Disruption is a common theme these days and while it's hard to create a list of industries that are being disrupted the most, there's no doubt that the auto industry is a contender.

Consumers are redefining their relationship with cars, from the way they acquire them to how they use them, and that means automakers need to rethink their roles and how they operate in the market.

Here are four examples of how automakers are innovating the customer experience to meet changing consumer expectations.

Ford becomes a mobility solutions provider with FordPass

Need to get from Point A to Point B? A car can help you get there, but as American automaker Ford looks to the future, it is slowly starting to transform itself into a mobility solutions provider.

This transformation is exemplified through its "one-stop mobility app" dubbed FordPass

Launched in 2016, FordPass helps users with numerous mobility tasks. It can help users find and pay for parking and locate gas stations based on their preferences. It allows Ford owners to access vehicle information, including their service history, and configure alerts and service reminders.

Owners of Ford vehicles with SYNC Connect technology can use the FordPass app to remotely access information about their car, such as fuel level, and unlock the car and start it. It's even possible to schedule the vehicle to start ahead of time.

To encourage use, Ford has even added gamification to FordPass. Users can unlock badges if they make Ford a part of their journeys and earn the ability to enter sweepstakes through a feature called FordPass Perks. 

According to Ford, the "reimagined customer experience" FordPass represents took 18 months to bring to fruition and, while the offering is still evolving, it is a good example of how automakers are increasingly having to look beyond manufacturing and selling cars to stay relevant with consumers today.

Hyundai is trying to create "the Amazon experience" for car buyers

After studying used car dealers and online retailers including Amazon, Korean automaker Hyundai this week announced a new program called Shopper Assurance that will add pricing transparency and allow buyers to handle most of the purchase process – such as calculating the value of a trade-in and completing a loan application – online before they come in to a dealership.

For added convenience, Hyundai is giving potential buyers the ability to schedule test drives at their home or work and to give buyers peace of mind, it is offering a three-day buyback period in which a customer can return the car he or she bought for a full refund provided that it has been driven less than 300 miles. In other words, returning a new Hyundai won't be all that different from returning a pair of jeans that didn't fit.

According to Hyundai Motor America's CMO Dean Evans, the goal is to bring "the Amazon experience" to car buying. "I don’t have to tell you we’re undergoing a paradigm shift when it comes to how people are buying cars," he stated at a press conference.

While automakers like Hyundai will obviously have to manufacture car models consumers want to buy, there's no doubt that the purchase is now an important part of the overall customer experience – one that can't be overlooked.

Porsche Passport could make dreams come true

Did you dream of owning a garage full of exotic sports cars as a kid? Most of the people who have will never realize that dream, but Porsche might soon offer affluent consumers a consolation prize.

As detailed by Bloomberg, the storied automaker is piloting an app-based subscription service called Porsche Passport that allows subscribers to drive a Porsche model of their choice on demand. For $2,000/month, subscribers can drive a 718 Boxster, Cayman S, Macan S or Cayenne. For $3,000/month, they can select from 22 Porsche models.

Subscribers can hop in and out of models at their convenience, making it possible to, say, hop into a new Porsche every week. The subscription fee covers registration, insurance and maintenance costs; subscribers are responsible for gas.

Porsche Passport is similar in nature to a subscription service Cadillac launched earlier this year. Dubbed BOOK by Cadillac, that service gives subscribers on-demand access to a fleet of Cadillacs for $1,500 per month.

According to Klaus Zellmer, Porsche's North American president, Porsche Passport is targeting younger consumers who have the cash to drive a Porsche but might not be willing to buy one outright. "We now have millennials who are incredibly successful and have the financial power to own a Porsche, but might not be willing to own a Porsche today," he told Bloomberg.

Zellmer said he expects the program to help sales, "especially in the mid and long term", and if that comes to pass, expect to see other automakers launch similar offerings, proving that there are fewer and fewer products for which a subscription model can't be applied. 

Tesla is revolutionizing the way cars are serviced

It's hard to talk about customer experience innovation in the auto industry without mentioning Tesla. The electric vehicle upstart has built an enviable following that many established automakers would die for and it has done that by innovating the customer experience in numerous ways.

While one could look at the purchase process – Tesla has convinced hundreds of thousands of consumers to pre-order its new Model 3 – Tesla's customer experience innovation is perhaps most notable when it comes to what happens after customers have their cars. 

Tesla models are truly connected cars and the company boasts that "90% of issues can be identified from a customer's garage." When service is needed, Tesla has built a service network that is capable of sending mobile technicians to customers. For issues that require a customer to bring a car into a Tesla service center, customers will soon be able to schedule an appointment directly through their car's console.

What's more, Tesla has pioneered over-the-air (OTA) software updates that can literally "upgrade" cars in an instant. Some of the upgrades are relatively simple and relate software accessed via the car's console, but OTA updates have been used to deliver a new Auto High Beam feature and Tesla's Autopilot 2.0 functionality.

Because Tesla can add significant capabilities to existing cars without any physical modification, essentially giving Tesla owners a continuously improving car, one analyst has suggested that other automakers are "highly vulnerable to obsolescence" if they don't catch up and embrace OTA updates themselves.

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Patricio Robles

Published 17 October, 2017 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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