Which Auto Brands Will Succeed In The 2020s And How?
Is there any industry that is facing quite as much change and disruption as automotive? For example, the banking and financial services industry faces a huge wave of change as financial technologies redefine who can enter that industry. Still, the auto brands facing a perfect storm where customers are even asking if it’s worth buying a car any longer.
Take a look at just some of the recent news and auto trends for further evidence:
• Silicon chip shortages are expected to cost the auto industry over $110bn this year, with almost 1.3 million fewer vehicles being manufactured in the US alone, compared to before the shortage. Modern cars often require thousands of chips – they are computers on wheels.
• Electric vehicles (EVs) are now available from almost every major brand, and some significant markets have announced a ban on petrol and diesel in just a few years – for example, 2030 in the UK. Imagine if your entire range of products is about to be banned.
• Renting, not buying, is becoming more common amongst younger consumers who are calculating that the ownership cost of a car is far more than just using Uber or Lyft anytime they need to travel.
• Autonomous vehicles are becoming normalised. Tesla is getting negative publicity because of crashes when using the Autopilot mode. Still, the media is reporting each individual incident and ignoring the fact that 1.3 million people are killed each year in regular road traffic accidents. Eventually, the public (and regulators) will start trusting autonomous cars, and then they will really take off.
• New ownership models. Why buy a car and then pay for maintenance, insurance, and taxes, when you could just pay a subscription that includes all costs – except fuel? Many car brands are now exploring subscription options to create a steady income stream rather than selling a vehicle outright. Volvo is a great example – they are taking all the complexities of car ownership away.
That’s just a summary of what’s taking place. New brands are constantly entering the market, especially EVs. 99% of electric buses are made in China, and China already accounts for more than half of all EV sales. There are Chinese brands with years of experience waiting to enter your local market – even if you have never heard of them.
What can auto brands do in the face of all this change and new competition? They are facing an uncertain environment where their current products face a ban in the near future, unknown rivals are waiting to enter the market, and a large number of consumers are starting to prefer a pay-as-you-go form of ownership – which also dramatically impacts those brands that also enjoy a healthy finance business offering loans to customers who want to buy cars.
There is no single answer, but an entirely new approach to the customer experience will be essential. Auto brands need to stop thinking of individual vehicle sales as the goal and focus more on nurturing relationships with customers over many years. Take a total lifetime value approach.
This requires some new ideas, but some auto brands are already starting to think this way. For example, look at how Nissan introduces prospective EV customers to existing EV customers. If you were thinking about buying a Nissan EV, then would you rather talk to someone who may – or may not – be able to answer your questions or someone who really drives a Nissan EV every day?
McKinsey said two years ago that auto brands need to think beyond car purchases and insert themselves into the lifestyle of millennial and Gen Z consumers because these are the demographics that will form over half of all car buyers by 2025 (45% just millennials alone).
The McKinsey ideas revolve around exploring best in class customer experience from brands such as Amazon, Airbnb, or Uber, and then exploring where the experience of owning a car creates friction – especially essential processes such as scheduled servicing and maintenance.
If the auto brands can make the experience of owning a car more effortless, then they have the opportunity to retain a customer over many years. Apple gives an example from another industry. Their products are great, but what hooks and retains many customers? The seamless nature of their iCloud service means buying a new laptop or phone is extremely easy – customers will stay with the brand even if they have to pay more than the alternative from other suppliers just because it’s easy.
This is where auto brands need to be looking. Not at acceleration, top speed, or how many bags can fit in the luggage space. What value add can be inserted into the lifestyle of a customer? How can an auto brand make a new purchase from the same company so much easier than choosing an alternative?
The auto industry is facing rapid change from many different directions, but it will be this focus on the customer experience that decides who will be successful in the 2020s.
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