Beyond the Battery: Creating an End-to-End Mobility Experience
Just a few short years ago, critics thought the race to tech-laden EVs was an overhyped marketing play.
The current flurry of advances has put that criticism to rest—and not just because Tesla hit a trillion-dollar market cap. Green, high-tech vehicles are fast becoming table stakes. Iconic brands like the Ford F-150 and GM Cadillac launched electric models with high-end HMI, while startups like Rivian and Lucid released EV models that are turning heads—and turning up the competitive heat on Tesla. It seems every month a brand raises the bar with better mileage, longer battery life, or more creative energy sourcing. As old and new mobility companies flood the market with energy-conscious, tech-loaded products, each is jockeying to introduce or reposition their brand as the best choice for buyers.
But the modern mobility market is like nothing before it. Ridesharing, micro-leases, adventure travel, and more are redefining how people experience mobility brands. In this fast-evolving landscape, the brand experience begins well before a buying decision is made. From pre-sale to purchase and from ownership to trade-in, mobility companies must deliver a holistic brand story. That’s no simple feat. It takes an understanding that consumers’ mobility, energy, and lifestyle preferences are increasingly intertwined; and a network of agile tech partners that let you rapidly design and deliver the best experience possible across every touchpoint between users and your brand.
Before the Sale: Building a Broader Lifestyle Brand
Brand positioning of mobility firms is no longer as simple as slick marketing of the latest features. Users increasingly view their mobility purchases as an extension of their values. Nowhere is this more evident than in the shift to eco-friendly vehicles. 2021 saw a significant jump in purchase intent for EVs: 48% of McKinsey’s global respondents say they now consider an electric/hybrid vehicle (significantly) more than last year. The number one reason? Sustainability topped the list by a healthy 12-point lead.1
Mobility companies are tapping into creative ways to monetize that eco-conscious lifestyle. Earlier this year, Hyundai partnered with National Geographic to showcase its EVs in the first co-branded augmented reality series, “Outside Academy,” with location-enabled features for driving trips through U.S. national parks.2 Other brands are focused on electrifying wilderness trails for those seeking outdoor adventures: Rivian announced plans to install more than 3,500 quick-charge stations across the U.S. and Western Canada, while Jeep has promised fast-charging stations near all 56 of its “Badge of Honor” trails.3 Rivian takes the eco-friendly mobility lifestyle a step further with its R1T—the EV pickup that beat Tesla to market. The truck offers an optional tent package and a camp kitchen that slides out of the truck body complete with two cooking elements, a four-gallon sink, and a 30-piece equipment set.
While these lifestyle plays show that mobility brands are striving to link themselves to broader experiences, they’re also setting the bar high. Eco-conscious consumers tend to be well-informed and do their research before making a purchase decision. That means how brands provide their electricity will fall under the microscope as well. In most of the world, EVs depend on energy from grids that are still powered by fossil fuels. And as critics love to point out, EV battery production is currently an energy-intensive process. China’s 90+ gigafactories producing lithium ion cells churn out 30-40% more CO2 than ICE factories, and even Shenzhen’s fully electric bus fleet is powered by coal. Some innovative solutions are underway. While Elon Musk has promised a solar-panel option on Tesla’s Cybertruck, Sono Motors has already integrated solar cells into the body of its new Sion car to generate self-sufficient energy for short distances. Sono also used a lithium-iron phosphate battery, which is more eco-friendly to produce, and pledges that Sion will be manufactured using 100% renewable energy. As battery production goes vertical—Tesla already produces its own, and GM, Ford, and Stellantis have recently stated similar intents–it will be incumbent upon brands to align their design and manufacturing with the green goals of the EV movement.
To do that, they’ll need to tap into partnerships with lifestyle brands and energy companies that intersect with mobility. It will take an understanding of firmware and software across the energy, life, and movement categories to create seamless connectivity, user-friendly apps, and a clear plan for bringing innovative features to market quickly as the mobility race heats up. And that innovative approach needs to carry over to the purchase experience itself.
The Purchase Experience: Delivering Dealer-Free Delights
There’s no question that prospective mobility buyers would prefer to avoid dealerships. Coming out of COVID, nearly 60% of consumers globally are now interested in buying cars entirely online or via a contactless sales process—something Tesla has offered since its inception.4 Carvana’s vending-machine approach is one extreme, but the very idea of what’s involved in a “purchase” is changing across the spectrum.
- Micro-buying experiences: Car-sharing networks—whether fleet-based like Zipcar or peer-to-peer like Turo—connect millions of members with on-demand access to dozens of makes and models by the hour or day. High-quality apps are critical for helping these micro-users plan their outing, find a vehicle, pay, unlock/lock it, and return it hassle-free. EV start-up Canoo scrapped its brand-specific subscription model before launch, but it’s an intriguing approach. And considering that 20% of prospective buyers said a recent experience in an EV made them likely to purchase one5, it seems Tesla made a smart play by selling 100,000 vehicles to rental car company Hertz in October.
