Driven to distraction: The rise of the self-driving car experience

We investigate how driverless vehicles could disrupt everything from the care industry to the nature of brand engagement

A prototype model of Google's self-driving car
A prototype model of Google's self-driving car

The advertising impact

For most of us, the greatest gift of the driverless vehicle will be hours of free time. And it’s this that’s of great interest to the media and advertising industries. Even back in 2013, Morgan Stanley was predicting an incremental US$5 billion of potential revenue for media companies.

CEO at marketing and advertising agency Atomic212, Jason Dooris, has been working with two auto manufacturers recently, which leads him to believe driverless cars are closer to reality than many people think.

“What we are talking about in essence is a captive audience – an individual who is there and available and can be interrupted without presenting a risk to safety,” Dooris says. “What that means is you can do anything at all within that period of time. From a business point of view, you have almost an entirely new level of utility development. And I do think with driverless cars there is the opportunity to share a function while going from A to B.”

One possible parallel is the behaviour of commuters on public transport, who spend their voyage deeply engaged in their own personal screens.

But according to Simon Corah, CEO at specialist consultancy, Growth Mantra (and former CEO of M&C Saatchi), a key difference is that the driverless car experience is more likely to be a private experience – certainly more private than public transport – and hence potentially more like a hotel room experience.

“If you think about a hotel room, then you are going to have all sorts of other facilities relating to food and beverage,” Corah says. “It could be like a mobile retail environment. There will be lot of things that will pop up, but we don’t know what that looks like yet.”

Mobility as a service

The advent of driverless vehicles may herald a major upheaval in the car industry itself. One of the emerging models is that of mobility as a service, where consumers forgo owning a vehicle in favour of subscribing to a service that makes vehicles available on demand. This model is already in evidence thanks to car sharing services such as GoGet, and Corah believes the trend will become more pronounced over time.

“The generation that is coming through for whom the share economy is the norm, where access to assets is more important than ownership of assists, then that generation is going to let someone else own it and just use it for the time being,” Corah says. “It is less about you and car ownership, it is more about you and whoever owns the cars.”

According to Excell, that opens significant opportunities for new market players, who might operate a fleet of vehicles offering different services as clients require them.

“It will be a relationship like you have with a service provider, like a telco, where you pay for whatever services you want,” Excell says. “When you think about the investment that Australians make in their vehicle, and particularly their second vehicle, that is generally an asset that sits around most of the time. Cars are parked 96 per cent of time, and are the biggest asset people have apart from their house. So that money you would spend on registration you could definitely save if you have access to a mobility service.”

But if people are simply using vehicles as they need them, what room is there for a relationship between a car manufacturer and the user?

Intel’s Davis says manufacturers place a very high emphasis on owning that relationship with the occupants of the car, but this relationship is under threat on a number of fronts.

“Where that veneer is starting to crack is with Apple and Google becoming platforms through the linkage to your device in the car,” he says. “As those functions and capabilities begin to emerge it, opens up a channel to start to address the occupants in the vehicle.”

That potentially leaves the car makers with the most to lose in the next great evolution of the car. According to CEO of consulting and research company Faethm, Michael Priddis, the biggest mistake a carmaker can make is in assuming their competitors today will be the companies they need to worry most about in the future.

“The companies that operate platform technologies, like Apple, Google, and so on are the ones that are racing to win in the space of cars and transport,” he says. “The battle for the dashboard is no longer confined to auto manufacturers.

“It is the people that own the relationship with the customer that ultimately own the sale of the mode of transport, whether that is a vehicle or a journey.”

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