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Telematics

Automakers Must Improve Connected Car App Strategies

by Nathan Eddy
Automakers need to focus more on perfecting connected car applications as consumer expectations for vehicle connectivity grow, according to a recent study from analyst firm Gartner L2 found.

These manufacturers also have an opportunity to leverage their apps as marketing collateral on brand sites and on app stores for Apple iOS and Google Android-based devices.

Connectivity has moved up the list of features consumers value, with 40% of those surveyed saying they would switch their car brand for more connectivity -- twice as many as in 2014.

"While we've seen a few automakers roll out augmented reality apps to show off their new vehicles or additional concierge services, best-in-class brands are strengthening their connected car apps by listening to customer feedback and adding features," Cody Stack, senior associate at Gartner L2, told The Connected Car.

Stack pointed out just three automakers -- Ford, Lincoln and Tesla -- had four or more stars on their connected car app in the App Store, implying most brands would be better off improving their existing app rather than building out new ones.

The report, which benchmarks the digital strategies and performance of 43 auto brands operating in the US, features case studies on several automakers including Audi, Ford, GMC, Hyundai, Land Rover and Volvo.

Stack also noted that Gartner expects brands to more heavily feature connectivity as a marketing asset, explaining that right now, many brands omit connected car apps from their marketing materials.

The report found nearly eight in ten brands currently support a connected car app that spans multiple vehicle models, but could be missing the chance to connect with consumers.

The report found more than a quarter -- 26% -- of auto brands with apps only provide app information in the ownerís section of their website.

"Only occasionally do they highlight connected features, and it's usually promoting a new partnership or showy and innovative new offering, like Cadillac's recent introduction of Amazon Key," Stack said. "Consumers care about connectivity, and demonstrating that a brandís infotainment system and app ecosystem work well can do a lot to ease customer concerns."

Stack believes that infotainment and navigation compatibility should be rolled into a brand's primary connected app.

"Any brand that maintains separate apps for navigation, entertainment, service or ownerís manuals for example is just creating a confusing ecosystem for their owners and making it harder to explain the value proposition to prospective customers," he said.

The report also noted that brands should be thinking about ways to garner feedback on their apps, perhaps by soliciting comments through in-app notifications.

It looks like automakers have a lot more work to do in digitally connecting consumers with their vehicles -- the report noted few brands in the US have experimented with e-commerce features like online deposits and reservations.

In international markets, where regulations are less restrictive, automakers such as Ford have found success by teaming up with Chinese e-tailing giant Alibaba to allow customers to buy cars through their online platform.

In April, the two companies partnered to offer Ford vehicles through a gigantic vending machine -- five floors high --stocked with various models, which is located in China's southern city, Guangzhou.

Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @dropdeaded209_LR.

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