Commerce Connected

Alexa Hitches A Ride To Big Auto’s Voice Commerce Future

Is it a Buick or an Alexa? That’s the question a new Buick commercial poses as it shows a couple out on the town, debating whether they’re riding in a “Buick” or an “Alexa” as they use the car’s voice-activated features to aid them on their journey.

Here’s the video:

This commercial isn’t Buick’s first boast about Alexa’s presence built into the car. In fact, there are several — the beauty of Alexa built it, Alexa giving you a pre-salary negotiation pep talk, Alexa warming up the car while one learns how to tie a tuxedo’s bowtie, etc.

Buick has gone big on including Alexa in its marketing efforts, highlighting all the ways in which Alexa riding shotgun is an asset to drivers everywhere. In fact, it isn’t only Buick commercials that have seen Alexa make cameo appearances.

Nissan gets the credit for the first ad that featured the wonder of an embedded Alexa. In 2018, the Japanese automaker ran an ad that highlighted Alexa’s ability to virtually start one’s car by using a simple voice command.

But what makes Buick’s new ad stand out is the degree to which parent company General Motors is willing to centralize Alexa to the Buick driving experience. That’s a sea change given the number of think pieces over recent years about how the last thing automakers wanted was to be disintermediated by Big Tech’s attempts to slip into the driver’s seat of the car-consumer relationship.

And yet, GM is now embracing Alexa so hard that the company doesn’t seem to care if customers think they’re driving an Alexa rather than a Buick. What gives?

Well, it’s impossible to deduce an entire corporate strategy from a single ad, and we do imagine that GM would like its customers to know they’re driving Buicks. But data about consumer desires for connected cars shows that a new generation of customers are as interested in automobile connectivity as consumers have historically been about gas mileage or horsepower.

Santiago Chamorro, GM’s vice president of global connected services, told CNBC last year that the automaker’s large-scale plans to build Alexa into its cars beginning in 2020 “brings the best of two fantastic companies. We have listened to our customers and their insights are clear — they want to carry those ecosystems into their vehicles.”

In fact, new figures indicate that consumer demand for connected cars is growing rapidly. The global connected-car market is forecast to reach $166 billion by 2025 from just $53.9 billion this year. That’s 25+ percent CAGR over the next five years, driven by automakers like Ford, BMW, Audi, Volvo, Hyundai, and Toyota all moving rapidly to expand connectivity features built into their cars.

The study also indicates that connected cars aren’t just of interest to consumers in the market for their next vehicles. Aftermarket demand is also on the rise, as is consumer willingness to pay for subscriptions for in-car access to social media, live traffic, weather updates, and automatic emergency calling. Some 32 percent of consumers say they’d consider paying for such services, up from just 21 percent in 2014.

And when PYMNTS spoke to consumers for our Digital Drive Report, we found that connected-car commerce represents a $230 billion opportunity.

What are U.S. consumers doing with existing connected car technology like smartphones plugged into the dashboard? Nearly half (47 percent) are looking for gas stations, while 35 percent are ordering something to eat for pick up at drive-throughs. Some 33 percent are also ordering cups of coffee for pick up, while smaller percentages are using technology to order items that they’ll pick up at retailers or grocery stores.

And our Digital Drive survey was taken in 2018, when the eCommerce world was a very different place pre-COVID. While the amount of time consumers spend in their cars commuting has certainly dropped due to work-from-home orders, the evidence suggests the public’s interest in conducting commerce while on the road hasn’t.

All of that means the race to capture consumers when they’re behind the wheel is heating up. Technology firms, issuers, OEMs and car companies are all lining up to participate in an emerging automotive ecosystem where what’s happening on the dashboard might soon be as important to consumers as what’s happening under the hood.

Consumers might never truly say they’re driving their Alexa outside a Buick commercial, but it’s looking increasingly likely that everyone may someday count Alexa as their co-pilot.

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