“How much horsepower does this have?” Is what I used to hear from onlookers next to me as we’d check out the cars on display. This most recent show was more about, “how many miles per gallon does it use?” or “how much will it cost me to plug into my house?” says Gil Cavada, PDT Industrial Designer.
As fuel prices fluctuated wildly over the past decade, there seemed to be the perception that gas will eventually come down and this too shall pass. Now with the recession dragging on it seems like a greater proportion of consumers have resigned themselves to make their next investment in either an alternative fuel or EV car. Almost all car manufactures displayed a vehicle with fuel type options.
The amount of research going into alternative forms of energy will create more opportunities and options for power to fuel other industries like consumer electronics, medical, and even architecture.
The implementation of robust operating systems into auto designs are more essential than ever and have been made possible by the advances in the consumer product industry. “These industries have inspired each other and I anticipate that trend continuing,” says Gil.
For an industry that used to rely on power and sex appeal for sales, the shift to sensible, money saving options is a huge movement.
LED lights, cooled and heated seats, park assist, navigation, entertainment and internet connection used to be amenities reserved for luxury autos, but now are coming standard in entry level vehicles. Exotic materials are being imitated by clever manufacturing processes and are delivering the look and feel of a higher-end machine.
So what will entice buyers to dish out $40k and more?
Brand and Fear.
Consumers are motivated by emotional ties to brands they grew up with, took their first girlfriend to the prom with and were taught to drive in. Auto companies put huge dollars into brand building. “Growing up the thrill of going to the show was to get up close and even touch the amazing cars and to collect posters to pin up in my room and fantasize about owning when I grew up,” recalls Gil.
Now, companies are exploiting technology by creating giveaways that can track and learn about you and your preferences. Show booths entice you to take a picture with your dream ride that is sent to your email address. You want a tee-shirt? Sign up using an ipad. Capture a QR code and it will link you to their website where they can track what cars you are interested in. “This incredible information gathering is enabling auto companies to customize brand messages
to you, increasing your bond to their brand,” says Christina Cavada, PDT Marketer.
“Brand building starts early too,” adds Christina. “Jeep’s branded Kiddie test track appeals to the little ones, making a hugely memorable experience tied to the brand for kids and their proud parents.” Photos with Jeep in the background adorn refridgerators, facebook albums and photo books for years.
Auto brands are also leveraging co-branding opportunities with another industry that is also brand aware-fashion.
And don’t forget the pull of pride on the heartstrings. Big names are hyping ‘built here’ messaging.
Auto companies are also banking on you shelling out big dollars for something you hope you never get to test out: safety features. Technology, materials and design for impact seem to get buyers’ attention every time.
Test tracks have been around for a while at the Auto Shows, but it seems their prevalence is increasing, offering a unique, hands-on opportunity. The Mustang display got it right with a car tethered down on a dyno, drawing a crowd to watch a driver and a selected participant from the crowd floor. The participation, super loud noise and lots of smoke got a rise from the crowd and helped evoke emotion from those who hold a place in their hearts for the American Mustang.
“What experience means beyond the feel of the car’s mechanics and the sound of its engine are the integrated Infotainment systems that are seen in a wide spectrum of models and brands that offer a range of functionality,” says Tom O’Connor, Industrial Designer. While driving the vehicle might remain the core function, there are a whole plethora of “help you/enhance your life” offerings, including your music, news, contacts, schedule and driving assistence in many different forms.
As everyone knows, Apple has excelled at unifying the UX of their products so your interactions are always familiar and intuitive. “I’ve failed to recognize this in any lineup of vehicles; no one has a consistent look and feel to their User Interface,” says Tom. “When a brand can unify their interior UI to a well-designed look and feel, they will ultimately deliver a great user experience.”
It offers an opportunity for auto companies to create more reasons for consumers to fall in love with their brand- especially Millenials. Today’s texting, tweeting and trending generation can’t live without their smart phones and the technology that they grew up with.
Brands like Dodge are recognizing this change and implementing those always-connected, can’t-live-without tech features into their vehicles, such as the 2013 Dodge Dart. The giant 8.4” touch screen display is the vehicle’s hub for all things that connect the driver to their vehicle, and more importantly their gadgets, friends, music and places to go.
"I’d love to see a vehicle where anyone can get in and instantly figure out how to sync their phone or navigate the map, just like the iPhone or iPod," says Tom. "I see this space becoming very competitive and innovative in the future, as automakers continue to learn how consumers interact with their vehicles’ interior technology. We may even see true integration between mobile operating systems like iOS and Android into our vehicles’ operating systems."
