How luxury car brands can navigate an electric future

category - automation
category - future city
category - mobility
category - sustainability
sector - luxury
type - opinion
The car has always been a mark of independence, freedom and status but as innovation and attitudes to mobility evolve, what future purpose will cars have?

The automotive and transport sectors are undergoing a period of significant change as we look towards a greener future. The UK government’s move to ban the production of traditional petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 is a sign of real intent, and automotive brands will need to accelerate their planned shift to electric accordingly.

This opens the space up to new players not currently associated with the sector but premium brands in their respective fields – think Dyson, Apple, and Google, all of whom are investing in automotive projects. Not to mention Tesla, a relatively unknown business a decade ago that has evolved into an automotive powerhouse. Today, Tesla is a viable ‘luxury’ option for electric vehicles, with a cultural relevance that has seen the company recently valued at £593bn ($800bn, €658bn). In fact, it was one of only two brands to actually increase UK sales in 2020 despite the industry experiencing the worst decline since the Second World Two.

The bigger question, however, is this: what’s the future purpose for the traditional automotive brand? The car was always a mark of independence, freedom and status. Getting your license was a rite of passage into adulthood with the endless excitement of the open road.

Nowadays, however, young people are moving away from car ownership, with the proportion of Brits aged 17–20 holding a driving licence falling 40% in recent years, according to the Department for Transport. There are also greater restrictions on how we enjoy cars, including greater taxation, rising fuel prices and speed restrictions. What is the incentive to spend so much on vehicle ownership?

This will only be compounded by the emergence of autonomous vehicles, which will remove the driving pleasure that car brands have long traded on. No longer is the engine noise or the pure excitement of driving a factor. It becomes a different experience, one of space design and the environment you can create going from one place to another, rather than the driving itself.

Published by:

9 February 2021

Author: Adam Helliwell

Image: MINI Vision Urbanaut


MINI Vision Urbanaut

But whether luxury, premium or mainstream, automotive brands have a hard road ahead if they are to continue selling the thrilling moments and emotional experiences that are their current selling point.

Luxury brands such as Bentley and Rolls-Royce that create opulent and bespoke interiors for their customers can shape the brand’s purpose around innovation. But they will have to justify their price tags more than ever before. Previously, the power of digital and tech enhancement for the benefit of performance and customer experience was enough to separate the likes of Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Porsche from the more affordable manufacturers. Such personalised technology is becoming the norm across a number of brands, however, while Tesla is taking the lead in the craftsmanship of luxury electric vehicles.

Moreover, stepping into a Volkswagen Golf or Ford Fiesta is so much more than it once was. The build quality and passenger experience have been greatly improved as a result of technological innovation. For luxury automotive makers, they must draw on more than engineering expertise and emotional pull to justify such a lofty investment on the part of the consumer.

As a result, we can expect these luxury brands to look for new ways to differentiate their offering, creating experiences that encapsulate what it means to be part of that brand’s community. This could be providing access to unique content, membership to exclusive groups, or utilising digital to provide additional experiences for customers.

The move towards electric is significantly challenging automotive brands of all shapes and sizes. But it will be luxury car-makers that need to work the hardest to retain loyalty and stand out from a crowd of vehicles which, in future, all sound the same.

Adam Helliwell is business director at independent creative agency We Launch.

‘Luxury brands will look for new ways to differentiate their offering, creating experiences that encapsulate what it means to be part of their community.’
Adam Helliwell, business director, We Launch

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