Vehicles are incredibly personal items, but just like your mobile phone, they come from production lines. Phone customisations are done at the software level, with lock screens, sound schemes and app selection all being unique to its owner. While auto manufacturers are increasingly standardising platforms for mass production and cost reduction, they are missing the mark. The cars we end up with in the showroom isn’t even close to a personalised vehicle, instead of one in a million, it’s just one of a million.
The aftermarket industry for auto accessories and customisations is thriving as a result of this rigid production process. While you may think the cost of personalisation would significantly impact the price, it is done in other industries.
Let’s take the purchase of a laptop for example, Dell has structured their production process to ship large volumes of standard units, but also allow customisation. If you choose to add more ram, bigger hard drive, a different cover the product that you receive arrives at your door at the same cost and usually at the same time. This is due to the production process of Dell laptops being engineered with user customisations in mind. It’s time this happened to the Auto Industry.
In reality this level of customisation does exist already, but only in hand-made supercars that cost millions. What I’m proposing is that auto manufacturers allow configurators for enthusiasts to customise and move the 3rd party market back up the chain. If you engineered the robots to not simply stamp out a million units, but look at a task list driven by online orders, then select the right component, the customisation process could work.
After discussing this with Ford personnel at their Go Further event a couple of weeks back, their pain specialist highlighted the need for extensive testing on products. This is completely reasonable. That’s why the configurable options don’t need to be as wide in scope as ‘upload your own graphics’, or ‘choose any paint colour’, what should be on offer is a selection of refined choices.
Today the customisation level is about 5 boring market-researched, aka watered-down colour choices. What should be on offer at least a dozen options. 12 options for colours, vinyl wraps, head lights, wheels and that’s before the inside. That level of configuration would provide enough uniqueness to make each vehicle feel like your own and is still small enough to be testable for international driving conditions.
If auto manufacturers were hitting the mark with consumer customisation needs, the 3rd party market would all but vanish. Personally I have upgraded at least 12 items on my car since purchase, had I been able to get it from the factory that way, I could have avoided replacing the seats, wheels, suspension, exhaust, headlights, stereo and much.
Everyone who has ever played a driving game has enjoyed the process of customising a car on-screen. This needs to come become a reality and fast. The ultimate for a car enthusiast to build their car online, hit buy and get a ship date immediately. A well designed system would update the customer on the current stage of manufacturing and lock out component changes as the vehicle progresses through development.
Obviously there will always be a need for the instant purchase, walk into a show room and leave with the vehicle that day. That’s fine and there’s no reason that can’t continue, but in 2013 we should have a more personalised buying experience and right now our auto manufacturers are failing us.
The Ford Mustang Customiser comes agonisingly close to what we need. They built the easy part of the process, the web front end and you can try it out here – http://www.ford.com/cars/mustang/customizer/. While it makes you a nice wallpaper, there’s no option to hit buy after your creation is made. It does need a price assigned to each of the options, given there are real cost differences between items. It’d be great to set a budget first, then make changes that fit within that window.
It’s amazing that no auto manufacturer has stood out from the crowd and differentiated on customisations. On renovations TV show, The Block, they ran a very successful competition for unique, vinyl wraps on Suzuki Swifts. This highlights the pent up demand that consumers have for something different. We don’t just have to drive white, black, read and blue cars people, the world can be custom.