It’s hard to look at the explosion of order-ahead capabilities for coffee, food and even groceries, and to think, “Now that is a concept that is failing to live up to its full potential.”
But we could just be scratching the surface, particularly when it comes to ordering ahead from connected devices in cars.
Of the 135 million American adults who drive a car to and from work each weekday, 54 percent of those commuters tap into order-ahead to pay for food – to the tune of $47.3 billion in commerce every year. Ordering coffee, buying groceries and finding and paying for parking and gas, all completed in cars during daily commutes, adds up to an estimated $212 billion annually.
Over 75 percent of consumers who commute for 30 minutes or more each day would order ahead more often if their vehicles were both autonomous and connected. Millennials are also increasingly looking for more connected experiences, with 82 percent saying they would shop more often during their commute if voice-activated technology were more available. That is nearly twice the rate of other consumers.
The survey also found that two-thirds of commuters already using order-ahead via mobile would be more inclined to use the service more often if it were available through the automobile. One in five commuters who are currently disconnected on the way to work would be interested in owning a self-driving car.
Most notably, however, the study found that though there is clearly wide-ranging interest in a connected – and even potentially autonomous – future for cars, consumers are still looking at this as a future innovation to come. Currently, only 11 percent of commuters are currently using a voice-activated system to connect during their drives.
However, given the slew of connected car announcements pouring out of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the future of commerce in connected cars is arriving now – and the race is underway for merchants to grab their fair share of the $212 billion in commerce that is being spent in those connected cars today.
Toyota Plays For Poll Position
Toyota’s headline-grabbing move was its announcement of its mobility alliance, which will develop fully autonomous electric vehicles to deliver packages, pizza and people to desired destinations. Joining the alliance are some very big names: Amazon, Pizza Hut, Uber, Mazda and Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing have all signed on to develop and utilize these autonomous electric Toyota cars.
“It’s my goal to transition Toyota from an automobile company to a mobility company, and the possibilities of what we can build, in my mind, are endless,” Akio Toyoda, the automaker’s president, said Monday at CES in Las Vegas.
Toyota's e-Palette, the car showcased at CES, will be available in three sizes, offering open interior layouts that individual companies can customize to meet their needs. The larger vehicle, according to Toyota, could be suitable for transporting multiple standing adults – and could even transformed into (small) portable hotel rooms.
The control interface will be open-source, and hence as customizable as the interior, enabling partners to import their own automated driving systems. Toyota will undergird the system with additional services, such as leasing and insurance support and fleet management, and will also provide users with access to its global communications network and a Toyota Big Data Center.
The cars will get their first test drive, so to speak, at Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic Games, and additional testing – including in the U.S. – will begin in the early 2020s.
And while Toyota got the most play for its big partnership announcement, Toyota and Amazon were not actually done playing nicely together at CES this year.
Amazon Gives It Some Gas
While Amazon was joining Toyota’s mobility alliance yesterday, Toyota was joining the increasingly large Amazon Alexa-connected family.
Starting this year, Alexa is coming to select Toyota vehicles, with no additional hardware required. For the initial rollout, Alexa will come pre-loaded and ready to help with the Entune 3.0 App Suite (Toyota's infotainment system) and Enform App Suite 2.0 (Lexus’ infotainment system) for some 2018 cars. Other models will also get Alexa support beginning in 2019.
Toyota's Alexa offerings are fairly complete, including news updates, control of the in-car system, shopping and to-do lists and (for those with smart homes) control of lights and other connected appliances while driving home.
Toyota is the latest in a series of automakers that have recently signed on with Amazon and Alexa. Ford announced their intention to begin testing Alexa integration at CES last year, and BMW unveiled their planned integration back in the fall.
And, even if one is not in the market for a Toyota, Ford or BMW, Alexa may still find a way to be a commuter's co-pilot.
On Monday, Amazon introduced Alexa Onboard technology, designed to allow users to access the Alexa voice assistant through their car's infotainment system. The system will make it easier for riders to play music, ask for directions or control the car's lighting and other internal systems simply by speaking to the audio system.
Panasonic announced at CES that it would be the first partner for Alexa Onboard, which will also offer other Alexa services that were previously dependent on an internet connection.
"Enabling some of these capabilities even without an internet connection is revolutionary," said Tom Gebhardt, president of Panasonic Corporation of North America.
The pair-up with Panasonic is significant as Amazon is seeking to increase inroads into automobiles. Panasonic is the current market leader in the vehicle infotainment space, with an 11.5 percent market share, according to a 2016 report by Strategy Analytics.
Google Gets In Gear
Google has had a very full week at the CES, as it has been making an impressive full-court press for its Google Voice Assistant – which as of yet does not have an anthropomorphizing name (RIP, Allo). We’ll have more on that full story in tomorrow’s mobile payments report.
But Google’s automotive ambitions also got a bit of an upgrade. The search giant will also be working with Panasonic to get its assistant into more cars.
Android automotive applications will also be able to perform some media and navigation functions, as well as control in-cabin heating and ventilation systems.
That news actually went hand-in-hand with an announcement that Google Assistant is officially coming to Android Auto. Initially, this announcement was incredibly confusing for most people, as many Twitter users quickly pointed out that their Android Auto had featured Google Assistant for at least a year. But further investigation showed that those Twitter users had actually been doing simple Google Voice searches, when they were saying “okay Google” instead of truly interacting with Google’s nameless assistant.
With the upgrade, Google can now support actions like controlling connected appliances at home and remembering consumers' music preferences.
Ford’s Future Focus
As has been the trend for the last few years, there were all kinds of options on display for the potential future of self-driving vehicles. Intel and Aptiv both rolled out concept cars that captured a lot of Instagram space throughout the day.
But the show stealer of the day was Ford, which came with not only a design for cars that could drive themselves, but also a vision of how those cars can connect to one other, and to the community at large.
Taking the stage at CES yesterday, Ford CEO Jim Hackett laid out the car company's ambitions to build a network of cars and traffic signals that will connect everything to everything else on the streets of what he described as the "city of tomorrow."
“The car and the system will be talking to each other. The car obviously is going to learn to drive itself, but the city’s transportation grid will mutate around what the cars need," explained Hackett.
The executive announced that to actualize the vision, Ford is working with Silicon Valley’s Autonomic to develop an information-sharing platform – named the Transportation Mobility Cloud – that will enable vehicles, bicycles and mass transit to communicate with each other in real time.
To make those interactions possible, Ford is working with chipmaker Qualcomm to produce the system that Ford is calling "Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything," which is meant to eventually run on a 5G cellular network.
And, in case building a mobile network to connect every driver, bicyclist and pedestrian in every city in America over a 5G network isn't already a big enough job, Ford also decided that it might as well get into the delivery business as well.
The automaker announced it has made a deal with Postmates to begin pilot programs that will explore how self-driving vehicles can be used for making quicker and more convenient deliveries of groceries, food or retail goods.
“If we move quickly and dramatically shift our thinking, we can redesign transportation in our cities in ways that not only meet the growing demand, but improve the quality of life for everyone at the same time," Hackett said. "It’s not a dream.”
One can question whether or not Ford will be the primary architect of building that dream into a reality. As the proliferation of announcements at CES demonstrates, lots of players want a shot at that crown.
But Hackett’s essential observation seems correct: Connected and perhaps even fully autonomous cars are no longer just in the dreaming phase – they’ve officially entered active construction.
And as the latest PYMNTS numbers indicate, there are an awful lot of consumers waiting quite expectantly to see what they come up with.