Auto Service World
Feature   May 18, 2016   by Steve Pawlett


publisher’s comment  |  with andrew ross, publisher  »

They just don’t build cars like they used to.
More importantly, though, those who build them don’t see them the way they used to – and neither do those who drive them.
Car companies have changed their focus significantly, from making metal machines that move people to machines that get people to
where they want to go, entertained and informed.
While it is an undeniable truth that every automaker is looking to sell what it is showing (concept cars aside), the conversation has become so focused on things beyond styling and mechanical features that it is easy to forget that these are car companies doing the talking.
It used to be that car companies would seek to excite you about what they built by showing you how much fun it was to drive and where you could go. Now it’s all about giving drivers the capability to do a whole bunch of other things on their way
to where they are going.
It’s all about the “user experience,” in the parlance of the Web world.
In a presentation at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto, Ford Motor Company of Canada president and CEO Dianne Craig stated unequivocally that Ford is being recast as a “mobility company,” going beyond building cars
to providing information and systems to help people get around more efficiently. From dining
to travelling to parking, all at your fingertips – dutifully curated by Ford.
Listening to the presentation was surreal; it struck me as, in equal parts, a utopian view of the car consumer of tomorrow, and a coldly calculated strategy to convince investors that the company was a new-economy business.
Regardless, it is more clear evidence that the car companies recognize that the automobile as a stylish mode of transport is receding into the background, while its capabilities as a “smartphone on wheels” have moved to the forefront.
Horsepower be damned – you’re not going to sell too many cars if the driver can’t get directions to her favourite mall or restaurant, and also provide a playlist for the trip.
This reflects a fundamental shift in how people see their vehicles – and how they maintain them (or rather, don’t maintain them).
When these systems break – because they always do – most people don’t go to the dealer to get them fixed (87%, according to a recent J.D. Power and Associates U.S. market report), and of those who did, less than a quarter actually ended up with a fully successful repair.
The aftermarket is becoming accustomed to the increasing challenges that technology places on the industry, but its members barely consider the impact that this whole new class of technology will have on it. Consider, for a moment, millions of car owners gritting their teeth in frustration every day, just hanging on till they can afford something shiny and new, but who would gladly keep their car longer if “the darn GPS” or whatever “still worked.”
Consider, too, that it might be easily repaired,
or perhaps doesn’t really even need repair at all, just a skilled reboot.
Plainly put, if the aftermarket can effectively keep all those infotainment systems operating properly, you will keep those cars in the hands
of their owners longer, and keep that customer longer too.
It’s something to think about. JN

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