From Machine to Mindset: Data and the Driving Experience

Consider the last time you got behind the wheel of a car and drove from one place to another. How much of that experience was purely physical — opening the car door, turning the key, and hitting the gas pedal — and how much was influenced by (or centered solely on) a digital experience? How much of that experience was affected in some way by data?

The vehicles we rely on for our daily commutes are no longer merely machines. The rise of digital, big data, and artificial intelligence (AI) has fundamentally transformed the driving experience in more ways than one. Unbeknownst to those behind the wheel, perhaps nothing has had a greater influence on the experience than data.

Just a few weeks ago, we published a blog introducing some of the extraordinary changes we see on the horizon for the automotive industry — among them was how data will continue to play a central role in the industry’s future. Our reasoning behind the inclusion was simple: While data collection under the hood is nothing new, the ways in which automotive brands leverage this data to enhance the driver’s experience is still largely in its infancy.

Although these brands still face formidable challenges on the road ahead, these obstacles pale in comparison to the opportunities that big data has in store not just for the vehicles they design and manufacture but for the experience they provide.


Data Behind and Beyond the Wheel

Long gone are the days when vehicles’ data gathering capabilities were limited only to a vehicle’s performance. Modern vehicles are more seamlessly connected to drivers’ digital lives than ever — from the type of music they stream during their commute to the locations they frequently visit. Innovators within the automotive industry are privy to virtually unlimited amounts of data not just about how vehicles operate on the road but how drivers’ usage can influence how cars are designed and manufactured in the future.

Just take the new Mercedes Benz B-series, which not only transmits information about vehicle health but tracks how many times seatbelts have been tightened and the car’s GPS position in real time. The storage of data about mileage in city traffic, and on country roads and motorways, also gives original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) unprecedented insight into how a car is performing — and the ability to create custom usage profiles for individual drivers. Ultimately, these usage profiles will provide drivers with a more customized, and performant, experience down the line.

Because more robust data can and should translate to a more intuitive and frictionless driver experience, the next logical step is determining the ways in which the drivers themselves will interact with and control it. Will cars collect only data over which the driver has little control, or will more advanced user interfaces allow drivers to input their own data to create a more personalized driver experience?


Data ownership: the driver, the manufacturer, or both?

Of course, gathering more data about the driving experience begs the question: Where (and how) is this data stored, and who ultimately owns it? Unsurprisingly, consumers and automotive executives are not yet in agreement on who should own both customer and vehicle data. In fact, one KMPG survey found that consumers overwhelmingly believe they should own this data, whereas auto executives are evenly split between consumers and OEMs.

That said, modern consumers are savvier than ever when it comes to the security and control of their personal data and, understandably, are often reluctant to relinquish it. This is especially true as data breaches and irresponsible management of personal data by trusted brands dominate news headlines. Even so, our modern digital landscape demonstrates that consumers will allow brands to gather and utilize personal data so long as they recognize the value of doing so — only if they’re privy to how and under what circumstances this sensitive data will be used.

This adds an entirely new layer of trust to the driver/manufacturer relationship. Now and in the future, automotive brands will need to carefully consider their game plans when it comes to the security and storage of the data they collect — including their method for fostering and nurturing consumer trust.


The connected driver experience

There are myriad ways that data influence our daily commutes. Digital systems are collecting data on our oil life, gas mileage, tire pressure, and engine health on a near-constant basis. As these digital systems become even more advanced, many modern vehicles are monitoring and collecting information about highway conditions, driving safety, and even the behaviors of other cars on the road — made possible in large part by the rise of connected cars.

Perhaps nowhere in the industry is the debate on car data ownership more heated than in the realm of connected cars because many consumers and automotive organizations alike have already raised concerns about how and why connected car data are used. In fact, the General Germany Automotive Club (ADAC) recently criticized a number of OEMs for their failure to disclose collected data to drivers and manufacturers.

This puts the onus on OEMs to proactively create methods for engaging consumers in the use of their personal driving data as well as more transparent methods for manufacturers and other industries to access and use that data. For OEMs that have yet to create a clear strategy for the governance of car data, time is of the essence. Already, industry leaders are signaling a shift in how central a role car data will play in the industry. In fact, connected cars generate ten times more revenue than a conventional vehicle, according to recent KPMG research, and it goes without saying that the industry will follow the money when it comes to future car design and manufacturing.

So powerful is the impact of connected cars that a staggering 71 percent of industry leaders say measuring OEM market share based on units sold is outdated; new revenue streams and business services bolstered by car data are projected to top $1 trillion in the next decade alone.


The way forward

In today’s rapidly changing digital and automotive landscape, brands do not have the option to adopt a “wait and see” approach to how they handle car data. Consumers already expect their driving experience to be as intuitive and seamless as the other digital experiences they engage with on a daily basis. Because the design and quality of these experiences hinge on data-driven insights, the time to develop a strategy is now.

Consumers already show a willingness to give up data so long as they recognize the value of sharing it — and, in doing so, put enormous trust in the security and transparency of that data on the part of manufacturers. Brands must consider the role that drivers play in this new automotive era. Now and into the future, the real winners will be those who begin to sell not just cars but the driver experience on a broader scale.


Consumers’ expectations regarding the driving experience are already changing — automotive brands today will need to think bigger than behind the wheel. Follow new installments in this multipart series as we continue to uncover how transforming expectations about the driving experience will alter both the automotive industry and society as a whole.