Everyone in tech is talking about the future of cars. The future of mobility. The drive towards driverless and the redesign of the automotive experience. The possibilities are growing and so is the excitement.
What you hear less about, though, is heritage. Makes, models and marques of all types, in form and function, exhibit nods to designers past who have shaped cars and in turn our relationships with them. For some people, and for some brands, it matters more – Aston Martin, Maserati, TVR, Porsche, to name a few. The iconic grille, the engine note, the lines, the curves, the colours. For some, particular car brands, like other iconic products – Jony Ive’s iPhones or Dieter Ram’s Vitsœ line – articulate a design language that for each iteration is clearly rooted in previous models. In what’s gone before.
We know that the digital revolution disrupts, and does so deeply. But even as its effects are felt ever more strongly in the auto industry, we should look back as well as to the future. Auto customers are more willing to buy into the tradition and heritage of car design than people are with most other consumer products. A recent Autotrader report described 39% of UK buyers as what they call ‘Confident Car Lovers’: people knowledgeable about cars and with a strong interest in them outside of the buying process.
Demand for new technology is most pronounced, predictably perhaps, amongst younger people. 41% of millennial car buyers in the US say that they are interested in the latest tech innovations in their next vehicle, more than any other age group – this has actually meant a higher-than-expected appetite for new cars there. But the point is – it is not a binary choice. It’s not Doc Brown’s DeLorean vs Frank Bullitt’s Mustang. As customer experience strategists and designers, we spend our time creating products that are built around the user and, yes, it’s future-focused, but it’s also about understanding what people want and what people value about a current product.
There’s no reason you can’t have a WayRay HUD in your windscreen, or a car that’s 5G ready, or have personalised and responsive settings, and still value tradition and heritage.
New tech and the changing parameters of the connected car are going to have a major impact on (and throughout) the relationships we have with our vehicles. I believe strongly that OEMs need to challenge their own modes of thinking, and find new ways to meet changing expectations and customer needs. But I also believe in heritage. The digital designers and tech companies rushing into the world of OEMs with new tools, techniques and solutions need to make sure that heritage and tradition – something car buyers value – remains part of the equation. Designing around the user means building for the future, but also considering what’s gone before.
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