The notion known as sustainability is all about making the moves to help protect the environment. In the case of automakers—reducing harmful emissions from their vehicles and manufacturing plants and producing zero emission electric vehicles.
But a new study from Capgemini Invent reveals many automakers have a long way go to use their sustainability moves as a competitive advantage, failing to connect with consumers who are very much interested in supporting environmentally responsible companies, especially those producing electric vehicles.
The report titled “Sustainable Mobility,” warns, “Generating customer excitement and enthusiasm about sustainable offerings, and excelling in providing those offerings, will represent the new battlefield for automotive OEMs.”
In its survey of more than 1,500 current or former owners of Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Tesla TSLA or Volkswagen vehicles in the U.S., U.K. and Germany an average of 34% said they would change to a different brand due to product sustainability or “sustainability-related company activities.”
The study also included data gathered through comparative research on information published by automakers and what the study terms “a mystery shopping campaign” conducted at 20 dealerships in Germany during August 2020, covering all five brands.
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The sample was confined to those brands and countries due to COVID-related limitations in 2020 for conducting shopping patterns for these brands in areas outside of Germany, particularly in the U.S. And U.K. according to a Capgemini spokesman.
Later on in 2021, the company plans to repeat this assessment and methodology with an expansion of brands, including ones like General Motors GM and Ford Motor Co.
To better understand how automakers are meeting consumer expectations, Capgemini broke the EV buying process into five phases and then generated what it calls the Sustainability Experience Index, or SEI for each one.
The five phases are: Awareness, Search and Inform, Compare and Test, Select and Purchase, Get and Use.
The five automakers in the study scored fairly well in the early phases of the process where customers are researching automakers with sustainable products and services and then zero in on specific products and their attributes. Tesla scored especially well in those phases.
“Tesla had easiest access for all of our test drives. It had well trained product experts able to talk about EV components, and it tied with BMW for select and purchase,” said Eileen Sweeney, executive vice president manufacturing, automotive, and life sciences at Capgemini North America,” in an interview. “Tesla had the most comprehensive offering and simplicity of the vehicle app and charging in combination. It was very easy to configure and purchase and test a Tesla car.“
But Sweeney pointed out all of the automakers fell off in the latter stages of the so-called “customer journey.”
“What they figured out is the first part of the customer journey,” said Sweeney. “Before you could just hand them the keys and off you go. There were no incentives, no charging stations so now I think it’s about more about services in those areas that make it more friendly and efficient.”
The report goes on to say automakers are simply not generating enough initial customer excitement or maintaining it after their initial research stating, “This pattern shows that none of the car brands we evaluated currently provides a consistently convincing customer sustainability experience.”
In the customer survey, an average of 83% expected automakers to better leverage digital technologies to support sustainable driving, such as navigation-based drive control for plug-in hybrids. A average of 25% of those surveyed would appreciate discounts or attractive offers from third parties (such as insurance companies) for eco-friendly driving, based on their vehicle usage data.
If automakers are missing opportunities by not sufficiently communicating their sustainability efforts or are disappointing customers and prospects with inconsistent research, purchasing or ownership experiences then what are the solutions?
For one, Capgemini recommends sustainability become a “strong foundation at the corporate level” starting with each automaker’s board of directors and then become “an intrinsic principle of the operating model for all client-related activities.”
Looking at four phases of what it calls an “integrated sustainability experience management” Capgemini recommends:
- Customer experience: Achieve high customer satisfaction along the whole customer journey, in a consistent manner across all channels.
- User experience: Improve design and usability of products and digital assets such as websites and apps.
- Social experience: Engaging sustainability-conscious communities through content and human interactions.
- Enhanced experience: Leverage brand’s credibility regarding sustainability when introducing new products.
The study concludes, “Customers are demanding sustainable products and services from credible brands. Our research shows that they are even willing to pay a price premium for sustainability, but only if a consistently sustainable customer journey is offered. That consistency is not there yet, and certainly represents an area for improvement.”