While automakers globally have been working to integrate the ability to remotely update software on vehicles for the last 4+ years, most automotive OEMs have at least some basic level of Over-The-Air (OTA) software update capability in their newest vehicles. We’ve seen OEMs such as General Motors (Marketplace, Amazon Alexa) and BMW (Intelligent Personal Assistant) release entirely new features using the capability. At the same time, the global community – and economy – faces an unprecedented challenge in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, automakers face a host of challenges as well: production stoppages, lack of new sales, and people generally not driving. This combination hits OEMs from every angle: new vehicles cannot be developed as R&D plants are closed, the vehicles that have been built can’t be sold as people opt to save money instead of spend, and people who would normally consider purchasing a new car choose not to as people are staying home instead of driving to work, school, or on vacation. Given these headwinds, OEMs are struggling to find ways to connect with consumers. While some financial services arms are offering zero interest loans, this isn’t going to be enough to move inventory and get people to buy cars. The focus has to be on incentivizing customers to leverage the vehicles they already have, and the ideal mechanism to do this is with OTA updates. Some potential ideas for how manufacturers could leverage OTA updates and connected services to engender goodwill and loyalty (and perhaps, in some cases, revenue) with its existing vehicle owners through the coronavirus pandemic include:
Free emergency and roadside services for health care workers – OEMs could offer complimentary emergency connected and roadside services for those who are working at the front lines of the pandemic on a daily basis, requiring only a phone call to the customer care center along with proof of employment. Apps for delivery drivers – OEMs could integrate apps used by delivery services such as Postmates and Uber Eats into infotainment systems, offering drivers a more seamless experience for drivers, customers, and restaurants. COVID Information Center – OEMs could integrate a “COVID Information Center” area of the infotainment system for one-touch access to critical information such as contact information for reporting systems, a list of nearest hospitals/medical centers, and quick reference information for primary symptoms with official local governmental guidance. Cleaning Reminders – A quick checklist shown on startup which reminds the driver which surfaces should be cleaned regularly (i.e. steering wheel, gear shifter, door handle), particularly for vehicles which are shared with other people.
OEMs should think creatively about how to adapt their product to their customers in real-time – something that wasn’t possible in previous automotive generations. While these are not likely to generate new revenue, it does go a long way in engendering customer loyalty to a brand when thoughtful products are developed and deployed, particularly during times of crisis.