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Digital already disrupting global auto industry

The global automotive industry and many related facets of the business are changing rapidly as the digital revolution causes major disruption. This makes it essential for motor businesses to adapt or die.

This message came through loud and clear at the biennial CAR Conference held at the Kyalami Grand Prix circuit as part of the SA Festival of Motoring last weekend, where the overall conference theme was “Consumer Trends and Disruption: How SA automakers can drive the change required to adapt to a new future.”

The arrival of self-driving autonomous cars sooner rather than later was also a topic for many of the speakers.

Martyn Briggs, an industry principal of Frost and Sullivan in the United Kingdom and one of the keynote speakers, presented on the topic “Megatrends and the future of mobility”, an area of the industry where he is an expert. His address was an ideal scene-setter for the intriguing series of presentations that followed.

Much of what Briggs told the delegates was admittedly about future developments but he also had plenty of facts and figures about what was happening right now in terms of ride sharing, car sharing and ride hailing apps as well as the increasing use of apps to assist in finding a parking space in congested cities.

Briggs went on to explain how digital dealerships using small showrooms in shopping malls, with only one or two cars on display and doing business online, were proving increasingly successful in the UK. He predicted that this trend is expected to spread worldwide.

Briggs added that most people now know exactly which car they want to buy by the time they entered the relevant dealership and on average only visited the dealer only twice when doing the deal to buy a new car.

Briggs said that car design is another aspect of the automotive world that is being influenced by the changing digital landscape and the manner in which more and more vehicles are being used these days. This is resulting in the so-called trifecta design proposition whereby traditional body styles like hatches, sedans, MPVs and SUVs are being crossed and morphed to make hybrid designs. Examples here are the Suzuki SX4 and Tesla Model X.

Shayne Mann, the managing director of Mann Made, a brand experience company, summed up the rapidly changing automotive landscape when he said: “Technology is disrupting every industry worldwide and motor retail is not going to be spared. Disruption is coming – from online retail to driverless cars – and those who don’t learn to innovate now will find themselves left behind.”

Mann, who has already been involved in developing virtual automotive showrooms for local dealer groups, offered sound advice and examples of how dealers can catch the wave and start innovating faster.

He says that It’s “time to reboot!”; it is not necessary to throw away the expertise and physical footprint offered by traditional dealerships, but rather to re-imagine their role in an uncertain (but exciting) future.

Chris de Kock, the managing director of WesBank, the country’s leading vehicle finance house and the main sponsor of the SA Festival of Motoring, continued in the same vein about the need for change. He said that the current linear process of buying a car – search, sell, finance, buy – had to change as it was inefficient, did not offer a personalised experience and was expensive for the customer.

De Kock said WesBank was mulling the various disruptive technologies that will deliver the desired experience to the customer. Options include Platform Business Systems, Blockchain, Cloud Computing and the Internet of Things.

The need for change was reinforced by Dave Duarte, the founder of Treeshake, a consultancy dedicated to growing digital marketing capability, who also served as the master of ceremonies at the conference.

He set the scene by explaining that the growth towards a digital world in South Africa was driven by the fact that the number of active website users in the country, which now numbered 18-million people, was already double the number of cars on South African roads.

Other thought-provoking statistics that  were put on the table by Duarte were that 45.9% of 1 000 people surveyed in SA would be willing to buy a car online and that  only 17 people out of more than 4 000  interviewed in another survey said they were satisfied  with the current car buying process; all the others wanted change.

Duarte warned dealers that quick responses were necessary when dealing with potential buyers online. “They are not prepared to wait long for feedback to queries.”

The founder of Treeshake also explained that buyers of new vehicles were using general websites such as Gumtree when buying a new vehicle and not only using these sites for buying used vehicles. This trend has resulted in many dealers now using Gumtree and similar online websites to advertise both new and used models.

Delegates to this well-attended conference, which enjoyed backing from Gumtree, Tracker and Sasol, were certainly not left in any doubt that the digital world was the way to go if they still wanted to be in business in the future.

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Two-thirds of adults ready for cars that drive themselves

The latest Looking Further with Ford Trends Report reveals that behaviour is changing across key areas of our lives

Self-driving cars are a hot topic today, but if you had to choose, would you rather your children ride in an autonomous vehicle or drive with a stranger? You may be surprised to learn that 67 per cent of adults globally would opt for the self-driving car.

That insight is one of many revealed in the 2019 Looking Further with Ford Trend Report, released last week. The report takes a deep look into the drivers of behavioural change, specifically uncovering the dynamic relationships consumers have with the shifting landscape of technology.

