Security, not brands, will drive auto consumers in 2030

Automakers must build new digital experiences to stand out

By | 3 minute read | September 17, 2019

When it comes to cars in the next decade or two, the brand is dead—long-live the brand.

Just ask the nearly 12,000 consumers surveyed around the world by IBM’s Institute for Business Value. When quizzed about their vehicle preferences when using e-hailing, ride-sharing or, someday, autonomous vehicle services, almost one-in-two respondents (48 percent) said brand wasn’t a deciding factor.

More consumers, when queried for the institute’s Automotive 2030 report, said they’d prioritize price, convenience and data security over the typical considerations of high-performance features or premium detailing. And these shifting priorities were consistently evident whether consumers were considering how they’re utilizing e-hailing apps or which smart vehicles to purchase someday.

“How are car companies going to keep loyalty to their brands when the traditional things that drivers have looked for—how a car looks, how it handles, the horsepower—are no longer of interest if you’re not driving?” said Benjamin T. Stanley, an author of the 2030 study, Racing Toward a Digital Future. Stanley co-wrote it with Daniel Knoedler and Dirk Wollschlaeger.

Cruise control, lane-assist and infotainment centers have already propelled vehicles’ evolution from mechanics to tech. Stanley points to smartphones as an example of what lies ahead for smart vehicles: our handheld devices have become largely indistinguishable, while what matters more are the user interface and apps inside.

The same is happening with cars and trucks: reliability, affordability, connectivity and especially accessibility—going places both real and virtual—are becoming basic features, not extras.

Q: Thinking about mobility-as-a-service, how important is the brand to you? Click to zoom

“Cars used to be vehicles with little computers embedded throughout them,” Stanley said. “Now they’re becoming giant computers that just happen to take us places.”

This shift is all the more reason auto manufacturers must burnish their brands in ways they never imagined. While most people won’t recall the vehicle make or model from their last e-hailing trip, they do probably remember if they used Uber, Didi, Lyft or Kapten.

This shift has left many automakers racing to figure out how they remain household names. Again, Stanley points to smartphones: Auto companies want to be high-tech innovators, like Apple or Samsung, and not Foxconn, the Taiwanese manufacturer that assembles iPhones, Playstations and Kindles.

As smartphones do much more than make calls, smart cars will have to do much more than move people around to make consumers want to use a specific one. Automakers, Stanley said, will have to develop a seamless digital ecosystem just as compelling as the ones in our pockets.

Given this technological shift, it may come as little surprise what features consumers say they value most in the smart vehicles of the future: the security and privacy of their data.

Q: How interested are you in different ways to move from place to place? Click to zoom

Some 57 percent of urbanites and 46 percent of rural residents strongly agreed that data security and privacy would be their top criteria when using e-hailing, ride-sharing or autonomous vehicles. Only 48 percent and 28 percent, respectively, said the choice of premium brands would sway their decisions.

Having a luxury chassis or turbo-charged engine actually ranked as the least important consideration, despite historic preferences. Differentiators like loyalty programs (53 percent urban and 40 percent rural) and speaking to the vehicle naturally (50 percent urban and 33 percent rural) have overtaken marquee brands in their appeal.

As for who’ll be using cars versus mobility services, the study had some unconventional answers. For both urban and rural respondents, two in three (or 65 percent) said they would still prefer the option of a personal vehicle for their trips a decade from now. That’s despite living in different environments with vastly different transit options.

Such preferences underscore the aspirations of each group. Urbanites are often inconvenienced by the prospect of owning a vehicle but still want one. Rural residents need vehicles to get around but find them expensive and onerous.

All the more reason it’s up to the automakers to find new ways to rev consumers’ engines and keep them as loyal customers.