From the ‘user-choser’ to ‘choose-when-I-need-to’

“The world is moving from car ownership to car usership.”

Tomorrow’s drivers will be much less interested in owning the cars they travel in, industry executives predict.

The statement, made in the consultancy firm KPMG’s annual survey of executives in the global motor industry, neatly summarises how carmakers are being forced to adapt to dramatic changes in society.

via BBC News – ‘Car usership’: Motor industry adjusts to future demands.

This caught my eye, following on from a conversation two days previously (and the fact that much of my interest is currently is in the sector, working at Meda) with one of those same industry executives, faced as he was with the task of finalising a report on the future retail scenario for the brand he worked for.

Not unusually, the conversation centred around how the brand’s desired positioning might settle the direction for investment in real estate and experience design and delivery. Nothing wrong with that and nothing wrong strategically in giving a potential audience what they might want. But what when the customer begins to realise that there’s a world of difference – and for them, advantage, in not needing to ‘own’ a car? And what if that change in the perception of what a car signifies was actually the prize for many brand owners – and more critically for the distributors who do the job of retail and fulfillment?

We read that, in the US, car ownership is falling among the under 30’s. Running costs in the UK are driving a similar result, that with personal debt and changing priorities, mean a new kind of car customer would appear to be emerging – from what used to be referred to as ‘user-choosers’ (those that pick and own a car in the way we’ve always understood) to what I’d coin as ‘choose-when-I-need-tos’ (those who pick up the things they need, when they need them with a great deal less attachment. See also the new ‘Co-sharing‘ ideas flying around at SXSW this year)

What might this subtle but seriously significant shift mean to the dealership design model for brands? Could such a change mean that a very different role for the garage is required – more a collect/drop-off, maintenance, service and distribution function rather than showroom with a workshop attached?

Coupled with other factors – of build cost, materials responsibility, representation challenges, technologies, taxing and other running costs on the horizon – now would be a good time to start thinking about the real drivers for a brand’s design brief.