With connected cars predicted to make up as much as 95% of new vehicles sold by 2030, there’s clearly huge commercial opportunity here for tech vendors. This week sees Salesforce expanding its Automotive Cloud offering, providing real-time views of driver and vehicle data, including location, speed, and in-vehicle apps and systems.
As per the formal announcement, coming early in 2024:
- Connected Vehicle Visualization, pitched as “a real-time visualization of a vehicle’s connected features and services that will help make it easy for automakers to provide better in-car experiences, like remote assistance, and surface relevant new services to consumers – like notifying them about a free park assist trial”.
- Actionable Telematics - these are intended to help automakers monitor telematics data, like vehicle location, speed, fuel, or battery consumption, and use automation to detect and alert customers to changes in their car’s status. Salesforce cites the example of Automotive Cloud being able to read the data coming off of a vehicle, noting an increase in revolutions per minute (RPMs), or loss of tire pressure, and automatically sending an alert to the driver in their infotainment console to warn them of the potential safety issue.
- More data management - Automotive Cloud taps into Salesforce Data Cloud and as such is positioned as securely connecting data from any source, like telematics and dealership management systems, so automotive companies have a unified, real-time data foundation to build connected vehicle and driver experiences.
- AI - Inevitably there’s an AI angle. Automakers can use Einstein Studio to build and train custom AI models. Using connected car data with custom AI models will enable automakers to deliver predictive insights, such as automakers being able to alert dealers automatically when a driver’s vehicle is about to hit 100,000 miles and proactively pitch new vehicles or offer personalized discounts and trade-in offers.
I confess at this point that I’m not a ‘car person’ myself (unlike Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff who’s a big EV fan), but this announcement brought me back to the Automative keynote session at Dreamforce a couple of months back, where the company’s thinking around the future of mobility was laid out.
According to Bart Seidner, Senior AVP Sales for Energy, Automotive and Utilities at Salesforce, while the company has been working with leading players in the automotive industry for over two decades, advances in technology mean that everyone is navigating what he calls “uneven terrain”. Expectations have never been higher, he says:
Customer experience is a top priority. With the advent of the EV, new vehicle innovations are no longer just about the vehicle itself; it's about the software that differentiates the vehicle. Every vehicle is a connected vehicle. The automotive industry is trying to find new revenue streams, recurring revenue streams. Finally, [there's] sustainability. There's so much happening with sustainability, sustainability with EVs, sustainability in the value chain. Customers are driving sustainability behaviors.
Seidner also highlights the amount of data that’s being generated by connected vehicles. According to consultancy McKinsey, a connected car can generate around 25 GB of data every hour - and that’s just today. With further advances in technology, how much larger does that number become? This new stream of data is an opportunity, suggests Seidner:
We must be smart about how we leverage this data. We can take advantage of AI, automation, analytics. We can leverage this data at scale. I have the opportunity to talk to customers in the automotive industry from all over the world and everybody agrees the opportunity in this industry could not be bigger. Strategic imperatives are changing the way that we operate. We must harness all this data so we can create new experiences to increase customer lifetime value, increase vehicle lifetime value, create those new revenue models, and deliver on the promise of AI.
The Mercedes-Benz journey
Among Salesforce customers putting this into practice is German giant Mercedes-Benz. Timo Bularczyk, Director of Global Operations at Mercedes-Benz Mobility AG, has a clear vision of the direction of travel for his industry:
There's no doubt that the future is is fully electric and fully connected. We have more and more devices where we get data from. It's up to us to make use of that data, to ensure that we can offer the right product at the right time to our customers.
For a brand like Mercedes-Benz, a key concept is luxury and that extends to the customer journey itself, with consumers expecting a seamless online/offline convergence. That presents two challenges, according to Bularczyk:
First of all, we need to run this in the most efficient way that you can imagine. The other [challenge] is that it must be very customer-specific. So, two targets that are contradicting themselves. With Salesforce, we have 'out of the box' scalability with standard processes that we can use throughout the globe, and we enrich that with the data that we are getting from all of the different sources to create that luxury journey with unstandard processes.
Mercedes-Benz's engagement with Salesforce on this transformation dates back a couple of years to when the automotive manufacturer carried out an analysis of where there would be room and opportunity to optimize potential. Salesforce was invited to take part. Bularczyk recalls:
We saw that there was a lot of potential when we integrate the different Salesforce implementations that we have in Mercedes-Benz. With the replacement of legacy [systems], we could pull data together much better. We started the journey together with Salesforce Professional Services. They came in and they helped us to refine our strategy, gain confidence on the way forward, and ensured that we have the right skills in place to go on that journey together.
The customer experience is at the heart of the Mercedes-Benz transformation, insists Bularczyk:
As the customer, you don't want to understand that sales, after sales, financial services are independent legal entities with different people, different telephone numbers, different call centers. If you have a roadside assistance case with a leased vehicle, the last thing that you want to have to figure out is who you have to call to get assistance.
Just imagine that you have a single source of truth, of customer data, and the agent has that available at their fingertips - that's where we want to go. That's how we want to integrate our products seamlessly together…So when it comes to the fact that there is a roadside assistance case that we can bring the best customer experience in that special moment.
Automotive Cloud is helping to enable this, he concludes:
It helps us with the standardization of our data. There's a data model in place. Within Mercedes, we have different opinions on how this should be done, but we want to stick to the standard. We leverage the capabilities of the platform. You don't want to bring new services into every market with legacy software and re-invent the wheel every time. You want to go on a platform. You want to have easy integration. You want to have the data available. And that's the journey that we're currently on, that we have started with, that we're successful with, and that we will grow. So, Automotive Cloud will have an increasing footprint in our strategy.