaner method of propulsion.
Perhaps more interesting is the race to create autonomous vehicles. This technology promises to dramatically improve vehicle safety, and also ease congestion with integrated traffic-management systems that will control traffic flow and enable cars to travel inches apart as they speed down highways. This technology will transform how we drive, and also change how we use our cars. Going for a run? Have your car come to meet you. Both you and your partner need the car today? Drive it to work and have it return home. The cars of tomorrow might roam cities independently, while they wait to be called upon.
In addition, the millennial generation doesn’t have the same status associations with car ownership that previous generations had. So, will automotive companies continue to be in the business of selling cars-or will they evolve to become mobility solution providers? .In a booming shared economy, why buy a car if you can request one as needed? Car brands will need to evolve their customer experience to compete.by offering, flexible leasing arrangements that provide the right car for the right occasion, or the option to pay per use rather than outright ownership, for example. Car companies will need to think about their place in the mobility chain and build a differentiating mobility ecosystem around their customers.
As it is, the role of branding in the car business is changing fast. If you asked an automotive expert 20 years ago which was a good car to buy, he would likely tell you in terms of functional benefits: “Don’t buy a Jag; their electrics are terrible,” or “Watch out for rusting around the sills on your Fiat.” Today, all cars are largely reliable and dependable. Consumers decide by choosing the brand they can relate to. A greater emphasis is now placed on the softer side of car branding; on building a stronger emotional link with customers. This is challenging how companies position themselves and communicate, and it also makes the overall customer experience more critical. If the functional differences between cars are not dramatic, then the quality of the experience in the dealership or online becomes more of a deciding factor.
One place where functional differences are starting to play a greater role is in the area of onboard technology. The era of the connected car is now upon us. After years of using smartphones and touch screen tablets, our expectations of cars are often left unmet by comparison. As the car becomes one more device in the Internet of Things, then the seamlessness by which it connects to everything else in life becomes increasingly important. Google is already vying for its share of the mobility business; how long before Samsung, Apple, and Microsoft follow? They all recognize the opportunity that the car presents as a gateway to customer information, and a channel for communication.
The data collected through cars, and the personalization of the information it provides, will only multiply. This potentially reshapes an age-old attribute of car brand equity. If our cars know we have been speeding, and where we have visited, trust becomes paramount.
With the emerging middle class in markets like China, India, and Brazil continuing to provide massive battlegrounds for car companies in coming years, we are not going to see a complete shift in the car business model overnight. However, the advent of the car built around you is here. Beyond the increasing personalization of your car, both in terms of its look and customizable technology, we are going to see car companies competing for your share of mobility, and providing a branded ecosystem around you so that, even if the wheels are not flying overhead Jetson style, you can move more seamlessly from A to B.
Authored by Daniel Binns Executive Director, Global Brand Engineer , Interbrand New York