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Guest opinion: Clever cars and the connected dealership

John Gibbard, DARE

When was the last time you looked under the bonnet of your car? As a dealer it might have been half an hour ago. But for your customers, this is likely to be a different story.

First off, the cars just work, and even if you did want to peak underneath you couldn’t.

Cars have become tremendously sophisticated in a very short time.

New cars have become sealed-up, walled-gardens that only the experts have the know-how to fix and build, and the trend is going to increase with car brands continuing to step it up.

 More than 250 million connected cars are expected to be on the road globally by 2020 . Soon the vehicles you sell won’t just be for driving; they’ll be multi-functional devices in their own right.

As data-driven car travel becomes more ubiquitous, dealers will hold more information on their customers and how they use their cars. As the saying goes, with knowledge comes power.

 While the dealer has always been a port of call for manufacturers in understanding consumer need, this role is set to become more important.

Take vehicle upkeep for instance. It’s one thing for a car to remind drivers to replace tyres or windscreen washing fluid, it’s another to actually put this task into action.

Connecting customers, cars and dealers

The connected car will pass the message on to those who really need it, taking the responsibility of the more mundane tasks away from the consumer. This means that when customers arrive at their local garage or dealership, staff will be pre-warned and ready to get to work, saving drivers the effort of explaining what’s needed. Additionally, it gives dealers insight into how their target market use and treat their vehicles.

This is already being trialled in the US with a joint telematics solution adopted by the Motorcars Cleveland group.

The new technology provides dealerships with constant remote monitoring of customers’ service needs such as miles driven, operating conditions, and more. Dealers will be alerted for check engine lights, low voltage/battery issues, specific mileage, and odometer-driven service and maintenance needs.

 This might seem like minutiae, but this mundane detail gives dealers insights into how manufacturers can make a genuine connection with their customer. Car brands and dealers have relatively little trouble convincing customers to buy when compared to hanging onto them for an extended period.

Anyone working in car sales knows that nailing an emotional connection is the Holy Grail for brands, especially in the automotive sector. Car brands and dealers have no trouble convincing customers to buy, hanging on to them for an extended period is the challenging part. Cars transport memories and for brands, memories mean loyalty.

However, there are obstacles to forming this kind of relationship with the driver.

It won’t have escaped anyone’s notice that cars aren’t getting a universally good press at the moment. Volkswagen, still reeling from its emissions scandal, has seen sales fall 14% in the UK alone. Skoda, part of the Volkswagen Group, may well face prosecution from The Department for Transport (DfT). Are consumers going to be willing to open up their data in the light of scandals like dieselgate?

Dealers could restore trust

Restoring consumer trust for a car manufacturer is likely to be where dealers come into their own.

Of course, for customers to stick with car brands in the long run, manufacturers will have to ensure their innovations are all above board, which means complete transparency when it comes to data collection and use.

But dealers can use the data and personal insight to balance the tech with a seamless user experience.

They know at that while gadgetry can generate real excitement for consumers but equally, it can also be a source of fear and apprehension. They also know that drivers don’t want more buttons on the dashboard. They want something simple and user-friendly. Car makers can take this insight and translate it into the knowledge that cars have become devices in their own right, the same principles that apply for the traditional hand-held devices must apply for auto.

It’s this sort of first-hand feedback that prompted iPhone to deliver longer battery life, and why the latest BMW 7 Series has a touch screen – with added pinch-and-zoom functionality.

We’re on the cusp of something exciting in all sectors. If technology continues moving at the same speed and autonomous vehicles become a reality, it could even change the way we experience cities.

With no passengers to slow them down we’ll see an end to car parks. Cars will constantly be on the move, following surges in demand and figuring out new, faster routes for us.

Whether it’s the connected car or the driverless car, your customers will reap the benefits. Our experiences as drivers will be smooth, uninterrupted and convenient to the utmost.

But it’s up to brands and their dealers, particularly in a sector as all-encompassing as auto, to help design these experiences. And the ultimate payback? If you can make your customers lives easier in any way, they’ll respond in their droves.

Author: John Gibbard, joint head of experience planning at DARE

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