Through the 2015 Rearview Mirror: Automotive Trends That Impact the Customer Experience

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From auto recalls to autonomous vehicle tests, 2015 was marked by events that underlie the significant changes taking place in the automotive industry. Technology advances and a demand for greater transparency from automakers are ushering in new opportunities to better engage customers and earn their loyalty. As we prepare for 2016, here’s a look back at several key trends that gained traction this year and will impact customer experiences in the future.

Connected Cars

Automakers continued to roll out vehicles with a wireless network connection, or connected cars, this year. By 2020, about one in five vehicles worldwide will have some form of wireless network connection, amounting to more than 250 million connected vehicles, estimates Gartner. The increased consumption of digital content within vehicles gives brands more opportunities to engage people. For example, General Motors’ OnStar AtYourService platform is designed to deliver relevant offers for nearby restaurants and other businesses based on the driver’s location. But packing cars with the latest Wi-Fi enabled features is not enough to win customers. Companies must understand customer needs and preferences, and then center their services on these insights.

Customer Trust

Numerous high-profile recalls roiled the automotive industry in 2015, giving new momentum to demands for transparency and regulatory enforcement of manufacturers’ operations.  However, recalls are not limited to the automotive industry and companies in other sectors should heed the lessons that can be learned from these recent events. For instance, early detection and correction can greatly reduce the cost of a problem. Companies should look to implement procedures that are designed to identify potentially problematic trends as early as possible. Additionally, as the Volkswagen emissions scandal demonstrates, winning back customer trust can be very difficult. Apologizing for your mistakes and providing a clear explanation of how you will rectify the situation is the first step to (hopefully) regaining your customers’ trust.


Carsharing programs, or car rental by the hour, are changing how consumers get around. These services give consumers all the benefits of car ownership without the high fixed costs. Providers include companies like DriveNow, owned by BMW Inc. and Zipcar, which is owned by Avis. They also include private individuals who participate in peer-to-peer (P2P) carsharing programs, renting their personal vehicles for use through startups like Getaround and JustShareIt.

The growth of the on-demand economy gives new momentum to carsharing services, making such services appealing to people who are increasingly accustomed to renting instead of buying what they need. Some traditional automakers are already targeting consumers who are looking for brief rentals, and other automotive companies would do well to heed the expectations of these customers in order to stay relevant.

Driverless Cars

This year, a number of self-driving cars were tested on the road but the widespread use of driverless vehicles is still many years away. A number of issues must be resolved before such vehicles can become ubiquitous, such as legal responsibility, cost, data security, and privacy. However, self-driving cars offer numerous potential benefits including increased safety, higher fuel efficiency, and more productive journeys, where passengers can direct their attention to other activities along the way. Self-driving, connected cars will enable consumers to treat vehicles as true extensions of their homes, offices, or smartphones. But as mentioned earlier, it’s important for brands to understand their target customers’ needs and deliver relevant experiences. While fully driverless cars are still many years away, companies that are already attuned to their customers’ expectations will have an advantage in identifying opportunities to deliver relevant experiences across any avenue, including self-driving cars.

It’s unquestionable that the automotive industry must change to keep up with customer expectations. Consumers increasingly demand innovative services and products that work seamlessly together, as well as information transparency. To meet these expectations, traditional automakers have to re-examine their business models and find ways to continue to offer value. And, while these changes won’t happen overnight, companies focused on their customers’ needs have a significant advantage over their competitors.

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