Tweet thisBig Data is about to transform the auto industry. Over the next five years, it will redefine the business of making, marketing, selling and servicing cars.

And in the process it will redefine the scope of auto industry research. Our toolkit for understanding the people driving our vehicles, and translating this understanding into marketing opportunity, is about to get a whole lot bigger.

Auto’s connected game-changer

Tweet thisThe connected car is the fundamental accelerator of the Big Data revolution in auto. It is arriving at a critical moment, when auto manufacturers must find a role as part of a wider mobility ecosystem. It will lead the future development of auto whilst at the same time redefining the role of vehicles in people’s lives. And it will do so whilst capturing behavioural data on an unprecedented scale.

By 2018 it’s predicted that 70% to 80% of new cars registered in the US and Europe will be connected. That’s a game-changer in terms of where auto manufacturers get the majority of their information. Five years from now, we expect that at least half of the data that auto researchers deal with will come directly from connected vehicles. We already integrate a range of data sets with traditional surveys to provide deeper insight – but the volume and variety of data that we have available is about to increase exponentially.

The data curation challenge

The connected car is also a game-changer in the way that it connects data to all areas of the auto manufacturing business on a daily basis. Connected car data will inform product development as sensors capture precisely how vehicles perform in different environments. It will reveal how drivers themselves react to conditions and different use-cases, illuminating instinctive responses, behaviours and preferences that would be extremely difficult to surface through memory-based surveys. In doing so, it will help auto brands to craft compelling propositions that address drivers’ deeper emotive needs as well as unrecognised functional ones. By revealing where things go wrong, and where a car’s performance doesn’t synch with what a driver is trying to do, connected car data will anticipate frustrations and spotlight threats to customer loyalty.

We are quickly entering a new era when the collection of data is no longer the issue. The question now is which of the proliferating data streams to focus on – and how to combine them to generate better quality insights that can give clients an edge. Researchers must extend their expertise into a new role as data curators and consultants, working with a myriad of structured and unstructured data sets and integrating them around a precise understanding of clients’ business issues.

It’s important to remember that the data these consultants curate won’t just come from connected cars. The streams generated from those vehicle sensors don’t exist in isolation. They exist in the context of auto consumers’ brand relationships and preferences, service experiences, and alternative transport choices; the price they have paid for their vehicle – and the price rival manufacturers would have asked them to pay. They are formed amid shifting attitudes to the very act of owning a car. As driverless cars come into view on the horizon, we can add changing expectations of driving itself into the mix.

Crossing the Big Data streams

One of the most important features of the Big Data revolution in auto is the way that this broader environment is itself being translated into usable data. On social media, drivers and auto buyers put their use and views of their vehicles into the context of their lives as a whole. Those same consumers increasingly engage with auto brands on digital platforms, researching new models, registering interest in a test drive, or posting a complaint on Twitter. All of this activity leaves a data footprint that can be captured, analysed and deciphered.

In a broader mobility landscape, further valuable context is provided by the data of public transport providers, car hire firms, taxi services and breakdown assistance services. Not to mention the treasure trove of data represented by the GPS signals of mobile phones. All help to reveal how consumers move around – and the changing role of cars in their lives.

A perfect data storm needs a precise navigator

These new data streams will be combined with the data forms that auto researchers are already accustomed to exploring and connecting: pricing, technical specifications and new car registrations to name but a few. The evolution of the auto industry in recent years, and the sophisticated analytics that will be developed to interpret existing data forms, have created the perfect environment for Big Data to flourish.

The next five years will involve transformative changes. We will see new forms of commercial relationships evolve as data becomes a valuable commodity to be exchanged or traded with a growing range of potential partners. We will see important new skills added to the auto research toolkit, data science becoming a core skill, convergence between market research and market intelligence, and increasing focus on data analytics and visualisation that can aid more creative use of the information at our disposal. Equally important will be the requirement to operate sensitively around consumer concerns: using data in a way that delivers tangible value to drivers and aligns with expectations around privacy, and gauging the real public appetite for handing greater control of driving to machines.

One fundamental of auto research will remain unchanged, however. As we take Big Data for a spin, the need for an experienced driver with precise, in-depth understanding of the industry will become all the more apparent. If Big Data results in blinding complexity it will offer very little competitive advantage to clients. Only by connecting innovative approaches to a precise understanding of each client’s business issues can we show what it is really capable of, and deliver the simplicity and clear direction that any driver needs to negotiate the road ahead.

Rémy Pothet is Global Automotive Sector Head at Kantar TNS. He is responsible for Kantar TNS’s automotive sector strategy, including business development and global account management.

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