Our cars are becoming increasingly high tech. The pace of innovation in the auto industry is truly impressive – and what was once a futuristic vision has now become the new reality for OEMs. The last two years have shown just how dynamic the auto sector is. Electric cars are slowly going mainstream and self-driving is now inevitable, with the world’s biggest brands promising that their autonomous vehicles will hit the roads by 2020. Innovation has always been at the heart of OEMs, but it’s the relentless focus on the customer experience that will determine the winners in this unprecedented race. How can they utilise ever more high tech in-car technology advancements to deliver truly exceptional customer experiences for both drivers and passengers?

Connected cars define the future of in-car customer experience

New cars are not discrete objects and can offer so much more than the simple pleasure of driving. Newly embedded connectivity means they deliver a truly enhanced experience, seamlessly blending the digital and physical divide. Controlling your car from a smartphone is slowly going mainstream, inter-vehicle communication will soon radically improve safety and take the navigation systems to the next level, and in-car voice-enabled touchscreens have some serious PA powers.

Connected cars show an enormous opportunity for OEMs – one that has grown at an exponential rate in recent years and is predicted to reach a jaw-dropping $156.1 billion by 2023. Utilising the growing complexity of IoT technology, the way cars are connected to their environment is already changing rapidly. No longer bound to simple navigation systems and hit-and-miss voice-based calls, connected cars are expanding their capabilities to offer features like new driver assistance to maintain safe distances between cars, autonomous parking with a click of the mobile-based button, communication with other vehicles for real-time traffic information; and advanced infotainment systems to boost the in-car experience.

Perhaps one of the most interesting applications lies in enhanced maintenance capabilities. Ten years ago, if your car developed a problem, you took it to a mechanic and they opened up the bonnet for an inspection. The software load in a vehicle has increased year-on-year since then, with repair and service garages now more likely to start with diagnostics from a laptop. Soon more and more cars will be able to communicate with external providers – from dealerships and insurance providers to valet cleaning and auto repair centres – measuring and optimising their own performance to detect potential issues before they even occur.

Some brands are already ahead of the line, setting what the future of in-car experience will mean for big auto brands. Mercedes Benz’s Mercedes Me Connect provides customers with an intelligently connected world that utilises state-of-the-art sensors and technologies like machine learning or geofencing to complement its IoT capabilities. Their new models ensure drivers have their cars at the fingertips – wherever they are. The service offers innovations like an in-car-office enabling customers to dial into a telephone conference based on linked calendar data; remote access to car settings, tyre pressure or the state of breaks; communication with other vehicles to detect traffic jams, accidents and potential location-based hazards and even an in-car PA that answers driver’s questions, book tickets and recommends restaurants. Mercedes is a stellar example of how the capabilities of connected cars concept can work to deliver top-class in-car customer experience.

But to be truly connected, cars should become the key element of smart cities – communicating with their surroundings to create an entire ecosystem of urban infrastructure, products and services that are capable of communicating with each other. Earlier this year, Ford launched The City of Tomorrow concept. In their subsequent release, they explain:

Building an ecosystem such as this requires the large-scale connection of bits of distinct data that flow from a variety of sources. And those sources — public transportation services, self-driving cars, cyclists and even infrastructure — will need to speak the same language and communicate with each other if we’re to realize the true potential of this type of ecosystem”.

It seems the majority of car brands are now looking to tap into this lucrative market. And it’s clear that opportunities to boost in-car customer experience with connected cars are enormous – particularly if linked with a wider smart city context.

In-car personalisation: the new frontier of auto customer experience

On the back of the connected cars concept sits the growing demand for personalisation. Despite consumers still showing some level of resistance when sharing their personal data, recent Epsilon research found 80% are more likely to use a brand if they offer a personalised experience. So the demand for personalisation is there – but only if customer data is shared in return for valuable personalised services, discounts, savings, and offers. For instance, Mintel’s research showed more than half of UK respondents are willing to share data from their wearable devices to assist with a more accurate calculation of a private medical insurance plan. Connected cars could unlock similar outcomes in the automotive scenario – enabling car insurance brands to calculate more accurate premiums based on real driving behaviour. Ultimately, relevancy will be key to ensure a satisfying and seamless in-car experience. Learning from the driver’s current and past behaviours to deliver more relevant recommendations, or enhanced maintenance and performance management, will become a strategic pillar of in-car experience design.

Toyota Concept-i shows mainstream auto brands have already bought into the idea and are working on developing the advanced future of mobility. Revealed at CEM’s 2017 show in Las Vegas, Concept-i series use AI as the backbone for understanding and predicting driver’s needs and consequently – improving the quality of life. Going beyond driving patterns and schedules, Concept-i uses a number of advanced technologies to measure emotions, improve safety by monitoring driver’s attention levels, and augment communication based on the driver’s responsiveness. And this embedded connectivity is not limited to the in-car touchscreen display. Both the interior and the exterior of Toyota’s concept vehicles will be able to engage and communicate with the world around it.

The future of cars seems to make in-car technology more human – and this will be amplified by personalisation. But any attempt to delivering personalised experiences – or going as far as measuring driver’s emotions and attention levels – needs to be done with full transparency. 75% of global consumers stated they are concerned that their online and in-store shopping activity and search are used for personalisation. The new CBI research shows that as much as 84% of consumers list good data security and the protection of personal information as the key factor when selecting a brand to purchase from. This is particularly important for purchases like cars – with hours per week spent in-car, OEMs have the power to hold a massive amount of drivers’ personal data and user behaviours, which could create mistrust and decline in loyalty if not treated with respect and protected successfully from hackers.

The potential of connected cars and in-car experience personalisation is immense, and the next few years will only consolidate the demand for IoT in the automotive sector. Software in vehicles has been getting much more complex. In 2010, there were ten million lines of code in cars – by 2016, the number grew to 150 million. But there’s still a lot of work for OEMs to do – though innovation in technology is driving the market, the focus must always remain on the consumer if companies are to survive.

Check out these articles to learn more about what digital transformation means for the big auto brands:

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