Carmakers are radically restructuring their business models as they seek to harness the lucrative potential of the digital revolution.
Car manufacturing giants such as Ford, BMW and General Motors are just a few of the household name brands gearing up for a transition from being vehicle designers and manufacturers, into providers of transportation services, offering customers car-sharing, short-term hire solutions, and other mobility solutions to match their new needs.
This shift comes as the industry also wrestles with the impact of autonomous and electric vehicles (AVs and EVs) amid a re-thinking of consumer appetite for car ownership in some developed markets as ride-hailing and car-sharing services grow ever more mainstream.
While concerns abound that these new trends may translate into lower sales growth, some manufacturers are seeking to harness the power of in-car connectivity and technology to maximize its potential as a new source of revenue.
Consultancy firm McKinsey estimates in-car connectivity services and feature upgrades could generate an extra $1.5 trillion in revenues per year by 2030 – an increase of 30% compared to forecasts for revenues from conventional vehicle sales and after-sales services. McKinsey also estimates automotive industry revenues will average annual growth of 4.4% to 2030, versus 3.6% from 2010-2015.
Commuters will be transformed into consumers of new goods and services. The earnings from this "passenger economy" will mostly come from mobility-as-a-service, as self-driving vehicles free up millions of hours of passengers' commuting time.
Autonomous driving, electrification and connectivity are likely to revolutionize the automotive industry bringing huge benefits to society through lower emissions, reduced traffic congestion, and increased safety, having a far-reaching impact on vehicle manufacturers' revenue models.
New revenue streamsThis connectivity economy is in part enabled by the development of autonomous vehicles, which will ultimately free up drivers' time and attention.
Once an ambition only for carmakers, now a host of other agile tech firms such as Google and Apple are investing billions in an effort to corner the market and create fully independent vehicles.
In connected and fully automated or autonomous vehicles, software is set to constitute a greater proportion of vehicle value as hardware's relative importance declines.
"Profit margins will be made on the software - that is a major draw," says Dr Kara M. Kockelman, Professor of Transportation Engineering at The University of Texas.
The development of AV technology is of critical importance for connectivity economics as achieving level five autonomy – where vehicles operate entirely without human involvement – transforms the driver into a passenger, whose commute becomes time when they can work or browse online and potentially consume good and services.
By 2025, many more vehicles featuring Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity will be on the road, creating new recurring revenue streams for automakers through mobility and data-driven services. These will include navigation, communications, security, monitoring, maintenance, and in-car sales of services and products.
"Smart operating systems will become the second engine of cars, while data is the new fuel," Jian Wang, Chairman of Alibaba's Technology Steering Committee said at the unveiling of SAIC Motor Corp's RX5 car. The vehicle is embedded with Alibaba's payments technology, enabling drivers to pay for fuel and parking directly from the car.
Tech firms muscle inHowever, although the car connectivity market is certainly lucrative, car manufacturers are not the only ones rivaling to profit from its potential.
"Excelling in the connected car market requires a totally new business, which means profound changes in strategy, mindset, culture and operations across the entire organization," says Andreas Gissler, Managing Director for Automotive, Accenture Strategy.
"All the aspects of entertainment, communication and so on - a huge amount of market value – has been ceded to consumer electronics and software firms," says Dr Richard Viereckl, Head of Automotive Advisory for Europe, Middle East and Africa for Strategy&.
"Automakers aren't going to win this back, but safety, security and car services like fleet management are easier for automakers to defend."
Despite concerns of a downturn in the popularity of car ownership amid a surge in car-sharing, ride-hailing, and mobility services, analysts predict sales growth will continue into the coming decades, even factoring in the advent of AVs.
"We've been investigating this for eight years and all our research indicates there will be a sales increase," says Dr Viereckl.
Quicker replacement rates"Robo-taxis will achieve a much higher utilization – cars right now are on average only used 2% of the time. When we have these AV fleets and robo-taxis, we expect utilization to reach 70-80%, so they'll be doing many more miles and will be replaced sooner, perhaps every 3-4 years. That's what will push car sales," continues Dr Viereckl.
Up to 10% of cars sold in 2030 will be bought with the purpose of being a shared vehicle, McKinsey forecasts. Despite greater car-sharing, global sales volumes should grow 2% a year to 2030, the consultants predict, although at a slower rate than the 3.6% annually seen during 2011-2015.
Rapidly evolving technology will spur consumers to replace vehicles sooner, in much the same way people want the latest smartphone.
