Brum brum – cars and data

Some people use their phone to pre-warm their cars during wintertime. Some people use their phone to unlock their car. Some people use their phone to locate their cars when they’ve forgotten where they’ve parked. Some use their voice to start the ignition.

Some cars drive themselves. Some automatically keep you within the white lines. Some prompt you when they think you are getting snoozy.

During the pandemic there was a well-publicised shortage of semiconductors (chips) that particularly impacted the automobile industry. A quick search comes up with plenty of results suggesting that a modern car can have about 3,000 chips inside it. Even without things like self-driving capabilities and voice activation, a chip still powers things like type pressure warnings and sat nav.

But the chips are really just the enablers. It’s the data that these chips, combined with a connection to the internet, that is the potential goldmine going forward, and potentially changes the relationship between the customer and the care manufacturer.

Let’s say I’m buying a new car. I generally start the research online and then go into a car dealership (maybe a few times), negotiate the deal (usually with a discount the price I’ve seen online), maybe take out finance or a loan to buy the car, take delivery off I go. Every year I have a service, likely with the same dealer I bought it from (the same if things go wrong).

And while that dealer might have the logo of the car manufacturer on the front of it, and it only sells cars from that brand family, it’s not actually owned by the manufacturer.

So the details I might have input into the manufacturer website or app to choose the model, and the extras might not flow through the dealer. And equally, when I buy, the manufacturer doesn’t necessarily know it’s the same me. Tesla and Polestar (and owner Volvo) are starting to change this. And this is where we are going…

Manufacturers are going to start joining together your purchase experience to your ongoing ownership and use of the car.

So they know it’s me who started specifying a car online. I’ll then buy it online, direct from the manufacturer, perhaps visiting a specialist testing centre to give it a drive. That’s the start of my data profile.

I’ll download the app from the manufacturer that lets me unlock the car. When I do this I give my name, email address and my location and I give permission for my location to be used all the time (otherwise, if I ‘lose’ my car, how will I find it?). I also allow the app to send me notifications, because I need to know when the car needs a service, or other critical messages related to the car. And of course the app has analytics, so now I’m also letting someone know the type of phone I have, what OS version it’s on, when I open and close the app… stuff like that.

I might customise my profile within the car, setting the digital dashboard up just for me, maybe the seat settings and climate control. So when I interface my phone with the car it’s loaded in. And the car has a SIM. It’s collecting data from those thousands of semiconductors and sending it somewhere. And if things don’t look right, the car can notify me (either via the app or the car itself) that something looks wonky. It could also notify a service centre who could them proactively contact me (depending on the subscription I took out) and arrange for them to visit me at a time and location of my choice.

And linking the car data and the app data together, we are building up a very detailed profile of the car driver. Because even if the GPS used to power the navigation can’t track my location, I gave permission for the app to do it.

So if I were analysing the data, I can start building up a profile of what type of person uses what model of vehicle (age, location, likely demographics, etc), the length and extent of journeys (school run, local, national, etc), the performance of the car, how often it needs service work or experiences problems… the potential here is big. Because all of that can be used to refine the buying and retention experiences, evolving materials or hardware and software that consistently fail, subscription models aligned to customer need, even targeted advertising on the display screens in the car could be opened up (and linked to the subscription model). It could feed into insurance (also provided by the manufacturer or a preferred partner), valeting services (location based, app push ‘car wash available now), refuelling or recharging (available charging point 5 minutes away). And that’s before we think about voice and NLP, how passengers might use the built-in internet connection, what devices get connected, how often… it’s a data goldmine and the potential use cases just mount up.

Some of that is reality now (some of it was previewed in the 1980s with KITT), the rest of it is on the way!

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