Capgemini's automotive study finds automotive industry flat and needs to increase revenue and reduce waste

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VEHICLE MANUFACTURERS CAN STEER DEMAND AND IMPROVE PERFORMANCE WITH STRONGER CONSUMER KNOWLEDGE

Consumers Use the Internet More Than Any Other Tool When Researching Vehicles, according to New Global Survey From Capgemini

Todays dynamic and often challenging automotive environment is characterized by increasingly sophisticated consumers, an abundance of information, and significant demographic and market differences. Future success in this marketplace will require that vehicle manufacturers and dealers have better consumer knowledge, integrated end-to-end lead management programs, stronger B2C web strategies and a tighter link between servicing and sales information, according to the seventh annual Cars Online study from Capgemini. The study found that disconnects continue to exist between consumers, dealers and manufacturers. As a result, automotive manufacturers and dealers are missing important opportunities to drive revenue growth and cost reduction.

For the first time in the course of the global study, the Internet has become the number one information source used by consumers when researching vehicles, surpassing family and friends and manufacturer-specific dealers. More than 60% of consumer respondents said they use the web, up from less than 20% three years ago. The time has come for manufacturers and dealers to view the Internet as an established, mature medium and integrate the channel even further into their marketing strategy and adjust their spend accordingly. This is particularly critical given the webs ability to impact sales. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said that having the web features they consider importantproduct and price information, vehicle configurators and cost calculatorswould make them more likely to buy from that manufacturer.

As manufacturers strive to align production more accurately with demand, customer and sales data offer a resource with huge potential, says Nick Gill, Global Automotive Leader, Capgemini. With the right customer information available in a timely fashion across the whole selling network, manufacturers can steer customer demand instead of simply reacting to dealer orders. Without this knowledgeor with inaccurate knowledgecompanies will find it difficult to improve the customer experience and their own business performance. Our Cars Online research uncovered a number of key findings that can help companies increase their customer knowledge base.

The study (Click here to read report in full) - which surveyed consumers, dealers and manufacturers in China, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United State - explores the intersection between consumers, dealers and vehicle manufacturers by comparing consumers needs, demands and preferences with dealers and manufacturers perceptions. The report focuses on topics such as consumer behavior, lead management, web usage and aftersales/servicing.

Key findings from the Cars Online 05/06 study include:
       Vehicle buyers are more sophisticated than ever. The majority of consumers in the market for a new vehicle are taking the time to research on the Internet prior to going to the dealership. Two-thirds visit between three and six manufacturer websites, as well as informational sites, dealer sites, third-party sites and independent valuation services.

       Disconnects between dealers and manufacturers are closing, but there are still some significant areas of misalignment. A gap is particularly evident in the sales and marketing area. When considering the factors that impact consumers choice of vehicles, for example, manufacturers still fail to recognize the importance of environmental factors as well as product/feature options such as DVD players and onboard navigation systems.

       Improved sensing and response is critical to lead management effectiveness. Lead management is the make or break measure for a successful, customer-centric, dealer-integrated CRM strategy. Consumers expect and demand responsiveness from manufacturers and dealers. The risk of not responding quickly is demonstrated in our data, with 61% of consumers saying they will switch to a new manufacturer, a new dealer or both if their queries are not answered fast enough.

       Demographic differences grow more pronounced. More than ever, factors such as age play a critical role in buying behavior patterns. In particular, the differences between the two ends of the age spectrum are becoming more accentuated. Todays younger vehicle buyers are demanding, fickle and do a significant amount of research on the web. In contrast, older consumers are less likely to use information sources such as the web and are far more loyal to both their vehicle brand and dealer.

       Sharp country variations demand market-specific strategies. Increasingly distinct differences between markets demonstrate that automotive consumers are not a homogeneous group and should not be marketed to as such. German consumers, for instance, are becoming even more demanding and price sensitive than other respondents, yet display strong loyalty to both their vehicle brand and dealer. French consumers display much less loyalty to both brands and dealers and are increasingly more likely than others to be buying used rather than new vehicles.

       While automotive companies face similar challenges in China as in other markets, Chinas emerging consumer market is vastly different from more developed regions. Consumer buying patterns in China are quite different from those in more mature markets. The number of consumers in China who currently own a car is small and those in the market for a vehicle expect to buy a new rather than used car. Not surprisingly, brand loyalty remains low in China since most consumers are first-time buyers. However, Internet use is particularly high in China, with 78% of consumers using the web to research vehicles.

       Block Exemption has brought changes in Europe, but most are not as dramatic as predictedwith a few notable exceptions. As a result of Block Exemption changes, dealers say they have experienced much greater inter-brand competition than anticipated a couple of years ago, while their ability to influence customers has not increased nearly as much as they expected it would.  Manufacturers have found that both the frequency and average value of discounts have increased significantly more than they predicted two years ago. 

 In some respects, automotive companies are gaining a better understanding of what consumers really want, yet there is still plenty of work to be done, says James Sourges, Vice President and Americas Automotive Sector Leader, Capgemini. The need for greater insight into consumer behavior will only increase as the industry continues to face challenges such as overcapacity, competition, diversification and operational complexity.

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