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Tech savvy consumers driving change in the automotive industry

In almost every industry, we’re seeing the rise of the empowered consumer, and with technology-driven trends like electric vehicles, self-drive cars and predictive maintenance, the automotive industry is no exception.
“These trends are encouraging innovation across the automotive industry,” says Jakkie Olivier, CEO of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI). “We serve passionate consumers who want a more personalised experience and we’re seeing the hype around vehicle technology moving to other spheres of the industry.”
Today’s consumers are more empowered than ever before, thanks to access to information available on the Internet. For example, when it comes to purchasing a new vehicle, many consumers conduct extensive online research and seek out peer-to-peer recommendations before narrowing their choice down to two or three models. While consumers still use dealerships to complete the purchase, research indicates that many South Africans are willing to conduct the entire car-purchase process online, including paying a deposit and arranging finance.
“Dealerships are and will continue to be an absolute necessity in the new vehicle buying process, however the role they play may be slightly different to what it has been to date,” says National Automobile Dealers’ Association’s (NADA’s) National Chairperson, Mark Dommisse.
“Motor vehicles are highly regulated products that require stringent FICA regulations when being purchased. In addition, licensing, insurance, financing and periodic servicing and/or maintenance are specialist areas needing expertise and a lot of investment by the dealership owner,” continues Dommisse. Various laws and regulations govern the sale, financing and servicing of new motor vehicles, which are usually carried out via a network of approved dealerships.
Beyond the actual purchase of a car, technology plays a significant role in improving the customer experience when owners have their cars serviced. In an increasingly customer-centric world, consumers expect a certain level of service in all facets of life, including the servicing of their vehicles. In the automotive industry, websites and mobile apps can assist with this by offering a more connected and customised experience.
Today’s mobile apps offer the ability to streamline car care. They can connect to on-board vehicle computers, tell you everything from where the next petrol station is, to where the next road block is and what is the quickest route to work. In fact, many car manufacturers have developed smartphone apps that allow consumers to stay connected to their vehicles at all times, even if they’re in another city. Using these apps, consumers can start their vehicles remotely, set the climate control, view service diagnostics, set travel limitations and a host of other services.
However, most South African consumers drive older vehicles that are not equipped with this technology. “Smartphone use is on the rise in South Africa, and there is already a selection of mobile apps that help consumers with their car management. There are three factors important to today’s empowered consumer: Time, convenience and cost. If the automotive industry keeps these three requirements top of mind, they can become an indispensable ‘passenger’ in South Africa’s vehicles,” advises Olivier.
RMI will soon launch a mobile app of its own, aimed at connecting consumers to accredited RMI members. App users will also have easy access to specials offered by RMI members in their area. From a customer service point of view, RMI members will be able to use the app for training purposes, to connect with other RMI members and to access up-to-date RMI news.
“RMI members are skilled automotive professionals who adhere to a strict code of conduct, so when using RMI-accredited businesses, consumers can be assured of value for money – competitive pricing, quality work and recourse for complaints. Our app will take the guess work out of locating a good partner for your vehicle care and will seamlessly connect you to your closest RMI member. Watch this space,” says Olivier.