Why driverless vehicles and car sharing won’t mean the ‘death of the car’ for Toyota

​Toyota’s senior enterprise architect discusses role of data in retaining customers amidst a massively disrupted market

Increased car sharing, the rise of Uber, trends of people getting their licences and buying new cars later in life, and the prospect of ‘driverless’ cars’ have fuelled widespread speculation that car ownership will drop as much as 90 per cent in the future. But for Toyota senior enterprise architect, David Johnston-Bell, the ‘death of the car’ concept is premature.

“According to research from The Economist, we’ll see a lot of these social trends but I think talk that car ownership may drop by as much as 90 per cent is a bit extreme,” he said at the Informatica Data Disruption Summit in Sydney. “People don’t always want to live in crowded inner city environments, they may want a house in the outskirts and need to be more mobile with a car - or explore all options available. The concept of ‘death of a car’ is a bit premature.”

Johnston-Bell highlighted a number of factors coming into play with the changing nature of car ownership in the future. One is the issue of liability if the car is involved in an accident. Another is one of personality.

“Cars are also seen as an extension of people’s personalities, so it will be interesting to see just how much people are willing to give up their cars altogether," he said. 

But despite admitting he doesn't have a ‘crystal ball’ to predict car consumer behaviour down the track, Johnston-Bell is tapping predictive analytics as a useful tool for scenario planning for the Toyota brand. More specifically, the company is looking to leverage data to anticipate customer needs and wants in order to better drive customer loyalty in an increasingly competitive and changing environment.

“At Toyota, it’s really about looking at enhancing the guest experience and in order to anticipate our guest’s needs. We have to leverage data and use it to ensure we can differentiate ourselves from all those different makes and models out there,” he said. 

“It’s about driving data to understand how people want to interact with Toyota to then understand how we can differentiate ourselves from our competitors in the marketplace to better serve their needs and at the same time, be much more relevant to our customers now and in the future.”

Accelerating agility to stay in the fast lane

Johnston-Bell also said Toyota is implementing a number of agile projects, but stressed becoming truly agile is a capability that builds over time.

“At Toyota, certainly we’re in a competitive environment," he said. "For us, agile is about reducing the time someone comes up with an idea and when it can be released.”

But’s not something you can do overnight, Johnston-Bell added. “It’s a capability that is built up over time to increase turnaround and get things like continuous integration, where you can code something in the day and it can be woven and released onto the website overnight. That’s something that agile is trying to achieve.”

As the senior enterprise architect, Johnston-Bell's task is to make the connection between business strategy and the IT spend.

“My role at Toyota specifically is how we make sure that we achieve those business goals and what systems and programs we need to put in place,” he said. “Then there is some light touch governance to ensure those programs are delivering what we intend them to deliver and don’t veer off.”

When investing in the right tech solutions to drive the business forward, Johnston-Bell said organisations need to look at a number of key factors, including including the business strategy trying to be achieved, whether data has been locked in, whether the tool being invested in is the best in the market, and what other options are available.

“There’s no text book rule in deciding what systems to invest in,” he added. “But we’re not here to say no you can’t do that, we’re here to say let’s not rush in and buy something yet before considering these key things.”

And the car of the future for Johnston-Bell?

“Take a look at the original Blade Runner, which predicted in 2017 we would have flying cars. We’re a long way off having those," he said. "While car ownership might slowly become a generational change, at the moment, nobody really knows the answer.”

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