Forget Leather Seats—Where Do I Stick My Smartphone?

Why luxury car companies are going to have to start thinking less like Lee Iacocca and more like Steve Jobs.

For the first time since luxury cars were introduced in the early 1930s, there is a consumer consideration that outranks status, comfort, and cost: smartphone compatibility. That changes everything—how often people buy cars, how much they are influenced by automobile advertising, and brand loyalty, just for starters.

According to Jim Farley, Ford Motors’ executive vice president for its Lincoln luxury brand, cars are now computers on wheels. Speaking recently before the New York Auto Show, he stated that luxury car consumers now care more about syncing their smartphones than they do about size or price.

"What if someday a customer doesn’t change brands because of how hard it is to transfer their data?" he asked. Auto manufacturers will need to cooperate, rather than compete, when building and designing information systems. At a time when about half of car buyers already stick with the same brand, Farley makes an important point.

As more and more members of the digital generation trade in the car that got them through college for something a bit more glitzy, the data challenge isn’t just about auto manufacturers’ ability to lure customers away from competitors; it’s about getting that first luxury car customer to buy into a brand in the first place.

In this context, Farley announced that Ford is offering $50,000 in prize money to developers that come up with sync-able apps for tracking fuel efficiency. These types of innovations are where the car business is heading; established car brands and upstarts alike will have to think less like Lee Iacocca and more like Steve Jobs in the coming years.

From fuel efficiency to GPS technology to social interaction, next generation car buyers are beginning to define performance not by speed, style, or size; but rather the ways in which data and data sharing can enrich the driving experience. The brands that successfully leverage this next leap in consumer attitudes will be the new winners in the customer-loyalty game.

[Image: Flickr user Steve Snodgrass]

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  • John R

    THANK YOU for pointing this out. It's not computers on wheels, it's apps on wheels.  That's what we want; the company that figures it out will be rich.  Steve Jobs didn't make the apps, he made the platform. Why are auto companies still fooling around with trying to be the app makers?

    I wanted to buy a new car after 10 years but stopped shopping when I discovered NONE of the car companies had truly integrated smartphones and apps.  Instead what I found was a limited set of proprietary services, some with monthly charges!  It's nonsense that you can't use your smartphone's GPS app in your car.  

    It seems like Ford has made the most progress toward the inevitable integration, but not enough for me to run out and replace my clunker right now.