Not so long ago, a new function could be added to a car just by having it installed by a service technician, such as parking sensors.  However, with the advent of the Tesla Model S, the situation began to change.  Cars have begun to acquire new features gradually, and they can be upgraded similarly to mobile phones or your TV. Traditional car manufacturers are now moving in the same direction.  But what does this mean for car dealerships and services?

Tesla changed the rules of the game

The arrival of the Tesla Model S in 2012 literally revolutionized the automotive industry.  However, it did not take place only on the vehicle side.  The Model S came with a completely unknown phenomenon in the automotive industyr.  Elon Musk, an “IT geek” brought to the world of cars something that was previously reserved for only smartphones and computers – his cars were suddenly able to acquire new, and often very attractive features, only thanks to software updates.  As with smartphones, it is downloaded to cars via OTA (Over-the-air) updates, directly through a wireless internet connection.  And so the on-board camera, the green traffic light warning, improvements to driver assistant systems, which Tesla calls Autopilot, and much more gradually appeared in the Model S.  As more and more interesting features have increased over the years, so has the pressure on the competition. 

Software access has moved from the computer to the automobile

However, the others could not react for many years.  Why?  The logic of their onboard systems was different.  Whereas Tesla used a single computer for all key functions, from Autopilot, through pedal response control, to infotainment, other manufacturers opted for an architecture consisting of separate control units and independent infotainment, which often varied depending on the specific equipment level.  But with the advent of intelligent assistance systems, this began to change.  These systems need sufficiently strong and robust hardware and by definition are interconnected to the car’s onboard systems.  In addition, technology that meets automotive industry standards has become widely available.  The key role was taken over by the company Nvidia, whose platform Drive, has gradually made its way to Daimler, Toyota, Volkswagen, Hyundai, and Volvo in recent months, where it will cover systems and at least partial autonomous control. 

From graphics cards to the onboard systems of the S-class

The first tangible results were not long in coming.  Mercedes-Benz revealed in September 2020 that the upcoming seventh generation of its flagship would be able to expand its functions remotely.  However, unlike Tesla, this will not be offered for free.  While the abilities of the autonomous steering systém (SAE class 3) will be improved automatically based on new data for Nvidia’s onboard AI, customers will have to pay for new functions. 

Mercedes, who is not alone in this, wants to open up the possiblity of direct upselling in the future, i.e. additional sales uplift for a given customer.  However, it can be expected that dealers will also play an important role in these upsell activities, especially for fleet sales.  After all, the transition to a new version of Microsoft Office is usually handled by a Microsoft partner, not Microsoft itself. 

Who will care for the car software?

Velmi důležitou otázkou je také, jak bude vypadat vlastně ono rozšiřování funkcí na dálku, případně správa a údržba čím dál komplexnějšího software. V současné době jej provádějí servisy, a to včetně aktualizací software pro infotainmenty, řídicí jednotky motorů apod. Lze předpokládat, že ani s inovovanou architekturou aut, se část aktualizací bez servisů neobejde. Navíc, stejně jako v případě počítačů, telefonů anebo Tesly, ne každá aktualizace proběhne bez problémů.

Starost o software aut a přidávání nových funkcí tak bude do značné míry přenesena na dealerství a servisy. To je ale nová, velmi zásadní a patrně i lukrativní příležitost. Na rozdíl od prodeje fyzického příslušenství jako jsou koberečky a střešní nosiče vám totiž neváže ani finanční prostředky, ani místo ve skladu. Jen to bude vyžadovat nové prodejní dovednosti, nový přístup k zákazníkovi, a hlavně novou kategorii informací o každém servisovaném vozu a potřebách vašich zákazníků. Jste na novou kategorii prodejů připraveni? Počítáte s tím ve svém obchodním procesu? Využíváte nějaký specializovaný CRM software jako například Automotive CRM , který vás v příchodu nové obchodní příležitosti podpoří?

A very important question is also what the expansion of functions or the administration and maintenance of increasingly complex software will look like.  Currently, this is performed by vehicle services, which also update software for infotainment, engine control units, etc.  It can be assumed then, that even with innovative architecture, some partial updates will need to be performed at the service center.  In addition, as with computers, phones, or even Teslas, not all updates go smoothly. 

Concerns about automotive software and the addition of new functions will thus be largely transferred to dealerships and service centers.  This is a new, crucial, and likely lucrative opportunity.  Unlike the sales of physical accessories, such as carpets and roof racks, it does not require financial investment or even space in the warehouse.  It will only require modified sales skills, a new approach to the customer, and most important, a new category of information about every serviced vehicle and the needs of your customers.  Are you ready for this new sales category?  Are you planning with it as part of your sales process?  Do you use some kind of specialized CRM software such as Automotive CRM, which will support you in the arrival of a new business opportunity?