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SA’s roadmap to premium electric mobility

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South Africa can do more to create market access and deliver on an operating environment which makes for good business, says TREVOR HILL – Head of Audi South Africa.

Competition in the premium automotive market is fierce but there is an elephant in the room. The demand we create for alternative mobility technologies (be it fully electric or hybrid) brings with it a very real infrastructure gap. Not addressing this today, will unfortunately prevent any meaningful ability for the local automotive sector to competitively participate in global trends. Doing this right would mean that we can deliver on local customer demand while still operate globally as a competitive automotive investment destination.

There is a firm reality; staying ahead of the pack means constantly innovating current technologies that, to a large degree, progresses the automotive segment as a whole. The downstream benefit of product innovation is clear, but it cannot be the job of the automotive industry alone.  In the premium segment where the desire to drive ahead of the curve is expected, the introduction of new technologies around electrification and artificial intelligence creates real opportunity.

What the South African automotive segment does not need is potential. What it does need is a practical and inclusive plan that supports the growth needed – and more importantly enables both education and adoption for a new world of mobility. To overcome the chicken and egg conundrum we suggest five key focus areas:

1)           We need increased investment in building an infrastructure footprint that actually supports alternative mobility solutions: The automotive industry, in partnership with government and other industry partners, must fuel the development and implementation of charging stations around the country.

2)           We need a deliberate product road map matched to our infrastructure reality: Electrification won’t happen overnight, so we need to build a road map that accommodates hybrid vehicles and that can accommodate any future shifts to fully electric vehicles as and when new technology is phased in.

3)           We need a policy environment that makes good sense and enables the product and infrastructure needs: Currently import duties on electric vehicles are high. Electric vehicles get charged a duty of around 25%, while conventional vehicle imports get charged 18%. Additionally, an ad valorem tax, which is usually charged on luxury items, is also applied to electric vehicles. So the tax on electric vehicle imports stands at about 42% in total. Government needs to look at this policy and reduce import taxes to make the future of mobility less expensive.

4)           We need to increase the size of the pie. A clear and consistent growth plan creates a more stable business environment and more importantly, stabilizes the currency fluctuation impact on the Rand:  Currently, the rand is the strongest it has been in two years. This is attributed to improvements in overall confidence because of increased political stability. However, what is concerning is the longevity of this stability and the resulting impact on the business environment.

5)           We need to make sure that we bring our customers and Dealer partners on the journey with us: Education of customers and Dealer partners is key. If a consumer doesn’t understand what an electric vehicle is, they won’t buy it, even if they have the means. However, if they are educated about the positive impact such vehicles have on the environment, issues of versatility, power output and the technology behind it; then they are more likely to purchase the vehicle. We appreciate that any investment in alternative mobility solutions must be geared towards the end users of these solutions. What is important to understand is that consumers buy electric vehicles for different reasons. For some, it’s a lifestyle choice, wanting to drive green, clean mobility. While other consumers buy electric vehicles to make a statement. Given the environmental benefits, the latter group sees the technology representing cutting edge innovation and they want to be at forefront of this. Customers also need the assurance and the necessary education to dispel any belief that electric vehicles lose the credibility and lack the quality of existing internal combustion engines. Also, a key credibility factor for a more future forward mobility offering is the pace of infrastructure investment that our Dealer partners would need to embark on in order to undeniably accelerate the adoption of alternative mobility. As a direct importer, we need to invest time and effort to ensure that our Dealer partners are willing and able to move their businesses in this direction.

So the road map is clear. Electric mobility means merging the demands of sustainability, everyday usability and performance. This implies integrating current technologies to advance what are often still seen as concept vehicles to cater for consumers in the premium market. It does also mean that parallel investments in infrastructure are needed, especially if we are to cater for the anticipated leapfrog in product line-ups.

Globally, Audi has made significant investments in driving progress towards alternative mobility solutions. This has seen investments in both technology and human capital to make advances in areas such as e-fuel, battery life, range, speed, general performance and aesthetic design.

With this in mind, from 2025 all Audi models will have an electrified drive. We will be launching more than 20 electric cars and plug-in hybrids– spread across all segments and concepts. Over the long-term, Audi plans to set the trend for the premium market, aiming to leverage and combine all of its technologies to reduce the emissions figures and develop sustainable, intelligent electro-mobility concepts.

Driving progress around innovation is a key aspect of our own DNA. Audi has an impressive track record for integrating benchmark technology into our vehicles. However, before complete electrified vehicle fleets are built, we need to ensure that we get a buy-in from government to invest in electric vehicles by showing the economic, environmental and social upliftment that these vehicles will bring to South Africa.

Development is as dynamic as the automotive sector. Once we show the need to introduce electric vehicles into the premium market for those who can afford it, we can focus on developing other areas – recycling batteries; developing battery options with superior charging performance; investigating renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, just to name a few. The future is exciting and it’s more than evident that electric vehicles will benefit South Africans at large.

Cars

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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