As one of the luxury car brands hard hit by Tesla’s emergence as a rising plus-size car brand, BMW is ramping up electric vehicles, driving cars, and the transition to digital technology. That means launching new gas-free vehicles, announcing goals of doubling electric vehicle sales this year, and declaring that the time for Tesla’s unique selling proposition has expired. This means big changes for the 100-year-old car brand.
Think online sales, or buying a car in an app.
Even when you have thousands of agents in the real, physical and physical world.
BMW VP Jens Thiemer told me recently at TechFirst Podcast. “And we have to prepare ourselves with our retail partners to make that possible.”
Target: 25% of all BMW cars sold online by 2025.
To do this, BMW has tapped into Adobe for data management, personalized digital experiences, a unified customer experience across digital agencies, and where else a BMW owner experiences the brand… including in the car, for months and years after purchase. Think “phygital,” that awkward word for a mixture of physical and digital.
This new unified experience could extend into the metaverse, Thiemer says, with virtual test engines. But it also incorporates current real-world proxies as a valuable asset, not as fading relics of a pre-digital age or an anchor slowing the boat of change.
“For many people, our retail partners are the main facet of our brand,” Thiemer says. “And of course I think it would be foolish to give up on that, because even if there is a huge trend of direct sales … we also see brands in the automotive sector who are totally dependent on a digital buying journey, a direct sales model, they are now investing more and more in physical locations as well , because … they still need – for a perfect customer journey – those touch points.”
(As a Tesla owner, I can verify that the need remains. And having to drive fairly long distances to get service is not an ideal customer experience.)
One big change: fixed prices.
This is new for most car brands of course. But in the growing world of digital sales, it’s hard to integrate negotiation. Besides, having to negotiate before you can get a good price isn’t exactly great for the brand image.
Other: customize cars according to personal needs.
While most brands are taking orders, the industry is still largely built on pre-made selections that consumers simply accept or reject, rather than models prepped with everything you want and nothing you don’t need.
This is one of the places where BMW is working with partners like Adobe through Experience Cloud, a suite of apps for commerce, customer data and personalization across channels and media. And… the actual physical locations.
“Seamless customer experiences and journeys – built on insights, data, and compelling content – are what make the digital economy personal,” says Anil Chakravarthy, Head of Digital Experience Business at Adobe. “With the evolution of the web, there will be an ever greater demand for immersive, data-driven experiences that include e-commerce, multi-user functionality, and the ability to own and export customized versions of your identity and possessions across virtual worlds.”
This means that the car buying journey does not end when the customer receives it. In a new world – brave new world? – There may be a function not enabled in your vehicle that you can only unlock as needed or desired…for an additional price. Tesla does this with Acceleration Boost, for example, which you can buy to make an already fast-range Tesla Model 3 or Y faster, but not as fast as the performance model.
BMW is looking into that, too.
“We have the potential to provide on-demand digital services and functionality during the usage phase,” says Thiemer. “If a customer is in a situation where, say, a technical feature like the active cruise control set in an advanced version would be great for the person… we give that to you, and we explain what the feature is. We say, well, there is a free trial period. Try When you want, you can order it. So it’s actually done in less than a minute and you’re ready to go.”
That keeps the car fresh, says Thiemer.
It also keeps the dollars flowing, of course, and is probably a step down the road to not actually owning a car, but just paying a transportation subscription fee and getting access to a specific car, or whatever vehicle you might need. There are pros and cons to this vision.
Whatever digital cars become, and whatever the car-buying experience becomes digital, Thiemer says the human touch should never go away.
But where it appears should be based on numerical data.
He told me, “People want to connect from time to time with real faces… To me, that’s very, very obvious.” “I think it’s almost a concierge kind of thing. It’s your personal partner by your side who works at every point 24/7 whenever you have a desire or when you have a request in the context of your mobility system.”
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