User Experience Must be Part of Product Development

Some automakers have poured millions into alternatives to the buying experience, but I have yet to hear anyone managing UX as if it were an integral part of product development.

Steve Tengler

September 30, 2019

8 Min Read
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At the May WardsAuto Interiors Conference, I spoke about end-to-end user experience use cases that we haven’t yet imagined. I gave a specific example, but there shall be many. And he who manages those in advance will truly differentiate.

Forget the overhype of autonomous vehicles being able to drive anywhere at any time. Automakers are admitting that vision is much farther away than first envisioned.

My predictions will happen, and yet I suspect no automotive OEM yet is pursuing a much more important goal: The company that creates offboard enablers and thinks of the Connected Car UX as an ecosystem will win the hearts of consumers. Per The Law of Expanding Returns, their associated revenue and market share will dwarf other technology initiatives.

Let’s take a close look at “end-to-end” and then act like Nostradamus regarding future automotive UX.

End-to-End Doesn’t Mean Bumper-to-Bumper

First off, we must redefine how product development describes end-to-end. Traditionally, automakers have considered only one touchpoint: “use.” How will the customer use the radio? How will she use the gear shifter, parking brake or turn signals?

The product was the bumper-to-bumper automobile, and perfecting millimeter stack-ups informed quality ratings by third-party industry evaluators that drove consumer purchase decisions. But then a user-experience revolution occurred outside the car, and the consumer realized she wants easy and pleasurable interactions.

The experience no longer is just “use.” It includes a bunch of other verbs like “acquire” and “upgrade.” And understanding the importance of that, and managing the correct metrics, will be the difference between leader and laggard.

Some automakers have poured millions into dealerships or alternatives to the buying experience, but I have yet to hear anyone truly managing the full UX as if it were an integral part of product development.

Do you think a phone customer cares solely about the case’s aesthetics? Or are the offboard-to-embedded features more important to the buyer’s decision on the next generation of that phone? How about the experience in the phone’s store when attempting to get help, upgrades, and accessories?

Those all make sense in the phone domain, and the car is transforming into a drivable phone. So, what are the metrices driving holistic automotive product development, and how will new ecosystems drive the touchpoints beyond “use?” That is the marketing behind the end-to-end experience. Awakening to the next future will require a few years for engineering and information technology to co-create.


In the rideshare or peer-share world, we already have seen how “select” has changed in the past decade: an app can provide a specific transportation service such as Uber or Lyft that is within a specific radius (such as 5 minutes away) and will cost a specific amount of money to transport you in a pre-selected way, from economy to luxury. With this model, consumers no longer must select transportation via phone book or car dealership.

Now imagine the possibility of selecting among many transportation services and sorting akin to eBay based upon either “lowest cost,” “shortest time” or “safest.” Some of the automotive OEMs already are working with city engineers because they foresee autonomous vehicles being an enabler to smart cities, but prior to that a non-city-specific and non-transportation-specific integration solution could be the systems integrator.

The customer would simply say: “I need to be at Widget North America’s headquarters in San Francisco tomorrow via the lowest cost path” and they could select from a combination of suppliers. This may eventually involve the coordination of planes, buses, trains, ferries, shuttles, trucks and, yes, even e-bikes for a reservation that makes the journey as seamless as possible.

But imagine if the “select” touchpoint still has a place among vehicle buyers in the long run. How does that change the dealership experience? Traditionally, the buyer decides when the time is right, picks the relevant variables and starts looking for a good vehicle to match their needs.

Internet marketers are nibbling at the tip of this iceberg by providing the menu online or shopping sites for used vehicles. But there’s a whole world of intelligent pre-selection that could inform the buyer of when and why they should go in a specific direction. For instance, basic Integrated “vehicle health” systems such as OnStar and Mopar, as well as advanced, algorithmic suppliers such as XMotion can now monitor the buyer’s existing car, conduct prognostics and inform him of what upcoming repairs are foreseen.

Marry that with expected costs of likely repairs and the report could even predict when selecting a new vehicle might be financially prudent. Onboard systems could log the type of driving and suggest when electric or hybrid vehicles might be of better benefit. Offboard Customer Relations Management (CRM) systems could know the buying patterns of a customer, the frequency of purchases by either time or mileage and inventory in the area that meets those needs.

