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GM's Vision of EVs

GM’s EV-focused keynote at the virtual CES this week was literally electrifying: an entirely new battery system, a new business unit dedicated to delivery solutions, a cool new EV Hummer, even a flying Cadillac air taxi. But perhaps more than all of the new product announcements, I especially appreciated Mary Barra’s stated goal for a world that has “zero emissions, zero crashes, and zero congestion.” It was a powerful statement that placed all this innovation in context: GM is working to make the world a better, safer place. 

And that’s good news. We need more players in the EV market. While Tesla dominates it today, there is clearly plenty of room for more competition and innovation (Elon Musk said so himself!).  The market research firm IDTechEx estimates that EVs will constitute 20 percent of the worldwide market by 2030, and up to 80 percent by 2040. At some point, EVs will constitute the entire automotive market. It’s just a question of when, not if. 

Like most people, I’m very excited about our EV future. We have the opportunity to reinvent transportation, as well as make material progress on climate change. But if the auto industry just exchanges their combustion engines for electrical ones, and operates on a business as usual basis, they’ll be missing out on some huge opportunities. 


Here are some other ideas that could make the EV market truly transformational: 

Reinvent the dealership experience.

Wouldn’t it be great if your car dealership acted more like an Apple Store, and less like a flea market, where you haggle and haggle, and it always feels like a win/lose dynamic?   I think there are some lessons to be learned here from smart omnichannel vendors like Patagonia and Warby Parker. Appealing showrooms and engaged customer reps are still incredibly important, but the transactional elements need to be shifted online. Buying or leasing a new car should be as frictionless as possible.  


Most customers are 70% through their buying cycle by the time they’ve arrived at a dealership, anyway. As GM’s Chief Electric Vehicle Officer Travis Hester noted in the presentation, today we’re looking for a seamless buying experience across mobile, web, and dealership sales. We’re also looking for complete pricing transparency from the manufacturers, as well as validation from third-party pricing comparison services. New EVs are a great opportunity to transform the dealership experience. 


Recognize that drivers are looking for access, not ownership.

Exciting new technology is advancing so fast — who wants to be stuck with a dated vehicle? That’s why over a quarter of new vehicle sales are on lease, and the global vehicle subscription market is expected to surpass $80 billion by the end of the decade.  


It makes sense. When it comes to automobiles, consumers are demanding all the payment optionality and flexibility they get from their other mobile devices. And they don’t want the hassles of maintenance. I might need something simple and light for my daily commute, but a two week-road trip might call for something a little more fun and exciting. Give me the option to mix and match

Invest in the system, not just the car.

If EVs are going to achieve Mary Barra’s ultimate goal of the “three zeros,” they are going to require a fundamentally new system of driving. A new network. And that will entail thinking about things like sustainability and infrastructure. And we can’t afford that system to be balkanized and proprietary. New infrastructure is going to be immediately necessary for charging, but it’ll become even more important for autonomous driving (Beijing even has a new highway just for self-driving cars). 


For example, the end of ownership means that OEMs will increasingly become custodians of their own physical products. They’ll act more like fleet managers. And that’s fine, because EVs depreciate considerably slower than their gas-powered counterparts, and since they’re connected to the Internet, manufacturers can see in real-time how their cars are doing. Vehicles will get more usage, consumers will get more options, manufacturers will get smarter, maintenance will become automated, and planned obsolescence will become a thing of the past. 

When it comes to digital services, think beyond the car.

As GM’s new customer service platform Ultifi platform makes clear, connected EVs are the ultimate mobile devices. They are going to become completely customizable, with a whole range of different apps, services and features. I will be able to build my suite of EV services the same way I build my cell phone home screen. I will have the option to add or subtract premium content, features and services after I drive my new EV off the lot.    


But a driver’s digital experience doesn’t stop as soon as she gets out of the car. In fact, that’s just the start. We’re going to need digital services that can meet our extended needs. McKinsey says that “driven by shared mobility, connectivity services, and feature upgrades, new business models could expand automotive revenue pools by about 30 percent, adding up to $1.5 trillion.” That’s an extraordinary figure. I think it points to a future in which we will purchase automobiles largely on the basis of what digital services they provide, and how well they synchronize with the rest of our digital lives. 

Re-orient the auto industry towards the experience, not just the vehicle.

As more consumers (especially younger ones) choose to subscribe to connected vehicles as opposed to buying static ones, manufacturers stand to benefit enormously. In a traditional model, the product is done when it’s shipped, and then it’s up to the field — dealerships, garages, customer support — to make that product work.


That’s not how the best companies work today.  Backed by rich customer data, auto manufacturers can now bring together all the component parts of the company – engineering, finance, support, customer success, management — and focus on creating measurable value for their drivers.


At the end of the day, today’s businesses live or fall behind by the value they deliver to their customers. This is a chance for the auto industry to rethink how they deliver their vehicles. As services. As networks. As experiences.




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