Autonomy has a lot of hurdles to clear before it dominates the marketplace. But while the debate rages about the true timeline to autonomy, all parties agree it is the future.
This driverless future presents an obvious existential challenge for brands like Porsche, AMG, BMW M, Ferrari, Maserati…
And it’s not just a problem for the top end of town. Any brand that differentiates itself wholly or even partly on dynamic prowess and driver involvement is at risk. Oh what a feeling… Zoomzoom… Robots won’t give a shit.
All brands, whether they like it or not, are staring down an evolutionary tsunami with massive potential to destroy or at the least significantly alter the landscape.
For corporate examples of once-dominant brands who failed to keep pace with technological evolution, look no further than Nokia and Kodak. And Commodore International, whose Commodore 64 was the world’s best-selling PC in the 1980s.
“[This is] the really interesting debate at the moment,” says Michael Bartsch, Volkswagen Australia’s managing director. Bartsch landed the top VW job in Oz a year ago, right in the middle of the Dieselgate scandal. He still believes VW did nothing illegal – in Australia – and, while we can argue the ethics of a cheat device, technically he’s right. There is no legislation outlawing two-mode emission control programs in this country.
Bartsch, who was marketing director for Porsche in Australia before stepping up to run Porsche Cars North America, has some well-formed opinions on the challenge facing all brands that trade on driver involvement. And he knows VW will not be immune.
“The unique selling proposition [USP] for brands has historically been driveline,” Bartsch says, “and then it’s the chassis dynamics and stuff like that.”
In an electric, autonomous world, neither of those elements exist. So how will owners engage with a brand? “That’s exactly the critical issue … That’s why right now the mission of establishing authenticity in a brand is so critical.”
Bartsch believes brand values will become a more potent sales force than a product’s actual performance, no matter how that last part is ‘measured’ (see sidebar).
“You don’t want to end up having a brand that is a commodity because, as you move further down the [road to autonomy], if you are a commodity you will increasingly be a Kelvinator fridge. If you are going to be a fridge, you want to be a Miele or something like that.
“You have to have very clear USPS. And the USPS as you’re moving into the future will be a whole lot of things. It will be your history, your authenticity, your quality. There will still be uniqueness in design. There will always be a design language that you own and that’s why brands like VW, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Ferrari are really well placed.”
It’s an interesting perspective on the retail levers of the future, and every carmaker wanting to play in that future will have people defining, designing and developing those metaphorical levers right now.
Or they risk going the way of the Commodore...
Brands like Porsche, AMG and Ferrari face an existential challenge with a driverless future
Steering Wheel ( Prehistoricus Autonomus)