In 2007, when Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone, few people had any idea of just how revolutionary that product would be.
Three years later, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt announced the company’s new “mobile first” strategy in creating software for mobile devices before PCs.
These two announcements were the precursors of a mobile tech revolution that has been gaining speed and momentum over the past decade.
Today, smartphones are a huge part of our daily lives and influence almost everything we do, from shopping, banking and scheduling appointments to texting, social media and purchasing products (and a whole lot more!).
One area where the iPhone (and mobile technology in general) has had a tremendous impact is in the auto industry. In 2010, Chrysler was the first automaker to create an owner’s manual as a smartphone app. Other automakers soon followed suit.
Early mobile apps included new vehicle information, vehicle operating instructions, maintenance schedules and warranty information, as well as links to parts, merchandise, review sites and social media.
For close to a decade, automakers, tech firms and new car dealers have been developing apps for mobile devices and modifying their websites in an effort to streamline the car-buying process and to enhance the ownership experience.
Mobile apps for dealers allow customers (and potential customers) to perform a range of functions, including making sales and service appointments, viewing vehicle inventory (new and pre-owned), obtaining quotes, viewing consumer review sites and taking virtual tours and test drives.
For salespeople and managers, mobile apps allow them to locate vehicles, display colour choices, check current offers, compare cars and trucks against competitors’ vehicles and display popular features for each vehicle.
Some mobile apps allow used-car managers to access car history reports and third-party guidebook values. This makes the car buying process more efficient for buyer and seller.
For the majority of car owners, smartphones have become an invaluable tool for facilitating a wide range of automotive-related activities. When someone is in the market for a car, he/she will begin the search using a smartphone: visiting manufacturer and dealership websites, reading reviews and researching makes and models.
That same customer will use a smartphone to visit independent review sites to find out what the online community has to say about a particular dealership, manufacturer, brand and model.
Personal recommendations and referrals play an important role in determining where car buyers choose to do business and what kind of vehicle to purchase. Those communications are being performed almost exclusively on smartphones.
With Ford, the brand I represent, smartphones are easily paired with the company’s SYNC, an in-vehicle communications and entertainment system. SYNC allows drivers to make hands-free phone calls, control music, send and receive text messages using voice activation and more.
An app I often use is FordPass, which allows drivers to monitor and control their vehicles from their smartphones (lock and unlock their cars, start their cars, see gas and oil level, and find fuel and parking destinations).
A popular GPS navigation app is Waze, which can be paired with SYNC and other in-vehicle communication systems. In fact, Waze and other mobile navigation apps are actually replacing straight-up navigation devices offered by manufacturers.
However, as integrated as smartphones have become in our cars, not all consumers are prepared to abandon human contact when buying a vehicle.
At my Ford dealership and others, many customers still want to speak one-on-one with salespeople, managers, service advisers and automotive technicians. They appreciate the human contact.
Despite the pervasive nature of mobile technology in our lives, the retail car business is still a people business. As long as real people are working at dealerships and buying cars, mobile technologies may enhance the buyer/user experience, but it won’t replace face-to-face interactions and real-time conversations.
This column represents the views and values of the TADA. Write to [email protected] or go to tada.ca. Cliff Lafreniere is president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association and is president of Pinewood Park Motors (Ford) in Kirkland Lake. For information about automotive trends and careers, visit carsandjobs.com.