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Could Legacy Automakers be Threatened by Self-Driving Cars?

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【Summary】In other words, will it matter if you own a Ford or Chevy if you aren’t driving it yourself? After all, brands differentiate themselves on image as much as anything else.

Timothy Healey    Dec 22, 2016 11:35 AM PT
Could Legacy Automakers be Threatened by Self-Driving Cars?

Will customers care about the brand that provides them with their self-driving car?

In other words, will it matter if you own a Ford or Chevy if you aren't driving it yourself? After all, brands differentiate themselves on image as much as anything else.

"In the long term, automotive brands are gone," retired General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, 84, told Automotive News. Lutz approved BMW's "The Ultimate Driving Machine" slogan when he was in charge of the German makes' global marketing efforts during the 1970s. "If you get on a city bus or an airplane, do you care who made it? There won't be anything left to car brands in 20 years."

Right now, marketing consultant firm Interbrand ranks the world's top 15 automotive brands as being worth $256 billion combined, with Toyota worth $53.6 billion by itself.

Brand identity has long played a part in slogans such as "Have You Driven a Ford Lately?" and Mazda's "Zoom Zoom."

Automakers continue to use slogans even as they push new technology as a selling point.

The question is, as automakers partner with tech giants to work on the technology needed to power self-driving cars, will they continue to get top billing or will there be more mentions of various partnerships?

"The biggest question on the table today: Is it going to be a Chevy powered by Apple or is it going to be an Apple vehicle or a Google vehicle?"  Mark Short, a global transportation and automotive analyst for Ernst and Young, said.

For their part, automakers are working to get involved in every aspect of mobility, and they'd like to see a future where consumers are accessing different aspects of mobility via apps that have their brand name.

General Motors president Dan Ammann likens it to how airlines differentiate themselves from competitors by services offered.

"It will be about connectivity, comfort and all of that," Ammann said.

On the other hand, automakers might just end up competing based on what their autonomous cars can offer, be it in terms of ride/handling for passengers, connectivity features or ability to serve as a mobile office.

Not to mention, the old-school automakers may have earned a level of trust when it comes to self-driving cars that tech giants won't have if they build their own autonomous vehicles.

"When you have no control and you're putting your life purely in the hands of a robot, you care even more about the credibility of that brand," Evan Hirsh, an adviser to auto executives at Strategy&, a unit of PwC, told Automotive News. "I'm not sure how much confidence I would have in a Lenovo car."


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