Technical Innovation Needs to Have Value, Not Just Flash

It used to be once every few days my email inbox received advertisements for digital this or that dealers must have. Now it’s inundated with them multiple times a day.

Aren’t you also increasingly aware of how the march of innovation is stepping forward faster than ever? Not all innovation has value, however.

Some new ideas are shiny and interesting, but their business cases are not always clear. Others will certainly have an impact. The vast majority will go the way of typewriter and the paper map.

Innovations that seem to fade tend to be those that claim something about how the way dealerships are doing things now is obsolete.

Well, that is likely true in some cases, but it is not easily explained away without some investigation.

What remains always true is that promises made possible through new technology compel us to launch investigations to see if they are, indeed, true. So how do we go about that?

Sorting through ads can be confusing. Let’s face it: There is a lot of noise, gimmicks, and nonsense wrapped around too many product promises.

The challenge is figuring out how to be sure of the right technology to adopt and trust, and avoid the imitators and time-wasters.

One of the ways to help guide you to the right tech providers is to get a sense of whether they really understand the automotive business, the implications of the technology they promote, and the real processes that are necessary to successfully bring their technology to the modern consumer.

Although technological innovations may sometimes appear to pop out of nowhere, they require years, and even decades, of iterations and synthesizing of best-of-breed ideas, innovations, and practices.

For instance, experts tell us online vehicle and F&I sales will be practical by 2019, a solution in incubation for more than 20 years.

Make a note of that, because the wild ideas tossed around at NADA and other industry forums this year and in the next few are the seeds of future technologies and applications that promise to transform your business now—and even more tomorrow.

We’ve seen this type of “yesterday is the present” scenario play out many times before.

Driverless vehicles

Autonomous vehicles is an idea that’s been in development longer than you might think. For example, consider this excerpt from a 1958 edition of Mechanix Illustrated:

“The road is jammed with cars and the drivers are all either reading papers or gazing idly out the windows. Some are even catching last-minute snoozes. The autos, you see, are being driven by robots. The secret: intricate control mechanisms guided by cables embedded in the highways.”

Today’s “robot cars” don’t use physical cables for control, rather sophisticated GPS, though the outcome seems the same.

The information superhighway

A 1985 film by AT&T foresaw that computers would one day talk with one another, and that humans would speak to them to get information.

Sound familiar? It became what we used to call the information superhighway and can’t live without today: the internet.

Online car sales

The first automobile was sold via the World Wide Web by the son of a West Coast auto dealer in 1994.

Soon after, the first online auto financing engine was developed and marketed.

Modern F&I emerged from the late ’90s, with new strategies for speeding up rating, contracting, and product menu presentations while improving customer engagement.

You’ve witnessed the emergence of these technologies—and brought them into your dealership.

Whether it’s with digital presentation tools, educational video and virtual reality engagement tools, or self-serve kiosks, the modern F&I platform positions auto dealers to better serve their customers, whether in the store or online.

Here are coming developments we’ll be seeing in modern F&I:

  • In the near horizon, we’ll see platforms like Apple Pay being used throughout the dealership to streamline transactions. Also, digital currency Bitcoin, experimented with in very limited circles, may become a preferred way for many to buy services—even to purchase vehicles.
  • Toyota Financial Services is exploring blockchain technology, which enables Bitcoin currency, to “lower costs, increase efficiency, and make auto finance more transparent.”
  • Customer journey data will provide F&I with helpful lifestyle, risk-tolerance, and vehicle-preference insight about shoppers as they flow deeper into the sales funnel. Salespeople can then engage customers online or in the store, using insight from the data to better guide the conversation, instead of probing for and discussing products of little or no interest to the consumer.

Again, technology that’s been on the boards for years—greatly developed from inroads pioneered by companies such as Amazon and Netflix—is now flowing into, and bringing advantages to, auto retailers.

Innovations like predictive analysis technology and relationship mapping help dealers understand consumer interests more clearly.

They can then present products and services of interest at key points along the consumers’ shopping and purchase journey.

The right technology partners and providers will incorporate cutting-edge tools that at first may not feel natural or what you are used to, but the promise of genuine results will outweigh the discomfort of change.

New technology will be offered to strive toward continuous improvement of existing processes. The right providers will demonstrate, with every iteration of their technology, an unwavering commitment to long-view goals.

The F&I products of tomorrow are in development and trial use today. Some are still just germs of ideas without root, just as many of yesterday’s products once were—but without them, we couldn’t run our businesses today.