Sunset road
This is a post by Inez Zimakowski
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On August 9th I was lucky enough to attend the Mumbrella Automotive Marketing Summit, where Toyota Australia’s CMO, Wayne Gabriel, delivered the keynote. Now, I’ve always been a fan of Toyota, with the 86 listed among my favourite exterior designs of all time, so I was super interested to hear what he had to say.

Artificial Intelligence

I’ve also always been a fan of extra-ness, so when Wayne drove into the room in the not-yet-released i-ROAD, I was pretty impressed. For those who haven’t seen or heard of the i-ROAD, it’s a not-yet-released electric vehicle designed specifically for inner city driving. Want to see what it looks and drives like? Check out the video below.

 

We all know the automotive industry is undergoing change on an unprecedented scale, with electric vehicles and AI set to be the future of transport. But is developing the technology the challenge? Yes, and no. One of the biggest issues in AI-driven vehicles is getting the consumer on board. For people to make the leap of faith required and quite literally put their lives in the hands of machines, autonomous driving needs to improve on current safety levels, with every mistake and every death involving a self-driving vehicle instilling more doubt. We demand machines that are faultless, that will make the right decision every time, but how can you guarantee that? In relinquishing control, do we also give us the right to making an ethical choice in the event of an accident? What would a computer choose if given the options of killing its occupant or killing a pedestrian? The dog, or the cyclist? 

This is especially true in the Australian market, with Aussies some of the most sceptical when it comes to autonomous vehicles. Only 25% are excited about the emerging technology, and 16% would never get into a self-driving car [IPSOS Survey].

So, how does a brand like Toyota respond to this kind of resistance? They reframe the conversation. Rather than push the idea of a self-driven car, Toyota has developed a Mobility Teammate Concept, where the driver and car collaborate and communicate, working towards a common goal of zero accidents and a more confident and capable driver and a more intelligent AI. This technology is already being implemented into the fleet in the form of Toyota Safety Sense, a bundle of features including automatic braking, pedestrian detection, lane departure alerts, automatic high beans and dynamic radar cruise control. As AI is further integrated, the ‘Chauffeur’ and ‘Guardian’ roles will emerge, both designed to keep the driver in control, but provide assistance when required.

By leaving the driver in control and creating a seemingly subservient AI, along with the incremental deployment of AI features, will Toyota be able to keep the ‘I, Robot’ nightmare where the machines try to kill us all out of consumers heads? Who can say.

 Selling the Concept

The next question is, how do you sell these concepts to a new audience who is less likely to visit a showroom as their first touch point, and is likely to have up to 90 digital touch points with a brand before making the final vehicle purchase? This is another area where Toyota are doing things differently. Traditionally, to demonstrate safety technology, you would show demonstration videos, or animations, but you can’t really take a vehicle out for a test drive and casually try to swerve into another lane or hit a pedestrian. While some drivers might try this in their own vehicles to test out the features, reckless driving isn’t something dealers would, or should promote.

In this area Toyota has certainly been innovative, using VR and AR to sell in the new safety technology, with millennials the most open to this.

Keeping Customers Engaged

Another area where Toyota is doing things differently is in customer engagement. In September the brand will be launching an app – I won’t be cheeky and give away its core features, although I will say if you’re a Toyota owner you should definitely download it when it’s released (cough fuel savings cough). The app is also a great way for the brand to stay in touch with its customers long term, and move the relationship beyond just servicing. This is particularly important for the younger segment, who Toyota have found don’t have the same level of stickiness and brand loyalty of their older demographics. Once they’re actually in the dealership, younger buyers are looking at the quality of the product over the badge on the boot.

 Shifting the Brand

Perhaps with this is mind, Toyota has sought to shift away from simply manufacturing vehicles, to being seen as a mobility solutions provider. In October 2017 the ‘Start Your Impossible’ campaign was launched with the ‘Mobility For All’ film, a moving piece that highlighted the brands truly global nature, emerging technologies, and Paralympics partnership.

 

The products showcased in this ad aren’t available yet, and many likely won’t be in-market for at least 3-5 years. So why advertise them in the first place? Because at the end of the day, the campaign isn’t about the product, it’s about ‘starting the impossible’, as the campaign tagline states, and getting the concept of mobility for all into our heads. To shift perceptions around AI, you need to turn fear into excitement, and what better way to do that than give us a glimpse of a future where physical disability is no longer a barrier?

Current releases and developments in AI are preparing the foundation for the seismic shift in product that will come once the balance between human and machine control has been found, and we move from ‘cars’ to ‘mobility solutions’.  The technology may seem incredibly advanced, but at its core it helps people move and breaks down existing barriers to success. It’s a fantastic new brand positioning, and one that is also future-proof. For the next few years, at least!

So what is Toyota doing that’s so different? If I had to try to wrap it up into one, semi-coherent sentence, it would be this. They’re phasing cutting edge technology into products gradually so as not to make consumers feel uncomfortable; aligning (very rational) product development to (more emotional) brand positioning to ensure the brand experience is coherent; and creating new, valuable touch points - through technology - to improve the customer’s experience of the brand, and improve long-term loyalty. Not bad, Toyota, not bad!