Here is a small sampling of all the things your car might try to sell you in the not-so-distant future:
- Perfectly timed maintenance. Like a puking child, your car will let you know when a check-up is in order.
- Tesla-like over-the-air software updates.
- Targeted driving tips: Easy on the brake there, bucko!
- That beautiful handbag you forgot you wanted—and directions to the store where you can buy it.
- That, but for a Whopper.
- Individualized security tips. There’s been an uptick in break-ins in your neighborhood in the last couple weeks, Dave. Would you like to adjust your insurance coverage?
- An in-car, social-powered VR game. Because who doesn’t want to beat their friends on the number of speed limits obeyed?
But oh, this is just the beginning, according the management gurus at McKinsey. They issued a report outlining the strange new world of automotive data, and how lucrative it will be. That torrent of info streaming out of your ride as cars are increasingly connected to smartphones, smart infrastructure, and other smart cars? McKinsey says it will be worth as much as $750 billion by 2030.
A hunk of metal and rubber may not look like a fertile ecosystem teeming with data, but it is. It is packed with sophisticated electronics and even more sophisticated software that knows where you are, what you’re seeing, how you’re driving, and what your car is up to. All of that data can be tapped, packaged, and monetized.
This isn’t a futuristic vision. The navigation app Waze invites drivers to select favored brands (Starbucks, perhaps?), so marketers can push location-based promotions to to them. But this data isn’t always used to see you something. It can also save your life. General Motors’ OnStar service summons help when your airbag deploys.
Data is neither good or bad. But it can be used in good or bad ways. But before that can happen, automakers must figure out how to best collect it, organize it, and sell it. Doing that requires doing something new.
It requires them to think like a digital company.
The Data Cometh
The challenge here isn’t technological. A savvy carmaker can glean whether it’s raining (Are the windshield wipers wiping?) or snowing (Is “snow mode” engaged?). It can know if the oil pressure has plummeted or if a software glitch is keeping you from listening to your favorite podcast—and if that glitch is happening across all its cars, enough to warrant an update or even a recall. If a driver has linked her phone to her car, the car knows her music preferences, where she usually drives at any given time—maybe, even, if she’s searched for cough medicine and Kleenex a moment ago, if she has a cold.
The challenge is managing this data—bringing it all together in a cohesive manner, and figuring out what to do with it. “Very often today, admittedly, car manufacturers gather tons of car data that end up in different corners of the organization,” says Michele Bertoncello, a McKinsey automotive consultant. Most of the automakers, suppliers, and others that the McKinsey team talked to lacked a coherent approach to dealing with this valuable asset.
They’ll figure it out, quickly, because there is simply too much money to be made. But it may require automakers to forge partnerships with companies far more adept at dealing with data. They’re getting used to this, though; automakers are already reaching out to tech companies for help with autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing.
Convincing Drivers to Give Up the Goods
Automakers also must reckon with the same privacy issues facing many other data companies. Of the manufacturers McKinsey surveyed, 83 percent are “pretty worried” or “very worried” about the security of all that data, but only 47 percent consider themselves well prepared to keep that data safe. Heck—just 41 percent of them have a dedicated cybersecurity unit. This is troubling, given that white-hat hackers (who find vulnerabilities and report them to companies so they might be patched) have taken control of Jeeps and Teslas. Who knows what the black-hats can do.
Assuming automakers prove more adept at securing data than, say, Yahoo or Dropbox or the DNC, they exist in a market where consumers—and especially young ones—are growing more comfortable with data sharing, especially if they get something for it. A 2013 survey by the USC Annenberg School for Communication found 51 percent of US millennials are happy to trade data for “something in return,” compared to 41 percent of those 35 and older. Surveys conducted by McKinsey find that nearly three-quarters of drivers in Germany, the US, and China are willing to share their data and pay for a service if it makes it easier to park the dang car.
More and more people have no problem seeing their data used to sell them stuff. Mostly functional digital companies like Facebook and Google have primed them for this. It is inevitable that it would happen in your car, too.