Issue: Aug 2009


Auto Industry Urged to Use Vehicle as Communications Platform



Telematics Pioneer Says Industry Has Opportunity to Re-Shape the Way It Communicates With Customers

by John Larkin

In the midst of what could be the worst year in automobile sales in decades, telematics pioneer Steve Millstein sees a positive sign in that the automotive industry appears on the verge of dramatically re-shaping the way it listens and communicates with its customers.

Millstein, president of ATX Group, one of the world's leading providers of customized connected vehicle (telematics) services to global automobile manufacturers, told attendees of the Center of Automotive Research's annual Management Briefing Seminars today that vehicle manufacturers representing nearly 85 percent of the U.S. market were currently investing in connected vehicles via wireless communications as a way to generate new revenue streams and pull diagnostic data in real-time. But he emphasized vehicle manufacturers need to take the next step to maximize the value in their investment, by extending the connection to include communicating and listening in real-time to their customers' experiences with their products and in-vehicle features.

"In a world increasingly dominated by real-time dialogue - through blogs, Twitters and networked devices - customers often have control of your message, but you have the ability to compete with them in this new media environment through connectivity," he said, noting that automakers are among only a very few manufacturers in the world with the ability to communicate with customers in real time as their products are being used.

Millstein said customer product reviews, complaints and bad service experiences can now be addressed in real time, and consumer perceptions shaped via the collection of real-time driver experiences through networked cars and social media. Noting the lack of differentiation in vehicle styling and performance, Millstein also saw personalization of content via connectivity as a key differentiator among automotive brands in the near future.

For vehicle manufacturers to capitalize on this positive trend in the midst of a turbulent new vehicle market and forecasts for slow growth in the coming years, Millstein said connected vehicle program deployments would have to be elevated to more strategic planning levels within vehicle manufacturers, incorporating objectives of departments across the organization and their affiliated dealerships.

"Most important, the marketing department must be brought in at the earliest planning stage," he said. "In short, connected vehicle strategies can no longer be simply "siloed" in a single department - not if you really want to listen to your customer and want to compete in an age where the traditional sales funnel has changed, consumers expect immediate information and mass media advertising and cash incentives no longer play a dominant role."

Millstein also cited the need for automobile manufacturers to connect their back office information technology infrastructures to their networked service providers and vehicles, to tap into data not only generated in real-time by the vehicle, but by drivers and vehicle owners. He also stressed the importance of investing in off-board communications technology rather than in-vehicle technology, thereby enabling vehicles to receive applications that don't become obsolete early in the vehicle ownership life cycle. These applications will play a greater role in differentiating vehicles and in retaining current customers' business.

ABOUT ATX:

ATX Group (www.atxg.com) is one of the world's leading providers of customized, connected vehicle services to global automobile manufacturers. ATX pioneered connected vehicle services in 1996, and today provides innovative safety, security, communication, navigation and information services to vehicle owners through many of world's most distinguished automotive brands, including Toyota, Lexus, BMW, Peugeot, Mercedes-Benz, Maybach, and Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.

ATX also customizes services to help automobile manufacturers and their affiliated dealerships use telematics data and multiple customer contact channels to reduce costs, enhance vehicle servicing, and more closely manage customer relationships and contacts with the vehicle through its lifetime. ATX operates from Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, and Dusseldorf, Germany.

ATX is a division of Cross Country Automotive Services (www.crosscountry-auto.com), a leading provider of mobile assistance services to motorists and enhanced claims management services to automobile insurance carriers.


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