"Automakers can perform over-the-air upgrades to some extent, but there are particular sensors or other technologies that are hard-wired into the vehicle for which that would be more difficult," says Dr Kockelman.
"There may be a technology pack that can be removed from an automobile and upgraded so that the shell, the chassis, and everything else is not wasted (or scrapped early) because there is a lot of value there," adds Dr Kockelman.
Transforming transformation capability"Traditional carmakers and suppliers need to significantly accelerate their transformation capability," says Dr Viereckl. "Their current rate of innovation is too slow to keep up with all the new players entering the field."
Having ceded entertainment services to media and tech companies, it's vital for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to control other connectivity services because these are their link to the customer.
A 2017 study by The University of Texas estimates software currently constitutes 10% of a vehicle's value, with the software and hardware interfaces currently operating largely independently of each other. As connectivity increases, the two systems will merge into a single operating system, and software is likely to eventually account for 40% of a car's value.
Automakers have a number of options for how they can extract maximum value from the car connectivity market. Automakers can create value through a) connected car packages that are bundled into new car sales, b) use of car data to improve company efficiencies, c) use of connected services to differentiate versus rivals, d) establishment of a broad ecosystem of "connected" consumer services, and e) monetization of customer data.
However, that will require manufacturers to adopt an entirely new mindset – cars typically have a multi-year development cycle, whereas digital technologies can go from idea conception to market in a matter of months.
In response, the world's leading automakers are teaming up with global tech leaders. In the last two years, several partnerships were announced including tie-ups between Honda and Visa that will allow for in-car payments similar to the capabilities of SAIC's RX5. Ford has teamed up with Amazon Alexa to provide voice-activated services, while Hyundai and Google Assistant have also joined forces.
Those alliances are in addition to investments in ride-sharing companies, with Toyota now a shareholder in Uber and Southeast Asia's Grab, Volkswagen in Gett, and General Motors in Lyft.
Go it alone at your own riskVolkswagen in 2016 bought PayByPhone, a parking payment mobile app that operates in North America, Europe and Australia. Rival Daimler responded by acquiring PayCash Europe, which will provide electronic payment services under the new Mercedes Pay brand name. Among the services available are car-sharing platform car2go and the mytaxi app.
OEMs will struggle if they choose to "go it alone" Accenture predicts. "To meet consumers' heightened expectations, OEMs will have to provide much more sophisticated options to meet or exceed what handheld manufacturers offer," says Gissler.
"But relying on in-house development resources alone, as they do now, will be impossible. Complicating matters further are fast-paced development-and-release cycles favored by technology companies, producing new features and services after months rather than years. (It's) a pace that needs to be matched by automotive players," continues Gissler.
Lacking the required skills among current staff, automakers have opted to split their organizations, with the core company devoted to conventional processes such as manufacturing the chassis and bodywork, while new divisions focus on innovative technologies and new alliances. Competition for talent is fierce, pushing up wages.
"Similar to the smartphone industry, software-focused companies are forecast to sell and install their operating systems in vehicles manufactured by companies specializing in hardware, while car companies will be able to invest in their own software development to generate a cohesive, integrated experience," the 2017 Texas study notes. "Although this evolution may decrease profit margins in the hardware segment, the increasing value of software gives stronger automakers a new opportunity to generate revenue."
Strategy& recommends automakers follow the lead of Apple and Samsung in developing premium digital services that deter customers from switching manufacturer.
A prime challenge will be to develop connectivity-based services that consumers are willing to pay for, which for automakers will center on helping make travelers' journeys more efficient.
Entering the customer conversation"They'll pay for the right information on the road," says Dr Viereckl, noting the quality and scope of manufacturers' current packages vary widely. "Such things are straightforward, but many of the functions available now don't offer the necessary benefits to entice the end-user."
Connected cars will also bring automakers closer to end users, offering the possibility of daily interactions to sell services, gain market intelligence, and bolster brand identity and customer loyalty.
Some manufacturers are already embracing wholly new sales strategies, ridding themselves of downstream sales partners and no longer participating in car fairs and trade shows.
"Intercommunication with customers, with the end-user, is very important, increasingly so through social networks. Carmakers have to be present and active in those networks because these are the channels through which they can reach the younger generation," says Dr Viereckl.
"This is difficult for such a traditional industry, but we've seen a lot of efforts in this regard. The premium car brands are trying very hard to join with their clients on their communication platforms. Heritage brand values are less important for the new generation of buyers," adds Dr Viereckl.
