The State of the Connected Car (Part I): The buying experience

January 9, 2017
Patrick Weissert
connected car experience

Now that we have been pushing the digital frontier into the car for a couple of years it’s a good time to take a step back and take a look at how far we got. We’ll start at the point where the journey begins for most customers – the buying experience.

Here I can start by speaking from my own experience. We recently bought a car from a well known European car OEM. To my delight I found out (despite claims to the opposite by the sales rep) that it came with a 1 year free subscription to the OEM infotainment package. After some advanced online research I’m registered and activated. So I get into the car, press all the buttons I can find and see what happens. One of them is “App Connect”, and when pressed it tells me I need to activate it. Confusing, because I thought I had just activated the service. After some more research it turns out this is a different package and I get linked into the OEM online store. I am asked to enter the VIN and … “there are no products found for your vehicle”. I reset the search (without VIN), and find the “activation document” for App Connect. I go to the checkout, and … am at step 1 of 6. I’m ready to collapse under the exhaustion. Once I get to step 3 of 6 I am asked to select a “partner” where the document will be sent to for me to pick it up. I select one nearby, click “buy”, and I’m done, I think.

Connected car meets real life: the car dealer

Two weeks later I drive past my chosen “OEM partner” and go inside to see whether they received my activation document. The guy at the front desk looks somewhat blank:

“App Connect?”

“Yes, with Carplay.”

“Oh, Car-Net!”

“No, CarPlay.

Seems like App Connect and CarPlay aren't familiar terms here. What’s worse is the guy says they probably threw away the activation document. Apparently the OEM online store still lists an outdated owner for this store (it changed hands 2 years ago!).  

We agree to order it again but they want me to pay cash upfront. A hard sell given their track record, but since it’s only €200 I’m ready to take the plunge, pay, and hope things will work out.

Just one more step ...

Another two weeks and – oh joy! – the code has arrived. At the dealership I get a box package with the activation code. I am told I can activate it myself, I should just enter the code. Back home I find out through the manual that this work can only be done by an “authorised dealer”. So we schedule the installation and they get it activated. The friendly mechanic tells me: “it’s working now - just don’t ask me how!”. I sit into the car, plug in my phone, and within 30 seconds I’m now finally a happy new user of CarPlay. What an ordeal!!

So, let’s summarize this experience:

  • I am not made aware of the product at all, no promotion whatsoever
  • When I enquire I’m told it’s not available for my car
  • I have to research how to buy online myself
  • The online shop says there are NO products for my car
  • When I finally do find it, the checkout process is complicated and long-winded
  • My first order gets “thrown away”
  • The second order I need to prepay cash
  • I am asked to activate it myself, only to discover I can’t
  • They activate it with a flashing warning of “there is no support for this accessory” (“it’s working, but don’t ask me how!” said my mechanic).

No surprise then that the key players in the front seat of this market (the OEMs) risk being sidelined by emerging new companies! The experience is the result of a technology-centric “design” process full of platforms, partnerships, strategies but clearly with little regard for the customer experience.

So here is my wish list to the industry:

  • I want to be located and targeted by relevant ads promoting this kind of product to me (alternatively, just give me a 3 month free trial when I buy the car)
  • I want to make the purchase with 1 click, max 3, and ideally while I’m in the car
  • I want it to work as soon as I have purchased it (no DVDs, no mail order, no installation, please!)
  • I want to have the impression that everyone at the company selling this product to me is competent and can help me when I’m in trouble

So, what do you think, can we get this done, as an industry? Because only then we can start to reduce the number of people playing with their smartphones in the car. And only then we can start to make our roads safer again.

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