Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported on Ford and other automobile company’s efforts to entice young drivers into buying their products by offering vehicles that can stream Internet music, access news and podcasts, and even “send a tweet.”
I’m sure some consumers will be intrigued by the ability to have their car send a Tweet but I fear Ford and other car manufacturers are making a huge mistake by pursuing such features.
For starters, they are reading “social media” incorrectly. It’s not people’s access to social media that the automobile company’s should be focused on; rather they need to understand how social media is transforming the driving experience.
To wit, a growing number of young people have come to appreciate they don’t need to purchase a car because their social networks allow them to find a ride with a friend or acquaintance whenever they need to go to work or get to a party. When such an option doesn’t exist, they now know they use their smartphones to locate car-sharing services such as RelayRides or ZipCar at the drop of a hat.
In other words, why buy an automobile and deal with all hassles–the upfront costs, the insurance premiums, parking, traffic congestion, etc.–when you can just rent one as needed.
The big shift automobile companies must make is to understand (or as I like to say “unlearn”) that they are no longer in the “car” business. They are “mobility providers.” Daimler’s recent Car2Go experiment with making smart cars available for hire in Austin, Texas and Hamburg, Germany is an excellent of an automobile company trying to make sense of the changing paradigm.
Longer term, I think automobile company’s must disabuse themselves of the notion that people want “a car that Tweets,” and understand consumers just want to be able to listen to music, watch TV, update FaceBook, Tweet or do whatever is coming next in the world of social media. And, surely, something new is coming–we just don’t know what it is.
To this end, I believe young drivers will be more interested in a self-driven vehicle–a vehicle that allows them to continue to access social media with their low cost portable mobile devices–than possess a vehicle that allows them to access social media while they drive.
For a generation of executives and engineers who learned to associate getting behind the steering wheel with a sense of independence and freedom this will be a difficult transition but, I’m sorry to say, young people’s access to social media has already given a huge taste of independence and freedom–and access to a wider world.