Once upon a time, a car was the ultimate status symbol. But rather than being a sign of the ‘good life’, consumers today increasingly see cars as functional objects. In a recent survey, 40% of consumers told us that cars are merely a means of transport1. The advent of car sharing services such as Zipcar, and cheap taxi services like Uber, have offered more options for non-car owners to get around. And with driving license possession declining year-on-year among under 25s in the UK, it’s clear that views of car ownership are changing significantly. While this is a challenging time, those manufacturers that start embrace these changes will see success in the coming years.
Our forecasts show that new car registrations are set to decline in the UK by 5.9% in 20172. A squeeze on finances, coupled with Brexit, means manufacturers face an uphill struggle to get consumers to fall in love with cars again. As vehicle quality, reliability and quality become hygiene factors, manufacturers must find new ways to engage with consumers if they are to persuade them to invest in a car. The challenge for car manufacturers therefore is twofold. Firstly, they must convince consumers that they need a car at all. Secondly, they need to make sure their brand is paramount.
So how can manufacturers win in this highly competitive market? We know from our work with consumers that experience is one of the key drivers for purchasing and retention. Brand loyalty is declining, and as a result, how you make customers feel at the point of purchase is more important than ever. Understanding consumer values and what they want from you is the key to ensuring you deliver every time. High on consumers’ wish lists is technology, and this is increasingly an area where manufacturers can differentiate. More than one third (36%) of consumers think that it is important to be able to use the internet when in their car, and 35% expect their vehicle to be part of their personal cloud1. Superior connectivity is clearly one route to meeting consumers expectations.
The car industry rightly has its eyes on the future. But while the sector itself believes the future lies in autonomy, consumers are less convinced. At present, there are significant emotional and rational hurdles to be cleared, as well as some very real technological issues to be resolved in order to get to the next level. Continued investment is required, but manufacturers should be wary of putting all their eggs in one basket. We believe that electric vehicles offer a much more realistic opportunity in the medium term, and for that reason, should be the larger priority from an investment perspective.
With the landscape shifting so significantly, car manufacturers need to maximize new opportunities whilst also working hard to keep hold of existing customers. Proving relevance will be key, combined with staying close to consumers, and going the extra mile to deliver exactly what customers want.
1GfK Future of Mobility Report 2017
2GfK new private vehicle sales forecasting tool