Profound changes are taking place in the automotive landscape and analysts are predicting a greater level of change in the next decade than in the previous half century.
So what does the future hold? We’ve taken a look at three parts of the automotive industry’s commercial future – the landscape of the new car market, the changing behaviours of car buyers and the future of automotive lead generation.
The future of the new car market – is it heading for an electric future?
One of the hot topics of 2017 has been the increasing exposure for all things electric, with growing political, market and entrepreneurial will to make it happen. The transition to dominance will likely take decades but each step towards it has huge implications for the market. Removing the engine will lead to a swathe of redundant associated organisations in the supply chain, which could have huge implications for aftersales business and dealer profitability.
The pace of change to electric is predicated on a number of factors, not least of which is battery costs coming down to a point whereby electric pricing is competitive with traditional fuel models. And then of course there’s the recharge, range, and performance conundrums to solve.
Growth and decline in the market
But despite these hurdles it will inevitably happen. Electric accounts for less than 5% of the market but year-on-year growth continues and manufacturers are taking it seriously. As evidenced by VW announcing its plans to invest $84bn into electric to bring 300 models to the market by 2030.
In addition, new entrants are looking to make their mark – the recent news of Dyson’s ambitions highlights the diversity of companies determined to bring about an electric future for automotive.
While electric’s share grows, the SMMT reported that the overall UK market declined for a sixth consecutive month in September 2017 with 9.3% fewer cars registered. At the same time, demand from private buyers dropped 8.8% and business and fleet buyers declined by 5.2% and 10.1% respectively.
Macro market and economic conditions are driving this downturn. Uncertainty over Brexit is having an impact on consumer confidence, with expensive new car purchases being put on hold.
Another significant development in 2017 is the reappearance of various scrappage schemes, this time around for older diesel vehicles.
Unlike eight years ago, though, manufacturers haven’t been prompted by government backed scrappage schemes. Instead, they’ve launched scrappage deals of their own positioned as removing dirty diesels from the road. But at the same time helping to stimulate new car sales, in a period of declining year on year sales.
Given the value of a new car purchase, one of the main considerations is affordability and, in practical terms, how much a new car will cost on a month basis.
Personal contract plans are now the dominant force in financing new cars. Approximately nine out of 10 new vehicles in the UK are purchased this way, providing flexibility for the consumer. This method of financing has proved extremely popular primarily because headline monthly rates are very competitive and the consumer can simply pass the vehicle back, essentially never really ‘owning’ it.
Forecasting residual vehicle values is extremely important for OEMs as there is a guarantee to buy the vehicle back at a set price. If residuals are incorrectly set then finance houses can find themselves in the position of having overpriced stock on their books. Given the likely trends for diesel pricing, this could be a potential headache for OEMs over the next few years.
The future of car buying behaviour – is the age of ownership coming to an end?
Given the significant purchase value and choices available, consumers will always need quality content and advice to help guide them through the myriad of options when it comes to deciding which new car to buy.
We believe the trend for increased researching online, rather than visiting multiple showrooms, will continue. This means the visits-per-dealer-to-sales ratio will continue to fall as consumers head to dealerships with more clarity about exactly what car they want to buy.
In many cases, they will have decided what to buy before they walk-in to a dealership, which will typically lead to higher conversion rates. Naturally, though slowly, dealerships are capitalising by being repositioned into digital showrooms, with Audi leading the way in London.
Whilst the predominant digital behaviour today is ‘research’ rather than ‘purchase’, online purchasing is one area in which the automotive market lags behind many others.
Such purchases account for a small fraction of the market, and whilst this is in-part due to the high value nature of a new car purchase, there are a plethora of other market dynamics which slow the pace of change.
Digital new car configuration and online purchasing will continue to rise though and become an increasingly important part of the consumer journey. This could fundamentally change the landscape for dealerships as we know them today.
Usership v Ownership
The concept of ‘usership’ rather than ‘ownership’ is a growing social trend which will have significant implications for the automotive market.
As we move slowly to a world of self-drive and autonomous vehicles, the traditional concept of owning a vehicle is likely to become increasingly marginalised – particularly in dense cities – in favour of simply demanding the right vehicle at the right time via connectivity.
The future of lead generation – can innovation drive quality?
Automotive lead generation has arguably also been guilty of being slow to change. But change it must to make real progress.
At The Lead Agency, change and progress have been a theme of 2017 with chat bots that start online conversations to predictive engagement platforms that natively present relevant new car content across a network of mainstream automotive websites.
Through a greater understanding of each car buyer’s needs and improved services, we’re creating quality new customer opportunities for more than 25 UK OEMs.
Contextual relevancy and omni-channel engagement
Outdated contact forms are being outperformed online by native units providing contextual relevancy. This is based on an understanding of what content is being consumed, and other known data points about the consumer. Conversions are being increased by introducing relevant offers at the right time – for example, serving discounted new car offers to consumers who have shown intent on the OEMs own site or other relevant automotive websites.
Likewise, consumers today are communicating in an ever-increasing number of ways – via traditional methods such as email and phone, as well as dominant social platforms such as Facebook and Whatsapp. They expect to be able to communicate through their preferred method and businesses need to make it easy for consumers to communicate via their channel of choice, rather than force them down a particular channel.
Facilitating the continuation of the consumer’s conversation will ultimately win out. Omnichannel is no longer a nice to have.
Handling consumer data
One of the other significant challenges for OEMs and their lead providers is how their respective CRM systems talk to one another. Each OEM CRM is different, which can make it difficult to transfer rich consumer data, such as existing finance details.
To avoid missed opportunities for our clients, we have built a bespoke customer acquisition ecosystem designed to address these pain points and ensure the consumer’s needs are understood. This means dealership sales teams are well-equipped to meet them and make a sale. Another important step we’re taking is to grow a team of optimisation specialists to work with our clients right the way through the sales process and maximise conversion potential.
Focus on quality
We believe the days of high volumes of low quality leads will become a thing of the past. OEMs will require and therefore expect a mix of quality lead types, which will drive disruption and innovation within the lead generation industry.
Customer acquisition companies that embrace this change and the opportunity it represents will ultimately be the ones that maintain relevance and succeed.
Tom White is automotive managing director for The Lead Agency.