Why Automotive Brands Must Evolve

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, May 9, 2017

We are just a few months away from the launch of a vehicle that could start an automotive revolution on a mass scale. This July, the first Tesla Model 3 will roll off the production line into the hands of over 300,000 people who have put down their deposits for the new vehicle. Prior to this, Tesla had sold tens of thousands of luxury cars to the elite in various pockets of the country. The Model 3 changes all that by putting advanced technologies into the hands of anyone with $35,000, pretty much the average price for a new car today. 

Skeptics and competitors have their doubts about the company’s ability to fully execute the plan on time, deliver at the $35,000 price point, and provide the service network that 300,000 cars demand. But the fact is, most automakers are pretty scared because they realize Tesla is well ahead of them in technology stakes and possesses an attractive brand.

In a short period of time, Tesla has built a brand that runs counter to others in the auto industry. It’s an innovative technology company, not an automotive brand.



What makes Tesla so dangerous to its competition is its software, which provides an updatable platform capable of evolving through the stages of autonomy to get to self-driving. So, there’s a potential lock-in effect for customers. 

The automotive industry is playing catch-up by rapidly trying to become more Valley than Detroit, in an effort to transform their businesses at an accelerated pace. They’re setting up labs, buying technologies, redefining their missions and doing all they can to transform. 

The incumbents possess a veritable arsenal of brands that have a cumulative value in the trillions of dollars. These are the cars that have become unique symbols of status, daring, sex appeal, power, savvy, smarts, open-mindedness and safety. But to compete in this new world order, they’re going to need some updating and refining. 

The Future of Mobility

In Silicon Valley and the surrounding Bay Area, you can catch your first glimpse of the future of mobility. It’s where corporate buses share the roads with Ubers, Lyfts, Chariots and Teslas. It’s where the labs of many automotive companies are now based. The rush to develop and incorporate technology into vehicles is happening at an unprecedented pace. There’s a real fear that without the technology, legacy companies will lack consumer relevance. 

Every brand is trying its hardest to make those advances and to turn their vehicles into machines that can provide a broad range of technologies that fulfill consumer needs.

The companies that have succeeded in Silicon Valley are the ones that have put users at the center of everything. The tech leaders are dedicated to creating better things and better experiences. This is certainly not the case with the automakers, many of whom have products that are at parity, and user-experiences that are often second rate. What to do?

Put the Customer First

While historically automakers have provided real meaning to their owners and drivers, they need to pivot once again to achieve deep relationships. It’s not easy to have strong brand equity and legacy and to have to reposition yourself for a new world. It’s much easier for a new company like Tesla to start with a clean slate, or for strong tech players like Google and Apple to take their already-very-strong brands into the space.

Simply adding tech onto an existing brand isn’t going far enough. Legacy automotive brands need to put customers first, as the best in the Valley do today. They need to think about customer journeys and user experiences. They need to be in the full service of their customers.

Play to Your Strengths and Differences

Don’t forget the power and points of difference that an existing car brand possesses. Systems and technologies, even if they’re advanced, could easily become similar with no brand uniqueness to tell them apart. Legacy brands need to develop a point of view about their user experiences and make a case for what it is that makes them different.

For legacy brands to thrive in the coming decade, they need to bring their unique brand point of view to technological interactions and update their brands with a true consumer-centric perspective.

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