Trucks at Work

“Motorized” computing

Gen Y consumers clearly view their automobiles as more than just a way to get from point A to point B. They see them as a way to stay connected around the clock – and they're willing to pay it.” –Joe Vitale, global automotive sector leader, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited


A survey conducted by Deloitte LLP that I referenced last week concerning a “generational shift” in terms of the appeal of hybrid vehicles also revealed something else as well – a growing expectation amongst younger folk for their vehicles to incorporate the same type of computing power available from their home PC systems and smart phones.

In commenting on the survey, Joe Vitale (at right)– global automotive sector leader at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, a division of Deloitte LLP – referred to this expectation amongst the younger generation of consumers as the desire to obtain a “smart-phone on wheels.”

“Gen Y consumers prefer automobiles that are an extension of their social-media and digital lifestyles,” Vitale added. “[They] clearly view their automobiles as more than just a way to get from point A to point B. They see them as a way to stay connected around the clock – and they're willing to pay it.”

Deloitte’s survey found that “in-dash technology” is the most important part of a vehicle's interior for a majority (59%) of the Gen Y consumers polled by the firm, with almost three-quarters (73%) seeking “touch screen” interfaces.

Those points are but one reason why automakers are developing a variety of “in-dash” technologies, such as Ford Motor Co.’s “SYNC” system.

Since its introduction in 2007, Ford said it has sold over four million vehicles equipped with SYNC, which is powered by Microsoft, and predicts it’ll find a “home” with nine million more new customers around the world over the next three years.

“SYNC has been integral to keeping pace with the consumer, delivering value through a constant flow of new features that keep them connected to their digital lives in a safer, simpler and smarter way while driving,” noted Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s group vice president for global product development.

Some of SYNC’s current features include:

• 911 Assist, which connects drivers directly with 911 operators after an accident;

• Voice-activated access to a cloud-based network of information including traffic, news, sports, weather, horoscopes, stock quotes and movie listings along with business searches and turn-by-turn directions;

• SYNC AppLink, added in 2010, that allows smartphone-equipped customers access to a growing number of popular apps using voice control such as Pandora internet radio and Stitcher.

Vitale also noted that Gen Y consumers also ranked smart-phone applications as highly desirable in a new automobile (72%) in Deloitte’s survey, with a further 77% desiring the ability to customize their automobile interiors after the initial purchase with embellishments that include technology features – upgrading their vehicles on an ongoing basis.

More importantly, perhaps, Deloitte’s poll found such Gen Y buyers are willing to spend more than $3,000 for hardware that delivers such vehicle connectivity.

Similar demand for “in vehicle” connectivity is ramping up in the trucking world, too, with a variety of systems available for individual owner-operators and fleets alike on the market.

This is of course part of the broader integration of information technology (IT) within the world of trucking aimed at improving everything from operational efficiency and fuel economy to reducing downtime for maintenance.

[The “SmartNav” system developed by Peterbilt Motor Co. – which is called “NavPlus” by its brother-in-manufacturing-arms Kenworth Truck Co. – offers but one example of in-dash technology for commercial vehicles.]

Deloitte’s survey also discerned that Gen Y consumers recognize that increased connectivity can create safety issues – and they expect the vehicles themselves to compensate for the distractions potentially resulting from increased connectivity.

“Gen Y consumers are willing to pay for technology that can help them better manage all the distractions created by connectivity,” noted Deloitte’s Vitale.

“On average, they will shell out approximately $2,000 for a bundle of safety features like collision-avoidance systems, blind spot detection and sleep alert systems,” he pointed out. “In fact, Gen Y respondents graded safety bundles as their second most important priority – right behind technology bundles – when ranking their desire to buy additional vehicle features.”

[Again, this is a technology angle truckers are intimately familiar with – especially in terms of the latest advance in safety systems, so-called “active braking” technology.]

It just goes to show that vehicles are just going to keep morphing into “motorized computers” as time goes on. Let’s just hope they don’t replace the steering wheel with a mouse!

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