Automotive industry experts painted a very grim picture for the auto industry during the recent Reuters Auto Summit. They forecast that sales for 2008 may hit only 14.5 million units. That would continue the decline from this year and be the lowest sales total since 1998. In an already financially staggered industry this is not good news!
Yet my soon-to-be driving 16 year old son, Joe, came away from the LA Auto show last week excited about buying a new car. (He is working on the assumption of me doing the buying and he merely the driving.) He said how he was; ..” charged up about how cool and thrilling experience he had at two of the displays.” I asked him to explain to me where and how that happened. You might be surprised to hear his answer!
Compete's automotive panel research has been an industry standard in gauging shopper demand for the automotive sector. Compete has watched gas prices, the housing crisis, and customers' behavior affect the automotive sector’s demand. The slumping demand numbers have been obvious to all of us in automotive research.
Facing this demand pressure, the big three domestic OEMs' press announcements have been about cost cutting, and many Japanese firms are toting alternative fueled vehicles. But neither of these issues excited my son. No, what excited my son was the idea that he could “individualize and customize a Scion so it wasn’t like any other car on the street.”
Auto experts have been saying for a while now that making customers their top priority is the way to profitability and growth. Yet, this industry is steeped in building mass numbers of cars and hoping people will buy them. Inventories increase and lots get filled with cars that customers are then offered incentive “deals” to buy. How do you make the customer your top priority?
Well, the Toyota Motor Company (NYSE:TM) may have the answer in a little test kitchen that the whole world can see - Scion. Here is a brand that has stated to have a volume cap in a growing segment. This is where my son (or even I) can go to a dealership and have an experience which is both predictable and pleasant. No price haggle needed here, just pick your color, radio and options, and sign the deal.
How do you make the customer your top priority? Listen to them! At Scion the sales person sits and listens to the customer talk about “his or her” new car, and not what is available in the dealer’s inventory.
Compete's web metrics can look at the number of page views and average stay on any automotive site. Actual “behavior profiling” can be a true window on what marketing strategy and messages really work. The images here show the Scion.com numbers for customers playing with Scion Brand’s cars.
You can see how impressive the Scion numbers have become. Even against the industry’s first internet “darling” vehicle the Mini, the Scion has people engaged and spending time playing with the idea of what their car would look like. Heck, Scion people spend more time on their site than people do for the entire line of Toyota.com’s 18 vehicles!
OK, I believe the auto experts, but I’m still optimistic about the automotive industry. Yes, the industry sales numbers may dip in 2008 but the way you get sales back up to 17 million units a year will be by moving away from the old industrial approach of mass production to mass customization. And you will do it one “Joe” at a time. Our industry started that way and can return to doing it that way.
Oh, one more thing. You remember my son had two things at the show that excited him. The second thing that truly excited him was sitting in the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano.
Funny, wasn’t that a company where the owner Enzo Ferrari said; “Always build one less car than you have customers."