As autonomous cars take to the road, manufacturers' margins are likely to shrink because a large proportion of these vehicles will likely be bought by companies providing ride-hailing and car-sharing services. Such firms will be able to demand bigger discounts than individual consumers, while sharing will probably be more prevalent in Europe than North America, where there is greater demand for individual vehicle ownership.
Connectivity goes intercontinental"The most we might see in the U.S. is maybe 50 percent passenger travel using shared vehicles, as technology prices ultimately fall," says Dr Kockelman.
"But, in the early stages, AVs are almost all going to be in shared fleets because those operators can meet the terms of the contracts the OEMs will have for these vehicles so that they're not put at risk of collisions and other bad news for the manufacturers. AV-usage risk is something manufacturers can more easily manage if their customers are big businesses versus an individual household."
While poorer quality roads and the lack of adequately detailed mapping will deter the roll-out of higher-level autonomous vehicles in developing countries, they will remain big markets for level two automation, which include safety features such as pedestrian detection and blind-spot monitoring.
"Humans are going to remain in charge of a lot of the vehicles, but these may have automated (emergency) braking systems and a lot of other intelligence that's easy or relatively inexpensive to include but quite helpful," says Dr Kockelman.
"Connectivity is pretty cheap, so I don't think adding connectivity is a problem in developing countries if they have good cellular tower provision for 5G. You don't need continuous cellular transmission to be informed that the road ahead is blocked so should take a different route."
From commuters to consumersSwitching to driverless vehicles could transform journeys from what often feels like wasted time for travelers into a welcome and profitable opportunity for business.
"Vehicles will become transportation experience pods," Intel wrote in June 2017 to accompany a report it commissioned on the passenger economy.
The chipmaker describes futuristic in-car services including on-board beauty salons, touch-screen tables, customized media content tailored to varying journey times, location-based advertising and even moving hotels.
Consumer use of such applications will generate annual revenues of $203 billion in 2050, Intel forecasts. Meanwhile, according to a study by consultancy McKinsey, the amount of time saved globally by 2050 thanks to the roll-out of autonomous vehicles could equate to an astonishing 1 billion hours per day.
Netflix, automobile and chillThis could mean a surge in revenues for content providers such as YouTube and Netflix, with McKinsey forecasting global digital media companies could earn an extra €5 billion in annual revenue for every additional minute commuters spend on mobile internet while in a driverless vehicle.
The Intel-commissioned report also predicts automakers could become transportation network operators in particular cities, much like how taxi franchises in some Chinese cities are assigned to carmakers.
Similarly, real estate developments, hotels and universities will also provide driverless vehicles to residents and guests; likely so too will employers as a perk to attract staff.
Autonomous vehicles will also enable retailers to create mobile stores that deliver to the customer wherever they might be, Intel predicts.
Connectivity combats climate changeConnectivity, autonomous driving and electrification are all critical factors in the effort to cut emissions and hit the global climate change targets.
While gasoline vehicles may have reached their limit in terms of fuel efficiency, power generation is becoming cleaner as renewables take a greater share of the energy mix. As a result, consumer and commercial adoption of electric vehicles – recharged through the power grid – will massively reduce emissions.
Energy use, whatever the source, should also decline as vehicles with higher levels of autonomy go mainstream. These will be controlled by algorithms designed to drive smoothly, obey the speed limit and only accelerate when necessary.
Autonomous vehicles (AVs) will also be in constant communication with other vehicles as well as traffic intersections, enabling them to coast at a near-constant speed.
"There are also aerodynamic effects from following closely behind another vehicle, something that would be terrifying and difficult for a human to do, but a computer has that ability," says Jeffery B. Greenblatt, a Staff Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.
"That's platooning, which is often touted for large trucks because they are aerodynamically inefficient, but when trucks follow one behind another there's a significant advantage, particularly as that gap closes."
Coasting to efficiencyPlatooning and near-constant speeds can provide energy savings of up to 20%, Greenblatt predicts.
"Mixed up in that is a third very important factor," he adds, "which is the assumption of switching to a shared vehicle model where vehicles are operated by a fleet manager or maybe it would be independently operated, but a shared resource like Uber, Lyft."
McKinsey estimates shared vehicles could account for 30% of kilometers driven in new cars sold in 2030, while by 2050 one-in-three new cars bought could be a shared vehicle.
But amid this bullish outlook, there are concerns.
"We have to be really careful how we do it," says Dr Kara M. Kockelman, Professor of Transportation Engineering at The University of Texas.
"We're releasing a genie here that's going to make driving easier, so business as usual with connectivity and automation means more traffic, more congestion, more emissions and less walking. Public transit systems may lose out."