Auto sector needs to focus on safety, design, electric for success

Against a rapidly changing industry landscape, re-envisioning our core strategies with regard to mobility will be critical in defining our trajectory for the future

Vivek Srivatsa
Updated: Aug 29, 2022 03:21:09 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

The past few years have been, in many ways, paradigm-shifting for the automotive industry. The post-pandemic reality, coupled with the move towards sustainable, connected, technology-driven mobility has left a lasting impression on customer expectations. While this transition from one ecosystem to another has been replete with its own challenges, leading OEMs within the industry have showcased immense resilience, effectively turning difficulties into opportunities.

Leaders within the Indian automotive sector, in particular, have an exciting and challenging road ahead in converting this long-standing resilience into resounding success. Against a rapidly changing industry landscape, re-envisioning our core strategies with regard to mobility will be critical in defining our trajectory for the future.

Safety and design are paramount

Indian customers have become increasingly aware of the risks that arise from road accidents. Thus, safety has emerged as an important factor when buying cars. Exposure to international markets and unlimited access to information have empowered customers to choose safer cars. Along with wanting safer cars that have undergone crash tests certified by independent bodies, customers have started valuing the inherent structural safety of cars as well. Three-fourths of Indian consumers, according to a survey, said they were willing to extend their budget for safety considerations and preferred to explore four or five-star-rated safety vehicles for future purchases.

This clearly demonstrates that safety should be of paramount importance for OEMs while manufacturing vehicles. Investing where it matters most and placing customer safety at the centre of all our endeavours, will be critical in developing a portfolio that resonates with Indian consumers. This entails covering the basics of passive (such as adjustable seat belts, airbags, rear head restraints, isofix mounts, etc.) as well as active safety features (such as brake assists, tyre pressure monitoring sensors, parking sensors, etc). Further, it will also be worthwhile to spend time and resources researching how advanced technologies can be employed to take safety to the next level, particularly with assistance intelligence (AI) and other digital tools.

Further, the growth of the passenger car market has led to customers discovering new use cases. This in turn has resulted in the development of vehicles with new body styles, sizes and functionalities. The SUV segment is a great example of how growth has led to fragmentation, with the emergence of a variety of sub-styles such as sub-compact SUVs, compact SUVs with high ground clearance, adventure segments, etc. This diversification of market segments in terms of body sizes and styles is expected to continue. OEMs are consequently expanding their portfolios with diverse offerings, developing novel products with contemporary design touches and advanced technology. To drive customer curiosity and effectively leverage their aspirational goals, companies are redefining the way their products are developed and marketed.

Also read: How Maruti Suzuki is gearing up to win back its lost SUV market

Digital-first approach: The key to a delightful customer experience  

Digital consumers are demanding personalised and delightful customer experiences. The transition to digital has been underway for a few years now, but it has accelerated significantly during the pandemic. The automobile industry has been adapting to and addressing these changes proactively and offering innovative solutions that are customer-centric and easy to use. The definition of what comprises a good customer ‘experience’ has also changed over time, and today not only includes driving experience but also purchase and ownership experience. In addition to providing competitive offerings with advanced features, enhanced safety, and contemporary designs then, companies must also continue to provide a sustained focus on strengthening customer relationships. A fruitful customer relationship will help us stay in touch with changing sentiments while establishing a necessary network of feedback and improvement. Further, building resilient impressions on customers can also help propel product popularity through word-of-mouth communication.

Establishing such a relationship will remain reliant on strengthening all fronts and striving to take customer engagement to new heights. Focusing on providing customers with a smooth ownership experience and seamless service assistance will be critical in creating positive relationships. This can entail expanding accessibility to service centres, being available digitally, providing smooth car delivery experiences, and ensuring shorter repair durations. Improvements on all these fronts, plus the establishment of a strong after-sales service system will be critical for the years to come

Shrinking life cycles 

Traditionally, the auto industry has had model upgrade cycles spanning six years, with three-year mid-cycle enhancements. But today, customers are demanding changes at a far quicker rate, intimating us to alter traditional timelines. Customer demographics have transformed, and there has been an evolution in their preferences. OEMs are witnessing an influx of younger customers in showrooms, who view cars as aspirational products— with sophisticated technologies, futuristic designs and a series of personalisation options.

Thus, cars today, in the mind of consumers, must come not only with the benefits of enhanced performance and safety but also sophisticated designs and accommodative features that allow sufficient personalisation. As per this significant shift in perception, the way passenger vehicles are created and pitched has also undergone a transformation.

The future is electric

With leading studies showing promising results for electric cars reducing end-to-end emissions, EVs are expected to become the default choice of sustainable transport for both, personal and commercial mobility needs. Further development in sustainable sources of power will further enhance this trend. OEMs are understandably betting big on the green mobility wave, focusing on engineering sustainable design philosophies that are timeless, promote wellness, and increase the overall quality of life. They are showcasing aspirational products as ‘concepts’ with a futuristic design language, accentuating aerodynamics and appealing to discerning customers.

We must make the best of our challenges while continuing to place our customers at the very centre of all our efforts. By harnessing our learnings from past experiences, and transforming roadblocks into breakthroughs, we must forge the path leading to a new millennium of e-mobility.

The writer is head marketing, sales and service strategy, Tata Passenger Electric Mobility.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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