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Ford foresees VR car buying

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Ford is more than ever now integrating VR into the way it designs its vehicles, and is now starting to explore how the technology could change the retail experience.

The advent of virtual reality (VR) technology is predicted to fundamentally change the way we live over the coming decades.

Cinemas will immerse audiences in VR movies, patients will undergo VR treatment and customers will enter the world of the products or services they are interested in, enabling a whole new dimension to the idea of sampling, or trying new things out. Cars are no different.

More than ever before, says Ford, it is integrating VR into the way it designs its vehicles, and is now starting to explore how the technology could change the retail experience.

“It really is a blank canvas,” said Jeffrey Nowak, global digital experience chief, Ford Motor Company.“ It is easy to imagine that someone who wants to buy an SUV could experience taking that car for a test drive over desert dunes without leaving the comfort of their home. Likewise, if you’re in the market for a city car you could be at home, relaxing in your PJs and fit in trying out the peak-time school run after you’ve put the kids to bed.”

Shoppers online can already try before they buy to find out how new glasses or clothes might suit them, or even what a new car might look like outside their home. But according to Sheryl Connelly, Ford global trend and futuring manager, they are also sometimes baffled by an overwhelming choice that leads to “Decider’s Dilemma”.

“With the internet, consumers face an abundance of choice – impacting their attitudes toward commitment,” said Connelly. “Products and services are adapting to accommodate a ‘sampling society’ that prioritises trying over buying.”

The biggest trigger of car sales, after practical financial issues, is “purely emotional” and the test drive can be a crucial “first date” for the shopper and their potential next car. By enabling customers to try out different models at a time and place to suit them – and for as long as they  want – VR could also mean customers have a much clearer idea of which car they want before they even step into a dealership. It could even enable customers to experience the unique new car smell of their preferred vehicle.

Ford is currently exploring the potential of a range of virtual and augmented reality technologies to layer digital holograms onto the real world that could within the next decade allow people to interact with every aspect of products at their convenience.

“We envisage that one day a customer could identify the model they are interested in – from the colour, to the exact finish of their interior – and the time and place they would like to simulate,” said Nowak. “That scenario could then be recreated on a bespoke basis. There really is no limit to the depth of detail. The possibilities are endless.”

Ford already makes extensive use of VR in design. A state-of-the-art facility within the Design Studio, in Cologne, in Germany, allows designers to fully experience a vehicle without the need for a physical prototype. This enables them to perfect the look of high quality materials, craftsmanship and finish more quickly and efficiently. For the all-new Ford Fiesta, designers were able to experience and confirm location of vehicle controls, dashboard layout and seating positions.

“People decide within three minutes if they love a product or not, and it is the same for your car,” said Amko Leenarts, Ford’s head of global interior design operations. “From the moment you get in, you form connections with the smell, the feel of the surfaces, or the sound of the car door closing and it’s very powerful if we – as designers – can help create the perfect experience for the customer.”

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Are you playing auto roulette with smart car devices?

Kaspersky analysed aftermarket connected smart car devices, and made a pleasant discovery

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There are currently two ways for car enthusiasts to obtain a connected vehicle – purchase a ‘smart by design’ car from a dealer, or improve their existing car with a number of additional ‘smart-devices’. While both scenarios create a greater driving experience, smart technology also represents a brand new area for malicious use, as the media and Kaspersky’s own research has repeatedly shown. This is inevitable – when a piece of technology becomes essential, related security issues tend to increase.

With this in mind, Kaspersky researchers set out to discover whether these reports on the security of IoT devices had any impact on manufacturers of smart devices for the automotive industry. The researchers analysed several randomly selected devices, including an OBD dongle scanning tool, a tyre pressure and temperature monitoring system, a smart alarm system, a GPS tracker, and an app-controlled dashcam.

The findings were a pleasant surprise: while the IoT industry has often been considered vulnerable, these automotive-related smart and connected devices proved to be quite secure, with no major vulnerabilities exposed. However, several security issues were also revealed: the ability to remotely access driving dynamics data via a scanning toll, the option to manipulate signals from the tire monitoring system, and, most alarmingly, the ability to open vehicle doors using the alarm system. However, all of these elements are either very hard to implement or bring no obvious or immediate outcome for a criminal.

“The devices we examined met many security policies and were satisfactory, with the exception of a few small issues. This is partly due to the limited functionality of these devices and the lack of serious consequences in the event of a successful attack through these products – but also thanks to the vigilance of manufacturers. We were glad to see that they have invested their efforts into making these devices more secure, a good sign overall for the automotive industry. Yet, this is still not a reason to relax: based on our experience, the smarter the device, the higher the chances that security issues will occur. That is why security should be considered more closely in the early stages of product development, especially as a new generation of smart devices come to the market,” notes Victor Chebyshev, security expert at Kaspersky.

