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By: Katherine Champagne, Manager, Ignition Factory, OMD

There is a comfortable degree of certainty that someday soon, we won’t have to pay attention to the road when we are riding in our personal vehicles. All of the major automakers, from Ford to Honda, are reporting that Level 4 autonomy cars could be on the road by the mid 2020’s. Level 4 autonomy cars can drive themselves, almost all of the time, without any human input but might be programmed not to drive in unmapped areas or during severe weather— basically, a car you could sleep in.1 It’s not a matter of if self-driving cars are coming for our roads, but when.

The time spent driving will be given back to us, and our cars will become mobile rooms, with the potential to become anything we want them to be: a bachelor pad, beauty salon, a mobile office. If the home is the ‘first space’ and our jobs the ‘second’, our cars will become the proverbial ‘third space’. Automakers have already started to ask the question, and it’s important for us as marketers too: what will the defining characteristics of our cars be when we no longer have to drive them?

Chrysler’s Portal self-driving concept car.²
The voice-controlled assistants that rule the smart home will become fixtures in fully autonomous vehicles. Services like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri will begin to permeate our cars, offering a seamless transition in service from home to vehicle. Concept vehicles are even getting their own proprietary voice assistants, like Toyota’s Yui3, a virtual companion that accompanies their autonomous concept car, the Concept-I.

Yui is similar to the well-known offerings like Alexa or Siri—that will talk to you, provide directions, learn about your likes and dislikes, et cetera— but is also deeply integrated into the driving system of the car, too. For example, Yui can sense an emergency and take control while the car is in manual driving mode.

The Toyota Concept-i, featuring Yui
When smart assistants are embedded in the driving system, it will give marketers new data points from which they can learn about their consumers. We will know what types of places and spaces our drivers frequent, and be able to use that information to our advantage. Vehicles will be able to report on how often a soccer mom goes to the grocery store for her family and the frequency with which she takes her daughter to soccer practice—they’ll also give us a view of how often soccer moms, everywhere, take these actions in the aggregate.

We’ll be able to leverage these learnings for a more comprehensive picture of consumer behavior, and intercept people during those key moments to provide valuable reminders and advice. A brand like Gatorade can understand that soccer moms shop for their families most commonly on weekend afternoons and customize their sales-driving messaging to fit those particular times, across all media channels.

As you move from point A to point B, your car will be able to help detect helpful information along the way. Since cars are (obviously) mobile, there’s also the opportunity take advantage of offers and deals as you ride by them. A car will become a space of smart mobility, giving people information to act upon, connecting them to the world around them. You’ll be reminded of what you need to buy at the grocery store when you’re ten minutes away from the store, via the shopping list you created on your Amazon Alexa-enabled fridge at home.

OnStar & IBM Watson 4
Right now, the autonomous car landscape is a blank canvas, ready for automakers and brands alike to create the future of our collective dreams. As the autonomous car landscape evolves, those who create truly exceptional experiences will emerge as winners—who will be the first to get it right?

1: Venturebeat, “Self-Driving Car Timeline For 11 Top Automakers”, June 2017
2: Jalopnik, “The Chrysler Portal Is A Self-Driving Electric Mobile Room That Makes A Lot Of Sense”, January 2017
3: Techcrunch, “Here’s what it’s like to drive with Toyota’s Yui AI in-car assistant’, January 2017
4: AdAge, “In-Car Advertising: GM, IBM Pair Watson and OnStar to Deliver Brand Messages”, October 2016