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Trends that drive the auto industry

by Don Deveaux , 24.03.2014

Recently, I was reading an article about how consumers' choices are influenced not only by the usual decision drivers of price, quality and reputation, but also by their values and beliefs. This reminded me of our Roper Reports® Worldwide Study which tracks 12 major global trends.

In particular, I reflected on two of these trends: Personal Experience and Wellbeing

Trend 1 -Focus on Personal Experience
Personal Experience in this context is really the sum of a wide range of products, service or brand touchpoints - think of it as a total of what is exchanged between a brand and its consumers. I was thinking of this in the context of how we as consumers have a relationship with a product and what that can mean in the automotive category.

Consider Jeep, for instance – this brand – which positions itself as American, rugged, outdoorsy and tough - offer family-oriented, four-wheel-drive adventures in which people drive their own vehicles through unique and extreme rugged terrain – terrain that some people would not dare to drive on their own.

These trips not only enable Jeep owners to build a stronger bond with their chosen brand through a personal experience, but they also create a sense of kinship and camaraderie among like-minded individuals.  Through participation, a person's own sense of self-worth is reinforced by others.

For Jeep, the tours are a branding coup because Jeep becomes part of the reinforcement process when Jeep drivers return from adventure weekends to talk about their wilderness experience. The Jeep driver has become a vigorous advocate for the brand.

Trend 2 - Sense of Wellbeing

Wellbeing is the desire to both “look good” AND “feel good” – and to do so in daily life that is filled with increasing time pressure.  So I asked myself how such trends apply to the automotive industry?

Another trend that I think is particularly relevant and definitely under-serviced by the automotive industry is this trend regarding our sense of Wellbeing.

Personally, I'd say that anything a car manufacturer can do to relieve my stress is welcome. Recently I drove 45 minutes to the office. If my car has lumbar support, that helps my back feel better, and consciously or subconsciously, my sense of Wellbeing rises, just like my opinion of the carmaker every time I use it.

I don't see why a car shouldn't relax me. What about interior lighting that changes for my mood? We know that different colors and light, and probably scents and smell, impact how we feel. Why not in my car, too?

For me, a sense of Wellbeing is highly correlated to time.  We're all under time pressure and far too busy these days.  For many people including me, busy schedules are only made busier with driving. In the past, I may have been focused on getting work done all the time, but lately, and our research shows this is true for others, I am interested in how I can use my bits of time to improve my health or sense of Wellbeing.

What if automakers installed foot massagers in cars?

For somebody who really wants this, it could be a valuable feature.  You've probably heard about driver alert systems. What if my car could check my blood pressure and give me biometric feedback?  Perhaps the data could be projected onto my windshield.

How to look for inspiration outside the automotive industry

At GfK, one way we work with automakers to bring macro trends into their design is by asking them to leave the automotive industry to look for inspiration.

We've invited automakers to visit our new product collection located in Ann Arbor.  Here we have gathered more than 10,000 products from around the world from all different categories. We give clients a shopping basket and send them out with the assignment to select items for health and wellness.  We then ask them to think about why they picked a particular product – what about it could be relevant to the automotive industry?

One of the clients held up an antibacterial gel and said, "It’s winter now and the time for flus and colds – particularly with my kids who touch everything!   What if – instead of using lotion or wipes which I have to carry around with me - there were a way to get the antibacterial gel INTO the steering wheel itself, which I'm grabbing anyway?"
Indeed, a simple everyday consumer product inspired an interesting idea for automakers.

You may be thinking I've gone a bit overboard with my ideas, but my point is this: The automotive industry can support these consumer trends, and manufacturers can do a lot of simple things to make their products more appealing and stand out by thinking about how their business can take advantage of these areas.

In the end, a car is more than just a means of getting from point A to point B. It's a way to deliver services.

For more about our offerings, visit our Consumer Trends or our Automotive pages.

Source: Roper Reports® Worldwide

Don DeVeaux is the Global Lead, Automotive, at GfK. He can be reached at don.deveaux@gfk.com.