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To drive or be driven

Motor manufacturers are faced with what can simplistically be reduced to two markets – those who want to be driven, and those who like, want or need to drive. Builders and farmers, for example, need to be able to drive in places that are unlikely to be navigable by autonomous vehicles for decades, if ever. Commuters covering the same route day and day out, on the other hand, would be only too happy to have someone or something else doing the driving. The easy answer is to have better (or near perfect) mass public transport systems, but way too many cities around the world were designed for cars and not people. It will take some serious social engineering (driven by political will) and massive infrastructure investment to be able to provide reliable, safe and affordable mass public transport to commuters in cities like Lagos (Nigeria), Mumbai (India) and New Orleans (USA). So, the next-best solution is to have individual cars which drive themselves (which should prove interesting in down-town Lisbon (Portugal) or the Egyptian capital Cairo. Marketers doing the math may well find there are more existing and potential customers in the world’s most highly populated and therefore congested developing cities than in the world where there is public transport, traffic lights work and there are lines to demarcate lanes. Even the millennials (Generation Y) – thought to be a lost generation to the car market – have discovered that they need wheels. Research has found that it was not an aversion to car ownership that kept them out of the market as much as student debt and low job prospects post the 2008 economic implosion. What is not often included in the advertising and marketing hoopla around a new model is its prospects for a second, third and even fourth life of highly complex new vehicles. As a frequent traveler in the larger cities of southern Africa this writer knows that the market is for second-hand vehicles imported primarily from Japan or the UK (it is right-hand-drive country). Again, the math is simple – manufacturers need to be able to sell used cars in order to sell new cars. There are limited used vehicle markets in the UK and Japan (and it is not in the interests of the manufacturers to have an over-supply of cheap second-hand cars in the market), so there needs to be an offshore customer base. Exactly the same is true of the leftt-hand drive markets. So, on the one hand we have OEMs investing billions in technology for autonomous cars, as well as electric vehicles for a market which is not really interested in driving. For them a car is merely an alternative to walking or catching a bus – a necessary evil. On the other there is the rest of the world for which a car or light delivery vehicle is a life-changer. It provides access to schools, clinics, and places of work – and in many cases an income for its owner or driver. They do not need or want a lane departure system (chances are that there are no lanes), smart home integration or even automatic high beam control. What they do need is a vehicle that is affordable, safe, reliable and holds some value for 12 years or more. Interestingly, that is also what millennials are looking for. Affordability “cannot be emphasized enough”. According to research by Auto Trader, the top reasons Millennials say they don’t own a car are purchase and maintenance costs. At the same time Auto Trader found that “a car isn’t just a resource to get from point A to point B, but a statement about who they are. Thirty-three percent of Millennials said that they want a car that stands out and 48% said that they want a car that reflects their personality.” Go figure – they want cheap and personalized. Now we know why automotive marketers are paid the big bucks for the responsibility of steering the industry into the future

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Mon. July 15th, 2024

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