Few people know that in the late 19th Century there was a race to scalability. The race was taking place between electric and internal combustion cars – both sides had hurdles to overcome in order to make a product that was scalable to the mass market. Electric cars had an issue with range and recharging, whilst gas-fuelled cars were loud, hard to start and emitted smoke. Had we lived back then, we would have put money on the electric car winning. The first telephone call, the first motion picture, the first flight, all hinted at a burgeoning technology that was set to take-over. Then came Henry Ford.
The assembly line approach to car manufacturing, along with a few timely innovations, meant the gas-fueled car went from accounting for 22% of the market to 99%. In a new exciting world where cars were not exclusively for the rich, people flocked to an affordable Model T without much thought given to the long-term ramifications of a gas-fuelled car economy.
Jump forward almost 200 years and innovations that had their birth in the same era are lightyears ahead: we have iPhones instead of telegraphs, 3D and VR movies instead of black and white films, we take regular trips to the International Space Station as opposed to a just few hundred feet across the ground. Yet we are only now widely looking into the possibility of changing the internal workings of a car, and it’s mainly thanks to one company – Tesla.
Tesla has single-handedly sparked a revolution with the invention of their Roadster. By solving the range and recharging concerns surrounding electric cars, not only have Tesla put competition on the playing field, they have actually blown it away with the latest Model 3 speed, safety and industry reviews. What’s more exciting is the legacy car companies that are producing comparable electric cars: Chevrolet, BMW, Nissan, Smart, Volkswagen, Fiat, Mercedes, Honda, Kia, Ford and Hyundai. When the Roadster came out in 2006 there were no other electric cars on the market. Within a decade, we have come completely full circle.As we move into a new era where governments are now mandating the adoption of electric cars, how do we continue to maintain the electric uprising? We can look at the Gartner Hype Cycle for clues as to what will next elevate the automotive economy: from autonomous vehicles to in-car software updates to smart city frameworks and the rise of hyper-personalisation and modular vehicles.
Currently, at the peak of inflated expectations that is likely to affect change in the next few years are autonomy, over air software updates and real-time analytics. These features are already available with every new Tesla, so it will be interesting to see how other manufacturers take on this challenge or if companies in the software and analytics field will cross-over and steal share. We already know that Google is working on a self-driving car with years of expertise in the big data and programming fields already.
Agencies need, and should have already, started thinking about how we leverage these new opportunities. Will our bidding algorithms help car manufacturers win the morning drive? Can we already start to think about the future opportunities and start to broker partnerships with seemingly disparate industries? What type of in-car entertainment will exist now that we are freeing up driving time? And how do we buy this new media space? More importantly, how do we integrate with consumer VPAs to get a better understanding of their behaviour in order for us to bring more value to people’s lives?
Of the next disruptive innovations, that are just starting to be developed on the pipeline, many will not even make it to market, but imagine a world where no two cars are the same. Perhaps you buy the body from one company and the engine from another. Or you subscribe to body upgrades as we currently do with our mobile phone contracts. Conceivably, instead of leasing a car on a month-by-month basis, our virtual personal assistants (VPAs) will place a daily order based on competitive real-time bidding and a car will drive itself into our driveways – having had the winning algorithm. Once we are no longer driving ourselves everywhere, and with the front seat reorienting to face the back seat, will we use that newfound time to have in-vehicle services? Get a haircut on the way out, or have a business meeting over breakfast en-route to the office?
Current car manufacturers, agencies and marketers need to be looking into the future of a few different industries to see where points of convergence may occur. Paying attention to growing cultural shifts and technological capabilities, will mean that a 200-year-old innovation may not suddenly come out of nowhere and leave companies playing catch-up. Now that the electric uprising has well and truly started we can look forward to the exciting next automotive developments and where they might take us.