Car Commerce Tracker: Debut Edition

For payments and commerce, digital mobility and the rise of the IoT mean a proliferation of ways to engage with potential products and possible points of sale — an industry-wide push to enable seamless digital experiences for consumers wherever, whenever.

Already, AR is changing the way consumers can preview products before purchase. AI and chatbots have opened new commerce channels and ways for consumers to engage with brands. Smart fridges mean consumers buy groceries from the kitchen; smart speakers enable seamless purchases from the couch with a few choice words.

But where will the next developments be as chatbots proliferate, smartphones become ubiquitous and the whole home is connected floor to ceiling, shower head to garbage can?

The short answer is the car. And we don’t just mean self-driving technology. Long a symbol of personal freedom (and mobility, literally), the motor vehicle industry and the personal vehicle itself are both due for some serious tech upgrades.

How we buy cars, and how we use cars to buy, could very well look different in just a few years’ time. This is why PYMNTS is introducing the Car Commerce Tracker — keeping tabs on the latest news, trends and developments in payments, commerce and technology as it relates to the car.

Ford Motor Company, for one, is on track to bring car buying into the digital age by leveraging software developed by San Francisco-based automotive FinTech startup AutoFi Inc. Ford’s lending arm also recently took an equity stake in AutoFi, said The Wall Street Journal, for an undisclosed amount.

Ford reportedly intends to leverage AutoFi’s online auto financing marketplace to make it easier for consumers to purchase and finance a Ford or Lincoln vehicle solely via the dealer’s website without having to visit a physical showroom. (At least in states where the law doesn’t require an in-person visit to sign the accompanying paperwork.)

Kevin Singerman, cofounder and CEO of AutoFi, was quoted as saying: “There was a lot of innovation that was being brought for most other consumer finance products, but auto was really lacking.”

But that is quickly changing as FinTech companies jump on the chance to innovate the auto-finance market. Ford and AutoFi’s deal is the latest in a series of industry endeavors.

In August of last year, JPMorgan Chase partnered with online car-buying site TrueCar to speed up the car-buying process with Chase Auto Direct. In October, Lending Club moved its debt refinancing model to auto loans, financing car loans at interest rates that reportedly could save the average borrower $1,350 over the term of their debt.

Shifting gears slightly (pun absolutely intended), this recent move by Ford isn’t the company’s only current plan to change the face of car commerce.

The motor company just last month announced at CES that its in-vehicle command center — Ford Sync, part of Ford’s SmartDrive platform for in-car, app-based experiences for drivers and passengers — will be powered by Amazon’s Alexa. Toyota also signed on with SmartDrive/Sync, and Honda, Peugeot, Subaru and Mazda have also been rumored to be considering the technology as well.

While the Alexa integration seems to fall more into a more general smart car camp, for now, it’s not hard to imagine that Amazon’s technology would be used to facilitate purchases and payments straight from the vehicle’s digital dashboard. Voice-enabled commerce is one of Alexa’s major selling points, after all.

Honda’s in-vehicle payment system, also debuted and showcased at CES, is more directly vehicle-related and less a car-based IoT extension. The partnership with Visa brings in-vehicle payments capabilities for compatible smart-fueling and smart-parking technologies. Honda is currently in discussion with a number of additional companies looking to further innovate and augment car-based payments.

And these are just a few recent examples. Let’s not forget the fast-growing interest in self-driving and autonomous vehicle technology from a number of global tech giants — from Amazon to Alphabet’s Waymo, from Apple to Uber.

If anything, this is just the beginning — so stay tuned.



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