Change is not always easy, particularly when it is driven by forces beyond our control. In a global survey of 14 countries, Ford’s research revealed that 87 per cent of adults believe technology is the biggest driver of change. And while 79 per cent of adults maintain that technology is a force for good, there are large segments of the population that have significant concerns. Some are afraid of artificial intelligence (AI). Others fear the impact of technology on our emotional wellbeing.

“Individually and collectively, these behavioural changes can take us from feeling helpless to feeling empowered, and unleash a world of wonder, hope and progress,” says Kuda Takura, smart mobility specialist at Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa. “At Ford we are deeply focused on human-centric design and are committed to finding mobility solutions that help improve the lives of consumers and their communities. In the context of change, we have to protect what we consider most valuable – having a trusted relationship with our customers. So, we are always deliberate and thoughtful about how we navigate change.”

Key insights from Ford’s 7th annual Trends Report:

Almost half of people around the world believe that fear drives change
Seven in 10 say that they are energised by change
87 per cent agree that technology is the biggest driver of today’s change
Eight in 10 citizens believe that technology is a force for good
45 per cent of adults globally report that they envy people who can disconnect from their devices
Seven out of 10 consumers agree that we should have a mandatory time-out from our devices

Click here to read more about the seven trends for 2019.

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At last, cars talk to traffic lights to catch ‘green wave’

By ANDRE HAINZLMAIER, head of development of apps, connected services and smart city at Audi.

Stop-and-go traffic in cities is annoying. By contrast, we are pleased when we have a “green wave” – but we catch them far too seldom, unfortunately. With the Traffic Light Information function, drivers are more in control. They drive more efficiently and are more relaxed because they know 250 meters ahead of a traffic light whether they will catch it on green. In the future, anonymized data from our cars can help to switch traffic lights in cities to better phases and to optimise the traffic flow.

In the USA, Audi customers have been using the “Time-to-Green” function for two years: if the driver will reach the lights on red, a countdown in the Audi virtual cockpit or head-up display counts the seconds to the next green phase. This service is now available at more than 5,000 intersections in the USA, for example in cities like Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland and Washington D.C. In the US capital alone, about 1,000 intersections are linked to the Traffic Light Information function.

Since February, Audi has offered a further function in North America. The purpose of this is especially to enable driving on the “green wave”. “Green Light Optimized Speed Advisory” (GLOSA) shows to the driver in the ideal speed for reaching the next traffic light on green.

Both Time-to-Green and GLOSA will be activated for the start of operation in Ingolstadt in selected Audi models. These include all Audi e-tron models and the A4, A6, A7, A8, Q3, Q7 and Q8 to be produced from mid-July (“model year 2020”). The prerequisite is the “Audi connect Navigation & Infotainment” package and the optional “camera-based traffic sign recognition”.

Why is this function becoming available in Europe two years later than in the USA? 

The challenges for the serial introduction of the service are much greater here than, for example, in the USA, where urban traffic light systems were planned over a large area and uniformly. In Europe, by contrast, the traffic infrastructure has developed more locally and decentrally – with a great variety of traffic technology. How quickly other cities are connected to this technology depends above all on whether data standards and interfaces get established and cities digitalise their traffic lights.

On this project, Audi is working with Traffic Technology Services (TTS). TTS prepares the raw data from city traffic management centres and transmits them to the Audi servers. From here, the information reaches the car via a fast Internet connection.

Audi is working to offer Traffic Light Information in further cities in Germany, Europe, Canada and the USA in the coming years. In the large east Chinese city of Wuxi, Audi and partners are testing networks between cars and traffic light systems in the context of a development project.

In future, Audi customers may be able to benefit from additional functions, for example when “green waves” are incorporated into the ideal route planning. It is also conceivable that Audi e-tron models, when cruising up to a red traffic light, will make increased used of braking energy in order to charge their batteries. Coupled with predictive adaptive cruise control (pACC), the cars could even brake automatically at red lights.

In the long term, urban traffic will benefit. When cars send anonymised data to the city, for example, traffic signals could operate more flexibly. Every driver knows the following situation: in the evening you wait at a red light – while no other car is to be seen far and wide. Networked traffic lights would then react according to demand. Drivers of other automotive brands will also profit from the development work that Audi is carrying out with Traffic Light Information – good news for cities, which are dependent on the anonymised data of large fleets to achieve the most efficient traffic management.

In future, V2I technologies like Traffic Light Information will facilitate automated driving. 

A city is one of the most complex environments for an autonomous car. Nevertheless, the vehicle has to be able to handle the situation, even in rain and snow. Data exchange with the traffic infrastructure can be highly relevant here. 

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