Carmakers must consider digital needs as much as showroom demands, says Seat president Luca de Meo.
The president of Seat has conceded that carmakers now need to consider whether the investment they expect franchised dealers to put into expanding showrooms could be better spent on digital tools.
Luca de Meo told AM that he sees an acceleration of change in the motor retail distribution model within the next 15 years because of consumer’s digital habits and fewer people browsing cars in showrooms.
“It makes you think, ‘do I need exactly the same thing as I had 20 years ago when people are simply not going to the showroom any more.’
"So maybe rather than asking someone to treble the size of their showroom because we have more cars, we have to think that maybe it’s more important to invest in a decent configurator that really works and connects with the dealer.
“I feel the responsibility of helping our retailers, our partners, to jump into the digital age,” he said. “The distribution is a big system with a lot of people and a lot of investment by people over decades, so our job is to help them make the jump - the ones that want to, that are there, and that have the resources to do it.”
His concern is that the automotive consumer experience is becoming extremely complicated, one of the most complicated, while a lot of the emerging power brands in the last 15 years have made the customer experience at the core of their competitive advantage.
Think of Apple, Netflix, Easyjet or Amazon and you realise that most of the big power brands facilitate access and experience, he said.
“We as an industry are staying complicated. So I think there’s a strategic opportunity to work on it. It doesn’t just mean product, but the whole package from product through distribution.”
He said automotive is going through one of the biggest disruptions of its history, because of new ownership models, electrification, and the connected car.
“We’re putting our product in the middle of a digital ecosystem, and it’s a big opportunity.
“The good thing about it is your 100 years of history doesn’t count. We’re all starting from scratch. Of course some brands have more money, but we have opportunity to start on those new fields in more or less the same position as the others.
“I hope, dream, about the possibility that I can work with the organisation to be part of the front tranche on some of these fields.”
De Meo admitted he sees the technology companies as a threat, because they are the power brands and consumers interact with Google more than any other every day. However there have been a lot of threats in the history of automotive and the industry always manages to reinvent itself, he said.
He recalled the impact of driving a Tesla a few years ago, and said it gave a sense of urgency to the establishment.
However he dispelled suggestions that the car is less relevant for young people now. “Look at Google and Apple, two of the most powerful brands particularly for their generation, which are taking interest in the car industry – a sign that cars will still be an important part of this internet of things. And as carmakers are in the middle they should play their role.”