The race is on. Every automotive manufacturer is racing to market with very similar, future offerings: autonomous and/or electric vehicles. The styling might be slightly unique, the amount of storage or cupholders will certainly vary, and assuredly some of the carryover features will come and go. But largely the current effort is centered on A) decreasing the market share impacts from new entrants like Tesla
And so here is my 2022 prediction: one manufacturer will recognize the psychological and habitual shifts of “Pandemials” and, therein, differentiate around a comprehensive offering with their new needs in mind.
How The Pandemials’ Needs Will Be Different
For those Baby Boomers or Gen X’ers that were lucky enough to live and love family members from the early half of the Greatest Generation, they saw quirky behaviors stemming from The Great Depression. Be it smuggling home tabletop bread from a restaurant or picking half-eaten toast from the trash (while uttering “This is still perfectly good”), there was a multi-year emotional molding that affected their needs for the remainder of their lives: avoid waste at all costs. And those businesses that recognized their engrained habits were able to profit from this eccentricity.
This pandemic will also likely have long-term behavioral effects. In the book The Psychology of Pandemics: Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease (ironically published in October of 2019), Steven Taylor reports that “… for an unfortunate minority of people, perhaps 10 to 15%, life will not return to normal.” These statistics and associated scholarly articles are mostly focusing upon the extremes of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), e.g., 30% increase in suicides and the 20% increase of antidepressant refills with 68% of respondents stating they didn’t struggle with depression prior to the pandemic. But the subtle behavioral changes from long-term social distancing cannot be fully measured, and these will assuredly affect the buying patterns of especially the older Generation Z’ers (ages 16 to 25) since 2+ of their formative years will have been spent in relative seclusion with anxieties about public areas. Susan Kemp, a part-time student interviewed by the BBC, states she’s “… become petrified of taking public transport [and] more concerned about the cleanliness of [daily objects] …”
From an automotive standpoint, compare this to the buying patterns of Baby Boomers: there has traditionally been a strong correlation between the number of people entering dealerships’ showroom(s) and annual revenue. And so entire businesses were designed around event planning at dealerships, e.g., CelebrityCred’s tagline is “How to hire a celebrity to do an appearance at your car dealership.” And so automotive companies created a vehicle, and over 90% of buyers visited the showroom and looked for a relationship before purchasing.
For this new, specific demographic or persona that I’m calling a Pandemial, that old reality will never match the new pattern. Yes, yes … it doesn’t take a soothsayer to predict ecommerce will continue to be up 65 to 82% during Covid-19, but the long-term effects to the needs of this persona shall be palpable: remote, clean, socially-distant, easy and yet personalized.
The Differentiated Service
The prediction: curbside services shall thrive in 2022, and one “just-crazy-enough” business will stand out from the pack.
To bolster the basic premise of such growth, Tire Rack’s Mobile Tire Service is an at-home, no-contact service that provides tire installation and disposal for most passenger vehicles. In 2020, their business went up 50%. Then it went up another 100% in 2021. “Convenience was the main driver for customers opting for mobile tire installation pre-pandemic, and it’s obviously still very important,” says Matt Edmonds, Executive Vice President at Tire Rack. JustAnswer’s CEO, Andy Kurtzig, states, “JustAnswer started seeing a huge influx of consumers seeking help from auto mechanics during the summer of 2020. This accelerating trend is driven by the combination of people choosing road trips over flying and seeking DIY repair solutions over interacting with in person mechanics during the pandemic. Even after things started opening up post vaccine roll-out, the increased comfort level and confidence people gained from online professional services translated into sustained growth.” And in other parts of the world, it has already become more prevalent. “In [Moscow] and the suburbs,” says Andrey Kovalev, Managing Partner at BusinessInvitee, “the following [at-home] services have [become common]: tire fitting, car washing, car interior dry cleaning, simple car tuning work, reprogramming of electronic car systems, and [interior styling alterations].”
And maybe a few automotive manufacturers will recognize both this demographic and macrotrend and launch a quasi-dealership curbside service. Some have done that, in fact, with at-home ease as the emphasis (e.g. “Audi At Your Door”, Ford’s “Pickup & Delivery”), but these are typically side efforts within the monolith’s business without the focus of an entrepreneurial environment. Smart, but not borderline crazy.
Others, though, will jump on the emergence of these primary personas and birth a wholly-owned subsidiary designed to provide specialized product(s). Some would argue General Motors’s Cruise is such a venture: a commercial robotaxi that plans to start service in San Francisco early this year. And maybe it is. But multiple other players such as Baidu, AutoX, Uber, Lyft (with Ford and Argo AI), etc. have either already launched or are similarly poised to begin service soon. Non-differentiated.
General Motors also has created BrightDrop as a branded startup that designs and manufacturers all-electric commercial vans for package delivery (e.g., sell to WalMart), but no standalone, groundbreaking business and still well short of true differentiation given Rivian is doing the same with Amazon. And Ford has a “deliver Amazon packages into my secured car rather than insecure porch”, but not branded or well-known. Side efforts.
No, there will be a branded, completely new service designed around the Pandemials, and there shall be the groundbreaking synergy between user experience and marketing. For instance, imagine person-to-person package delivery service with any-place pick-up and delivery via keycoded compartments in an autonomous vehicle instead of 10-person-deep lines at UPS or USPS and packages stolen off porches. Such mini-autonomous vehicles have been used for food delivery on campuses or urban settings, but usually as limited B2C applications. Not a quasi-eBay “sell and deliver to whomever I need” service.
Or imagine an autonomous delivery of locally-grown produce, thereby additionally meeting that same generation’s number one concern: protecting the environment. Better food without having to go to the store with sustainability as its foundation would be unique.
Whatever the service, it will be the way an incumbent escapes the “me also” business plan. And win the Pandemial as a customer for life.