- Ancillary products and services: Technology is enabling mobility companies to pursue new revenue streams beyond the purchase price. GM has begun rolling out OnStar Insurance across the U.S., using embedded tech to capture contextual data, track vehicle usage and driving habits, and offer discounts and incentives to safe drivers. Rivian is also getting into the insurance game, estimating it can make $8,700 per vehicle from that offering.6 And of course, there are the HMI-based software subscription plans linked to infotainment, connectivity, diagnostics, and more that can create lifetime revenue opportunities as high as $10,000-$15,000 per vehicle.7
- Show and tell: To fully capture new revenue, mobility brands need to reimagine how they walk buyers through their new software on wheels. It’s a gap that’s leaving real money on the table. J.D. Power’s 2021 Tech Experience Index Study found that even though technology is a top reason that buyers choose one new vehicle over another, most of them leave 30% of their new car’s advanced technologies untouched in the first 90 days. And with dealerships increasingly out of the picture, 71% of owners say they were taught how to use tech from outside sources.8 Tesla, which has always had a direct-to-consumer buying experience, offers tutorials on its website and an online in-vehicle user manual. Rivian is upping the game with a personal touch: buyers are assigned a “Rivian Guide”—an actual person with a phone number, not a bot—who serves as their concierge for as long as they own their vehicle.
As always, technology will be a key differentiator in the buying experience. Mobility brands that are willing to explore advanced purchase experiences such as holograms, AR-based in-vehicle tutorials, voice systems that walk owners through new features, and more are likely to be rewarded with engaged owners and higher tech adoption. From there, it will be up to brands to meet the expectations set during the purchase process.
The Ownership Experience: Creating a Fiercely Loyal Brand Following
There’s no question that modern consumers have high expectations for in-vehicle HMI, and that will continue to play a key role in their overall brand experience. Are OTA updates fast, seamless, valuable, and personalized? Is there one ecosystem to plug into that knows all passengers’ settings and preferences? The answers will shape the daily reality of owning a vehicle and help determine whether the purchase is deemed a good decision worthy of brand loyalty. But ownership will also extend to those intersections of mobility, life, and energy that helped form the brand experience in the marketplace. And all those passionate consumers will be watching to see if their brand follows through on its pre-purchase promises.
Creating an engaging ownership experience—not just a well-built product—is a new challenge for legacy auto companies. Their most common “perks” fall far short of rising consumer expectations. Free oil changes and tune-ups, credit card points, and lease pull-ahead options do nothing to improve the day-to-day ownership experience. The brands that inspire a fiercely loyal following will be those that leverage technology to amplify owner experiences and connect them with larger lifestyle and energy preferences. Rivian seems to intuitively understand this. In October, the brand introduced a membership program that promises an impressive suite of experiences for Rivian owners: unlimited access to 4G LTE connectivity; free access to new drive modes and in-cabin content; free charging at its Adventure Network and Waypoints chargers; a pledge that 100% of the energy a Rivian vehicle consumes will be matched with renewable energy purchases; community meet-ups with other members; and even an “Adventure Extraction” rescue service if members get stranded in the wilderness.
The holistic approach to the ownership experience holds limitless potential for brands willing to innovate and learn from other mobility verticals. For example, airline brands like Delta have linked tiered loyalty programs to experiences for decades. Members gain access to exclusive upgrades, members-only lounges, early boarding, and more. Auto companies could take a page from this playbook and further personalize it using Voice of Product technologies to tap into real-time ownership moments. Installing a car seat could unlock offers for additional safety features; every 10,000 miles in an EV could earn a physical badge showcasing the eco-impact; 50,000 miles could trigger an in-cabin thank you message and six free months of software subscription. The right innovation plan and technology partners can help mobility companies identify and unlock digital experiences for owners that help turn them from mere product buyers into brand advocates for life.
Mobility brands face a host of new challenges. They must deliver a cohesive brand experience that compels users to choose their product, provides a delightful purchase experience, and delivers an ownership experience that inspires loyalty in tech- and eco-savvy drivers.
If you’re considering your next move on this journey, the following questions can help guide your steps.
- Do you have the right partners in your ecosystem? Firmware and software development are part of the equation, but mobility companies also need partners who understand—and have the right connections to collaborate with—firms in the life and energy space to create a holistic brand experience.
- Do you have the right framework for getting innovations to market? In the current landscape, innovation is a continuous and high-speed process. Establishing or re-evaluating your in-house innovation programs can make the difference between being a market leader or a mediocre follower.
- Are your balancing personalization and production capabilities? Sometimes new logo experiences rely on the appeal of a “master” brand. Standardizing and streamlining how you go to market while also leaving room for personalized experiences can benefit your entire enterprise.
Interested in learning more? Let’s start a conversation.