AU­TONOMOUS CARS ALIEN­ATE PETROL­HEADS

How au­tonomous ve­hi­cles will im­pact ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing, car de­sign­ers, brand loy­alty and the COE sys­tem.

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LLAST No­vem­ber, Toy­ota Mo­tor an­nounced to the world that it wants to be known as a mo­bil­ity com­pany, and not just a car com­pany. It did so with the launch of its Start Your Im­pos­si­ble cam­paign, part­ner­ing the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee and the In­ter­na­tional Par­a­lympic Com­mit­tee to tell the world that it makes more than just cars.

In Septem­ber this year, the Start Your Im­pos­si­ble cam­paign was in­tro­duced to Sin­ga­pore at a huge event un­der­scored by Toy­ota agent Bor­neo Mo­tors nam­ing lo­cal Olympics gold medal­list Joseph School­ing as its brand am­bas­sador.

Toy­ota is not the only one head­ing in this new di­rec­tion. Mer­cedes-Benz, BMW and

CON­SUMERS WILL NOT CARE WHICH DRIVER­LESS CAR FER­RIES THEM AROUND, AS LONG AS ONE IS AVAIL­ABLE WHEN THEY NEED ONE.

Volk­swa­gen have gone into the car-shar­ing space. Audi has rolled out its on-de­mand busi­ness, where con­sumers can rent an A3 hatch­back or TT coupe for as short a term as four hours. Re­nault has part­nered Ikea to of­fer its ve­hi­cles for fur­ni­ture de­liv­ery. We have seen this com­ing for a while now. With the big­gest au­to­mo­tive mar­kets reach­ing ma­tu­rity and sat­u­ra­tion, car com­pa­nies have had to look for new growth av­enues.

But this time, the quest to be­com­ing a “mo­bil­ity” provider hinges on the prom­ise of au­tonomous tech­nol­ogy. Yes, driver­less cars. Be­cause when fully au­tonomous ve­hi­cles ar­rive (not be­fore 2030), there will be a sig­nif­i­cant shift in con­sumer be­hav­iour.

While there will still be many who will con­tinue own­ing cars, oth­ers – per­haps the less welloff – should come to see cars as a ser­vice rather than an as­set. When that day comes, a size­able por­tion of car sales will be­come fleet sales – in essence, (driver­less) taxi fleet sales. This will have pro­found im­pli­ca­tions for, among other things, ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing. Will car com­pa­nies need to spend the bil­lions they now spend world­wide on ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns? Will they need a mar­ket­ing depart­ment staffed by MBA hold­ers? Will they need to spon­sor fu­ture Olympic gold medal­lists?

Prob­a­bly not. And if they do, it will only be for cars tar­geted at folks who still want their own pri­vate trans­port – not to be shared by all and sundry.

In the case of Toy­ota, it will be re­served for its Lexus cars. And not all mod­els, ei­ther. Just the high-end vari­ants.

For the rest, there is no need for ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing, be­cause of one sim­ple rea­son – con­sumers will not care which driver­less car fer­ries them around, as long as one is avail­able when they need one. When was the last time you saw a car­maker ad­ver­tis­ing its taxi model? So, there. That does not mean car­mak­ers need no longer com­pete. Each will still have to con­vince fleet buy­ers that their au­tonomous prod­ucts are the best. So, the board­room pitches, win­ing and din­ing, and plant vis­its will still carry on.

Me­dia test-drives and life­style jun­kets, on the other hand, will dwindle. They will be con­fined to lux­ury and sports mod­els. De­mand for car de­sign­ers might dwindle as well. Be­cause with au­ton­omy, comes anonymity. End-users will not care how a car looks, as long as it ar­rives on time.

In the Sin­ga­pore con­text, the COE sys­tem will also be pared down. If pri­vately owned cars be­come a niche rather than main­stream, yearly COE quo­tas will be­come much smaller. From a land trans­port per­spec­tive, that might be a pos­i­tive out­come. But from a gov­ern­men­trev­enue point of view, it would be a huge neg­a­tive im­pact. The bil­lions earned from COE bids each year could shrink to mere nine-digit fig­ures, or smaller. How will the Sin­ga­pore Gov­ern­ment make up for the short­fall? That is some­thing worth pon­der­ing. For car en­thu­si­asts who have de­vel­oped brand loy­alty over the years, be pre­pared to have your world turned up­side down, too. Be­cause the car as an ex­pres­sion of in­di­vid­u­al­ity, am­bi­tion and achieve­ment will only be the pre­serve of the very well­heeled. For the rest of us, the car will just be a mo­bil­ity mode, not un­like a bus or a train.

Thank­fully, not all of us will live to see that day.

Fully au­tonomous cars will just be a mo­bil­ity mode to be shared by all and sundry, not un­like buses or trains.

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