To keep smart automotive devices even more secure, we advise:

  1. When choosing which part of your vehicle you’re going to make a little bit smarter, first consider the security risks. Think twice if the device has something to do with the car telemetry or access to its ‘brains’.
  2. Before buying a device, search the internet for news of any vulnerabilities. It is likely that the device you are going to purchase has already been examined by security researchers and it is possible to find out whether any issues have been found in the device, or have already been patched.
  3. It is not always a great idea to buy the most recent products released on the market. Along with the standard bugs often found in new products, recently-launched devices might contain security issues that haven’t yet been discovered by security researchers. The best choice is to buy products that have already been worked on with several software updates.
  4. Always consider the security of the ‘mobile dimension’ of the device, especially if you have Android devices – applications are often helpful and make life easier, but once a smartphone is hit by malware, a lot can go wrong.
  5. To overcome the challenge of smart device cybersecurity, Kaspersky has invested in Kaspersky OS, widely used in customised manufacturing hardware and software. This system can be used across a variety of fields: on mobile devices and PCs, IOT devices, intelligent energy systems, industrial systems, telecommunications, and transportation systems. Kaspersky sees opportunities in the further development of KasperskyOS to meet the needs of our customers and ensure the highest levels of security can be achieved in all these fields, including the automotive industry. More information can be found here.

Read the full text of the report on Securelist.

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How car-buying must change

The car-buying experience must innovate to evolve the automotive industry, writes TREVOR HILL, head of Audi South Africa

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Our relationship with motor vehicles is a complex mix of emotional and rational decision making. Add to this, external influences such as longer product-retention cycles (up from five years to as much as seven years), a struggling economy and probably the greatest product choice in the market we have ever seen; there is a significant need for manufacturers to reinvent the car-buying experience.

So, while the “future of mobility” is evolving to enable new technologies such as autonomous vehicles, connectivity, electrification and shared mobility – it is necessary that there be a proportional shift in how we can innovate how these products are purchased or considered at the onset.

This trend is not new. As early as 2013, global consulting firm McKinsey published a report highlighting three key trends that would impact customer decisions and engagement on the retail end of the automotive industry. These included: an enhanced level of what it called “touchpoint management”, sales and service upgrades and the role of the traditional Dealership in the customer purchase and sales decision journey.

Fast forward to 2019. The challenge for automotive brands is how to deliver a personalised, digital service in an industry once solely reliant on bricks-and-mortar Dealerships and a hard-sell sales approach. In the premium segment, there is even more room for innovation around the Dealership experience to meet the demands of personalisation and technology while still delivering on fundamentals. This includes aspects like physically experiencing the vehicle before purchase, expert product advice and the personal customer experience that enhances long-term brand experience and loyalty.

Behaviour-driven thinking dictates how we reframe and design the customer experience of the future. As an automaker in the premium segment, we focus on three key principles of behavioural planning:

  1. The paradox of choice: Offering customers more choices is not always better, as we can trigger an unintended “paralysis of choice”. When we have too many options, the likelihood that we will make a decision is reduced. Given this, Audi has reviewed our options specification for new products entering our model range and will be developing specific packages around various customer needs. This allows for reduced complexity of choice and ease of ordering a new vehicle. This will be reflected on our digital platforms when configuring any of the new vehicles such as the Audi Q8 and upcoming Audi A1 and Q3. This simplification is the first step towards addressing how customers experience us as a brand.
  • Availability: Creating opportunities for customers to assess choices through innovative and digital examples is a foundation of how we are slowly reinventing our Dealership experience. We are pioneering this by introducing the Customer Private Lounge (CPL) – one of a kind in South Africa and located at Audi Centre Centurion in Pretoria – that allows customers to build up their Audi using digital configuration and virtual-reality technology.
  • Relativity: Customers are more likely to make decisions based on the context. While traditional Dealerships will remain key to the customer’s sales journey, Audi aims to connect new opportunities within this environment. This includes a combination of traditional selling (knowledgeable consultant, premium environment) and digitalisation (customisation, low need to carry extensive showroom stock). 

The launch of the Audi Customer Private Lounge is the foundation of this latter effort. A recent Bain survey found that even web-savvy modern car buyers’ still make an average of 2.4 Dealer visits before making a purchase decision – underlining the critical importance of combining a relevant and unique Dealer retail experience when finalising a sale.

Another foundation of our retail experience effort effort is a 4000m2 Audi and Volkswagen Training Academy in Centurion, custom designed to continuously improve Dealer performance through training and skills development. Added to this is Audi’s global and digital initiative towards training – Audi Training Online. This is an online platform offering convenient learning for all Audi dealership employees around the world. Employees can access the portal at any time, from any location and easily upskill themselves on brand related topics, products, technologies and job related (technical and non-technical) subjects. Given the increasing technical complexity of our vehicles and new business and brand themes, a high level of knowledge and expertise is critical to ensure optimal customer satisfaction.

The evolution of training and customer experience is the first, necessary step to respond to today’s car-buying customers’ demand for a unique retail environment. As an industry, we need to respond to this opportunity sooner rather than later. This response must deliberately address the customer experience journey from information, to contact, to purchase, handover and to aftersales. This requires interventions in terms of personalisation, how we introduce opportunities for customers to be in control while still receiving expert guidance.

A more digital retail platform gives us a significant opportunity to better serve our customers through this journey. In the case of the CPL, a dedicated consultant, specially trained, takes the customer through the process of selecting the customised specification on their virtual-reality Audi, before they even encounter a salesperson. The CPL represents the first leg of Audi SA’s digitisation strategy. It’s progress in the retail realm, and a game changer for the automotive industry.

In future, automotive retail will require many new functions and roles to meet the demands of an omnichannel sales model. Building these new capabilities is a fascinating process, bringing in new skill and fundamentally refreshing the industry to benefit the most important stakeholder – the customer.

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