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Nissan’s CMO on why the connected car will be an extension of the driver

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Roel de Vries, global head of marketing at Nissan, believes the further development of connected car technology will create a fascinating new experience for its customers.

At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, Nissan revealed a tantalizing glimpse of the ultimate connected car technology.

It’s hard to believe. But it’s true. On its stand, the car maker showcased a technology that enables the car’s autonomous system to analyze brainwaves. Essentially, the vehicle takes these signals and uses the information to make driving easier and more personal.

Nissan says the system can carry out tasks such as turning the steering wheel or slowing down the car. It can do this 0.2 to 0.5 seconds faster than the driver, while remaining largely imperceptible.

Of course, the tech is still at the R&D stage. But it demonstrates the manufacturer’s commitment to the connected car ethos. More specifically, it reflects its conviction that a car should be an extension of the driver.

Roel de Vries, global head of marketing at Nissan, believes this trend is inevitable. He says the connected car will be one of four centers of connectivity along with the house, the workplace, and the body. And as these connections deepen, people will want to link them together.

He says: “Most people enjoy their cars. They spend a lot of time in them, and they want their car to be an integrated part of their lives. They don’t want a disconnect between their house, body, their phone, their work, their car.

“We feel that people want this seamless experience. And what’s positive for us is that we can make the car a part of it.”

This is the long-term future that Nissan is aiming at. For now, it is focused on assisted driving technologies that improve the current in-car experience. In 2015 it unveiled NissanConnect service. This lets car owners remotely charge (or check the charge) of an electric vehicle, set the heating, open the doors and so on.

It can also set maintenance alerts. And, for the moment, this is where de Vries sees connected technologies having the most impact.

“A lot of functionality has been introduced already,” he says. “That will continue. You see more use of that in terms of insurance and maintenance companies making use of that, for example, so you pay a rate based on your driving style.

“That will keep on evolving. The question is: what are the future key services that people are looking for?”

de Vries admits no one knows the answer for sure. But he does believe there is a product out there that might provide clues: the smartphone.

He sees the mobile industry’s ability to push out and test new products, and its use of data for fast learning, as an example to the car industry and the pioneers of the connected car.

“We will see lots of innovative ideas,” he says. “Some won’t work. But it will be a bit like what happens with apps on phones. Most people only use three or four. But that doesn’t mean the rest should not be created. You can’t have a universal approach. All the services you could possibly imagine on your phone will be integrated into your car.”

So, with a connected car that’s linked up to a wider grid of services, people will be able to pick and choose from a range of experiences. And it will be vital, says de Vries, that Nissan can deliver them.

“We can have a more meaningful relationship with you [the driver]. We will know when your car needs a service, what you are interested in, the most common places you visit. From a marketing point of view, that’s very interesting. We can be more efficient. There’s no longer a need to send universal messages to a mass audience anymore.”

Naturally, some drivers might find this creepy. de Vries is intensely aware of this. “We have to be respectful and be sure that people don’t feel you are intruding into their personal space. The platform has to allow consumers to do what they want to do in a better way.”

This is common sense. It’s also business sense. After all, there are new revenue streams in these added value services. “There are so many individual possibilities,” says de Vries. “The competitive advantage will go to those brands that create services that are most appealing to people. We can create far more consumer offers. We can have different payment structures based on different levels of usage.”

These are crucial ideas for the industry. Why? Because they could keep the big car companies in business.

After all, some observers believe the combination of electrification, automation, and connectivity will make the car a commodity. They argue that consumers will stop buying cars. Instead, they will subscribe to a service or summon a drive when necessary.

de Vries rejects this.

He says: “People say how will car companies survive? I think there is much more to a car than going A to B. There’s an emotional connection between people and their cars. They want this integrated benefits. And if we can create these benefits along with an attractive looking car, we don’t see that this will become a commodity. We see it as a very big positive for the industry.”