How to Disrupt the Automotive Disrupters

Kevin Root |

            How to Disrupt the Automotive Disrupters

A lot has been written about how the automotive industry is ripe for disruption. Beepi, Shift, Carvana, Roadster, and others are gunning for the retail side of the industry, all offering an “alternative” to traditional sales methods.

Tesla, Google, Apple, Local Motors and Faraday Future are attacking the traditional automotive OEM side.

Silicon Valley VC firms are backing these efforts with million of dollars. Why? Because the data from consulting firms, research companies and millions of consumers all point to the same thing – the current process of buying a car is not aligned with what consumers want.

Before you point out that dealers are selling cars in record numbers today indicating all is well, I would point to recent data from two completely different sources* that show if things were different, dealers and manufacturers would be selling even more cars than they are now. This clearly indicates that there is both room for improvement – or disruption.

So how can the main players in the industry keep the disrupters at bay? It starts with a deep understanding of what consumers want to see improved. It differs depending on where you sit in the channel, but in all cases it comes down to one thing- personalization. The days of one size fits all are over – and that applies to researching, shopping, buying and owning a vehicle. Here are a few examples:

3rd Party Vehicle Sites:

Most vehicle research takes place on OEM and 3rd party sites. Consumers trust OEM and 3rd party sites but feel the latter are more objective. The drawback is that most of the information on 3rd party sites is presented in a “one size fits all” format.

Information is generic and a hassle to sift through and get to what is relevant. Would shoppers considering family vehicles benefit from evaluations and insight from others who have similar criteria? Would ratings and reviews from people who have similar values and experiences to my own be more beneficial than those who come from a younger driver who is on his first car? Would you find it valuable to seamlessly ask your trusted friends and family via your social network for input and advice on the vehicles on your short list and be able to do so while on the research site?

The answer to all of these is yes. Would this kind of personalization be more valuable? The answer is yes. Do the established 3rd party sites have more ability to do this than the start-ups? Absolutely.

Dealer Websites

What is the purpose of a dealership website? Most would say to provide information to the dealership’s existing customers and prospects. Why then is nearly all the content oriented to selling cars? Why is it that once I buy a vehicle from the dealer, the website still treats me like am still shopping for a car? Why not recognize that I am a customer and provide personalized information for me, right from the home page, without me having to wade through sales and inventory related content?

Shouldn’t I be able to see my vehicle’s service information easily on the same site as the place that wants to do all my service work? The dealer knows what model I own and could monitor my exact mileage (more on how below) then provide me with model and mileage-specific and personalized service reminders. They could also keep track of my full service history, including work I have postponed, in a place I can easily access and review. Even better is if I can compare it to manufacturer recommended service intervals.


Much has been written about how dealers can do a better job by personalizing the sales process and adjusting it to preferences of different buyer types. Let’s go beyond that and talk about using existing technology to personalize the ownership experience.

Today most cars don’t provide the dealership with real-time vehicle data similar to technology that will be available via connected cars. Information like actual miles driven and MPG, and real-time notifications of maintenance or warning indicators are generally not relayed in real time back to the dealership – and thus not available to the consumer via a personalized ownership page on the dealer website.

However, this information is available using the OBD-II port (on most cars 1996 and newer) and third-party products that plug into it from companies like Automatic and Carvoyant. Dealers could use these types of products to get real-time vehicle information and monitor their customers’ cars, populate a secure vehicle history page and then provide accurate, personalized model and mileage -specific service reminders and vehicle service history, thus personalizing ownership.

Personalizing service and maintenance information is a win-win for both owners and dealerships. By making information quickly and easily accessible to owners maintaining their investment gets a lot easier. At the same time, it drives more service revenue to the dealership. Long term, it builds loyalty and a higher likelihood of repeat business and referrals.

Vehicle Manufacturers

Finally, let’s talk about the vehicles themselves. We all have smart phones and nearly everyone’s phone is personalized the way they want with different apps, tools and screen settings. Yet with vehicles, very few are built that can be easily personalized with the ease that we are accustom to with our phone.

But not for long, thanks in large part to Tesla, Google and Apple who all realized that the vehicle is ripe for personalization too. The vehicle’s center stack is the next battle-ground to be won and will be what differentiates what has been, up until now, a commodity. The manufacturers that realize this, embrace it, accelerate and optimize the execution will be those who have the best shot at fending off the disrupters.

So yes, there are many who want to disrupt the car business. However, those who are most at risk of being disrupted also have a prime opportunity to lead if they are willing to listen to customers and adapt. Personalization is a key to success.