In the automotive industry the perception of car manufacturers and consumers are drifting miles apart
Authors: Jörg Sgries & Catja Sander
2016 has so far not been the best year for the automotive industry. The VW scandal has dragged all other German manufacturers into the pit. This is confirmed by the trust index of GPRA, the association of leading communication agencies published beginning of May 2016. According to their report the public’s trust in German car manufacturers has declined drastically. In autumn 2013, 49 percent of respondents trusted German car manufacturers. To date this has decreased to only 28 percent. As a comparison, the German mechanical engineering industry was leading the list with 48 percent of respondents.
But is it only the exhaust scandal that caused this dramatic loss of trust? Or are their other factors that played an instrumental role? Looking at three current important trends in the automotive industry – car sharing, e-car and autonomous driving – a large gap between the perception of the consumer and that of the car manufacturer becomes evident.
Adé status symbol!
For one, there is the slow loss of importance of the car as a status symbol. While car manufacturers battle with image loss, more and more people put their decision to buy a new car on hold. In 2012 alone, the rate of buyers declined by more than 20 percent to 2.14 million. Germans are more and more testing alternatives. Car sharing has gained importance, and has spread from major cities to smaller outlying towns. The current city ranking of the German associations of car sharing announced that Karlsruhe is Germany’s car-sharing capital. Here the rate is 2.15 car sharing vehicles per 1000 residents. Stuttgart and Frankfurt/Main hold places two and three with 1.44 and 1.21 vehicles per 1000 residents, respectively. University cities such as Tübingen, Heidelberg and Göttingen rank high as well.
Altogether, more than 16,100 shared vehicles are available in 537 cities for more than 1.26 million registered users (as of January 2016). This number is a 21 percent increase from the previous year. It is expected to increase again as approximately 7.2 million Germans are thinking of registering for car sharing.
Hardly any interest in e-cars
According to current research, no other subject is as widely discussed in auto circles as the electric car – and yet little has been done to make e-cars widespread. The most recent German cabinet decision to support the purchase of an e-car is likely to positively influence the sales figures again. But judging by recent developments, car manufacturers need to review their strategies soon in order to fulfill this prediction. Although they focus on building smaller e-cars, research shows that users are more interested in medium-sized car with an e-engine.
Car manufacturers seem not to have considered the call for German consumers’ electric requirements, which is reflected in the stagnant interest in e-cars. In 2009, five percent of new car buyers were interested in e-cars; today, that number has decreased to four percent.
Buyer groups can be split into two key segments: the environmental activists, who see cars as the main contributor for pollution and wish to drive an environmentally friendly car; and car buyers with a high technological affinity, who see an e-car as a further exciting gadget for their technology collections. This is reflected in the success of Tesla. The electric car pioneer positions its cars and its brand following the Apple model, and manages to reach customers who are hardly touched by traditional car manufacturers.
Autonomous driving requires a paradigm change.
The third trend currently affecting the automotive industry is the discrepancy between consumers’ and manufacturers’ perceptions of the market. On one hand, research shows that autonomous driving is expected to be the next “Big Bang” in the auto industry. But consumers and traditional auto manufacturers still seem to be estranged from the concept. At the same, time aspects of autonomous driving have already been integrated into new cars – such as lane recognition, automatic parking, and distance control.
The problem: car manufacturers have not managed yet to communicate these advancements to consumers as a sensible innovation. Researchers from the Stanford University opine that the industry is responsible for a paradigm shift in the minds of end users; consumers will only be accepting of these new mobility alternatives once they realise the benefits of time savings and energy push they would receive through autonomous driving – especially during rush hour traffic. The industry needs educational work. Car manufacturers are facing an immense communication challenge not only in relation to their information policy, but also in terms of customer satisfaction management. Here it is important to get closer to consumers, to understand their exact needs and demands and to react to these as soon as possible.
This post was co-authored by Catja Sander and Jörg Sgries.
Joerg is an Account Director of Automotive Services at MaritzCX. He joined Maritz in 1998. Since that time, Joerg has worked in the Automotive Division for various Premium and Volume manufacturers.
Catja joined Maritz in 1995 in the Automotive Division and has worked for various Premium, Volume and Niche manufacturers delivering expert services. She has a Masters degree in Statistics.