The purchase or “selection” process could be easier, faster and more pleasant for both for consumers and dealers.


In the 19th and 20th century, “acquire” was the appropriate word for the purchase of most products: You went to the store, you took possession of the purchase and you transported it home. Then came overnight delivery and eventually drone delivery. Could vehicles be the same?

Could they either deliver themselves autonomously, or be air-lifted and placed outside the home so you need not get a ride from a friend or an Uber/Lyft?

In simplest form, the vehicle would arrive at your home in some fashion (such as neatly parked in your connected garage), but my prediction is the vehicle will arrive at a prescribed location based on a reservation or a geolocation provided by smartphone GPS.

For example, I’ve just arrived at San Francisco International Airport, on my way to Widget’s headquarters. The next leg of my selected trip is getting into a rental vehicle. I could do it the old-fashioned way and take the elevated tram to the remote rental desks, but that’s 20 to 30 minutes wasted.

Instead, I’ve selected a vehicle I can acquire at curbside. Since my flight was late and I stopped for coffee just outside my gate, the vehicle waits to arrive at a pre-selected meeting spot, avoiding a long queue in front of the arrival area. And it’s all based on my phone entering a geofence near an airport exit. This might sound far-fetched, but all this technology exists and is in use for other connected products. Transportation has simply been slower to think of “acquire” as simply another touchpoint.


To me, this is the most obvious battleground for Connected UX in the next 3-4 years. Why? The average household spends 1.5% of its annual income on vehicle maintenance and repairs and the process of determining where/why to get repairs can be confusing. What’s more, the drop-off/pick-up process is a big hassle and hard to fit into work schedules. Plus, the touchpoint may be closest to the “select” point for an owner’s next vehicle. That means leaving the customer happy could lead to the next vehicle purchase.

Let’s go through all the “W” questions and see how this applies to the future, connected UX:

WHEN: Already the vehicular systems understand when the oil needs changing and the manufacturer has a suggested maintenance schedule, but the connected car can take it to another level. When, by rule of thumb, does the vehicle sit and drive itself for routine maintenance?

When are there schedule openings at the repair center? When during the night would I get a discount on the oil change based upon lower customer demand?

WHAT: As previously mentioned, the vehicle could conduct diagnostics and/or prognostics, thereby sensing what needs replacement before catastrophic failure occurs. In addition, it could either have advanced instructions, such as “fix anything except cosmetic,” or “repair anything under $300.”

WHY: Too often, the reasons to conduct repairs are not well-understood. Providing a link to a YouTube video as part of the notification would help with justification to address “service engine soon” or “low tire tread.”

WHERE: The vehicle could schedule its own appointment based on location, price competitiveness, availability, social-media rankings, etc. All these choices could be options under “Settings.”

HOW: Even though fully autonomous drives in all types of weather and driving conditions are likely far off, driving slowly to a dealership with hazard lights on is a much easier proposition.

What is Needed

Much of this seems doable, right? The problem is that most automakers have not embarked on the path of the needed changes:

ONE ORG: Instead of “Engineering” and “IT” silos, they need “Product Development.”

UX CHAMPION: There sometimes is a VP of User Experience or Customer Experience but they do not oversee the end-to-end experience, only a portion, such as “use.” In fact, many times the touchpoints are managed by three to four separate companies (such as dealership, OEM, Uber/Lyft, Belle Tire, NAPA AutoCare, Valvoline, JiffyLube).

METRICS: The company does not track, communicate and continuously improve metrics specific to UX. Instead they rather focus solely on revenue, margin, etc.

CONTINUOUS PLATFORM: Rolling out updates to the operating system, cybersecurity code or application experiences is part of the phone companies’ lives, and new phones work on the existing platform, which is constantly upgraded. Automotive has barely considered that concept.

So yes, all of this is possible, but automakers must rethink how they use the capabilities of connected vehicles to make the user experience so pleasant and easy customers can’t imagine going elsewhere.

Steve Tengler

Steve Tengler_7

Steve Tengler has worked in the auto industry on the connected car for over a quarter of a century for some of the top brands in world: Ford, Nissan and OnStar. He now is a Principal at the global consultancy Kugler Maag Inc. He has 40-plus publications, 50-plus patents, and a BSE and MSE from The University of Michigan. Contact him at [email protected].

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