“I see some challenges and opportunities here,” says PDT Strategist, Erik Moses. How will in-car tech systems evolve compatibility and functionality with quickly evolving consumer devices that people bring into the vehicle to “integrate” their data: music, contacts, calendar, etc? “With multiple platforms (Android, Apple, etc.) and a multitude of manufacturers, there is the risk of a huge lack of consistency in experience. Is how I use my mobile device out of the car the same/similar to how I use it in the car?....should it be?”
Design has always been a vital part of the automotive development process. It’s what gets people talking, evokes emotion and makes enthusiasts fall in love (or hate).
Design is in an interesting position, however, with governmental regulations and technology restricting form. The overall form/footprint of most cars are pretty consistent because of aerodynamics, leaving automakers to rely on lights, grills and other fine details to differentiate their looks.
Future cars will continue to keep you connected and allow you to use your smart phones and tablets for social media, car diagnostics, and control. Chevy allows you to turn your car on by using an app and giving you facebook updates. Ford allows you to stream pandora through their stereo, Hyundai’s user manual is an ipad; almost all manufactures provide a method to charge, link up and use your smartphone/tablet while in the car. All of this while keeping the user safe and entertained.
Cars will be streaming various forms of media though the use of land based networks and satellite link ups. Companies like Pandora, Netflix, and Google will have greater roles in creating applications for use in the automotive industry. The use will range from diagnostic information to infotainment enhancements.
Telehealth has even started to cross over into Transportation. Ford’s partnership with Medtronic has brought us the ‘Sync’ prototype, offering medical device connectivity via Bluetooth. Given how much time we spend on the road and the danger involved in a medical emergency taking place in the car, it seems a perfect fit and we anticipate this trend growing quickly.
Finally, automotive design has to be sensitive to the trends of alternative energy technologies and how they are used by the owner: how to plug in, how to keep solar panels clear, how to communicate which bio fuel is the right one for the car, where to place a power cord, ensuring it is accessible in urban, suburban or rural settings. And all of this has to be designed to come off as a cool design feature.
Auto design and product design will continue to seek cues from each other and we will continue to see more integration between the two in the future. What are the opportunities to leverage this for your company?
At PDT we believe the success of a project relies on our team members’ insight into today’s product development issues, advances, technologies and trends. We actively seek these insights to create products and strategies that help our clients bring new ideas to market which inspire, spark desire and impact their bottom line. We share just a few of these insights, observations and opinions in each issues of PULSE, but please visit www.pdt.com for more information or contact us at any of our offices below.
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Gilberto Cavada has been designing for fifteen+ years and has been involved in all types of industries- both commercial and consumer. ‘My passion is my family; my strengths are delivering on what I promised and what was desired; my ambition is to constantly reinvent myself without losing the lessons I learned; my weakness is fast cars.’
Erik Moses is a PDT’er that prefers to think of himself as a progressive strategist located at the intersection of business and design. With more than 10 years experience, Erik has worked on projects that span the gamut from branding initiatives to consumer packaging, medical devices and everything in between. Erik recently earned his MBA from the Charles H. Kellstadt Graduate School of Business at DePaul University. He loves spending time with wife Mandy and sons Jakson and Jakob.
Christina Cavada has been a part of the PDT marketing team for six years. ‘I’ve loved seeing the evolution of marketing in just the past handful of years- it’s a discipline that has moved in warp speed with new technologies and communication methods popping up every day.’ Her favorite activity is thinking up creative things to do with her two year old daughter, Olivia.
Adam Ruggles is an Industrial Design consultant with over eight years of experience. As part of PDT’s collaborative environment, he enjoys taking responsibility for human factors, aesthetics, form, function and manufacturing considerations. ‘I take an immersive and active role in bridging all phases of development from opportunity understanding to concept visualization to meaningful, realized solutions. His greatest and most inspiring work began in October 2011 when he became a first time Dad.
Tom O'Connor is a design consultant with experience in categories ranging from beauty and hair care to industrial power tools. 'Consulting for so many new and diverse clients, markets and industries is the best part of being a member of the design team at PDT. I thrive in all areas of the design process from the fuzzy front end to finding creative, cost effective manufacturing solutions. I always stay up to speed with the latest and greatest technology and trends and I dig for inspiration anywhere I can find it.' Outside of design, Tom's passions range from hockey, cars, electronic music, the outdoors and anything on two wheels.