Driving Digital: How the Auto Industry Is Adapting for a Connected World

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Technological advancements, government mandates, consumer trends, and emerging markets continue to drive evolution in the automotive industry, forcing automakers to rethink how they design, manufacture, and market vehicles. But despite the massive amount of disruption rippling through the global market, our recent report shows that innovation in the auto industry continues to be rooted in its long-time guiding principles of convenience, safety, and efficiency. Here we examine how technology, in particular, is shaping the future of this industry and helping manufacturers deliver on their brand promise.

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Convenience

Digital disruption has prompted major shifts in consumer expectations – and the auto industry is no exception. Automakers today aren’t just tasked with delivering a high-quality, reliable vehicle – they’re expected to make the trip simpler, more comfortable, and more enjoyable. By incorporating important safety and navigation features into vehicles, automakers have become responsible for the overall driving experience, as opposed to just the car or truck itself.

For example, automakers are currently experimenting with biometric technology, such as unique fingerprints and retina scanning, to access and control vehicles. In the meantime, MIT is developing tattoos that connect with mobile devices to adjust in-vehicle features or exchange data with other devices via near-field technology. By using this connected technology, drivers can access their vehicle and automatically load preferences – such as seat position, climate settings, music preferences, and previous destinations – in a seamless way.

Connected vehicles can also provide drivers with useful information such as gas prices, weather reports, service station locations, and alternate routes. While these features are secondary to the design and mechanics of the car itself, they help set vehicles apart at a time when customers are seeking both customization and simplicity.

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Safety

As in most industries, automakers have no shortage of customer and product data. However, it’s through careful analysis and application that this information can be used to improve customers’ lives. In this case, automakers can use sophisticated onboard platforms and advanced navigation systems to transform large amounts of data into warnings and recommendations for drivers, thereby improving comfort and safety.

For example, a heads-up-display (HUD), which is a type of augmented reality that can be used to display speed, enhance visibility, and confirm stopping distances all on the windshield glass, gives drivers valuable information, while allowing them to remain fully focused on the road. Similarly, improved GPS in smartphones and cars has made pinpointing a vehicle’s location even more precise, which not only makes for better navigation, but also allows emergency services to locate a driver in times of crisis. Eventually, these in-vehicle features can be networked with other cars, making it possible for automobiles to communicate with one another and, in turn, make travel more efficient and secure.

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Technology has also supported the rise of important self-driving options like auto-braking, lane-change avoidance, and auto parallel parking. These features are only the beginning as traditional manufacturers and tech companies alike race to develop a fully self-driving car, a concept that has the potential to eliminate human error, alleviate common traffic issues, and decrease accidents.

Efficiency

While hybrid, plug-in hybrid, electric, and fuel-cell vehicles were introduced long ago, continued technological advancements have helped make these power sources much more mainstream in recent years. In fact, a four-year study by MIT concluded that electric vehicles on the market today could replace 90 percent of the cars used in the U.S., reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent.

While the viability and speed of adoption of these vehicles are influenced by consumers’ perceptions of their driving habits and cost of ownership, auto marketers are also under pressure to reduce manufacturing and material costs, improve the charging infrastructure, and extend the life of the batteries. Fuel-cells, for example, have resurfaced as one possible alternative to traditional cars as their only byproduct is water vapor. Much like electric vehicles, fuel-cell vehicles have an infrastructure hurdle to cross, necessitating that gas refueling stations be replaced with hydrogen ones – implying that the rate of change in the auto industry will be influenced at least in part by the willingness and ability of other industries to adapt.

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Driven by new technology, the global automobile industry is poised for a major transformation. While automakers are forced to contend with a whole host of new challenges – including ever-changing customer preferences and government mandates – they should remain focused on improving the driving experience through enhanced convenience, safety, and efficiency. Our recent report highlights these three pillars and depicts how, in today’s digital age, technology holds the key.

By Timothy Cory, Associate Creative Director, Creative Strategist for Consumer Experience, and Design Specialist, SapientNitro Detroit

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