There’s a price to be paid by automakers who miss the mark on predicting what consumers want.
“The costs of getting it wrong are incentives, market-share loss, deteriorating financial performance, dissatisfied customers, third-party criticism, and commoditized/being viewed as an appliance,” said Sandy Stojkovski, President of Scenaria Inc. and moderator of Tuesday morning’s "Predicting Desire" panel session in the AVL Technology Leadership Center at the SAE 2013 World Congress.
Of course, going in the wrong direction happens. Think in-vehicle phones colliding with the ubiquitous cell phone. As pointed out by Michael O’Brien, Vice President of Corporate Planning & Strategy for Hyundai Motor America, the in-vehicle phone is an industry example of “technology moving much faster than our ability to plan.”
While planning for the future is still in vogue, automakers and suppliers are finding everything has fundamentally shifted in the age of instant information and social media.
“All of the energy and resources that our companies are placing in engineering and basic technology development needs to be matched by the effort--in terms of innovation--that we’re placing in customer information gathering. That’s where the low-hanging fruit is right now,” O’Brien said.
John Waraniak, Vice President of Vehicle Technology for the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) said one rule of consumer engagement is that “People buy on emotion and justify with logic.”
Ralph Gilles, President and CEO of the SRT Brand & Motorsports & Senior Vice President of Product Design for Chrysler Group LLC, said niche vehicles tend to stir up passionate sentiments. “The SRT brand is absolutely about desire; it’s nothing but desire.”
But visual appeal isn’t the only draw for customers. Consider the Dodge Dart’s customization aspects. “The car can be configured over 150,000 different ways,” Gilles said, adding, “We’re scrambling because our system isn’t really made up for this level of complexity. So it’s kind of a very steep learning curve understanding what the consumer wants.”
Predicting what consumers don’t want is also important.
“Technology for technology’s sake will never be consciously demanded by the consumer, unless it does something for them, unless it makes their life easier, unless it makes everything seamless and easy. If you just do a ‘technology car’, you’re going to ruin it,” said Gilles.
Technology needs to be relevant to its audience in order to spark desire.
Said Waraniak, “Customer satisfaction does have a point of diminishing returns. Adding another cupholder, adding another USB port, gives you a modest—maybe an insignificant—increase in customer satisfaction. But it doesn’t get you to desire.”