CES 2018

Whatever automotive make or model you’re driving these days, there’s a great chance it’s not your grandfather’s Ford.

Today’s cars are increasingly laden with the latest technology — hands-free connectivity, collision warnings and driver assist features among them. At the recently completed CES 2020 in Las Vegas, automakers, like their tech counterparts, demonstrated an interest in taking things to a new level, exploring areas like biometrics, artificial intelligence and solar power.

For auto marketers, it’s a matter of making sure your vehicle, as well as its key features, finds its way into the public consciousness.

“I think we’re at this new tipping point in the industry where the technology platforms have gone to the next level completely,” Deborah Wahl, the Global Chief Marketing Officer for General Motors, tells Ad Age. “So we basically all have integrated platforms in our vehicles. What’s going to differentiate us — and why there’s a need for marketing in our industry — is how we deliver new experiences with those platforms. Everyone can have the same technology. It’s the lens through which you deliver.”

Wahl, who took over as CMO in September, also says that from GM’s standpoint, one of the key objectives is to anticipate what a driver needs, and that the automaker’s offerings provide a great opportunity for those integrated experiences.

“If you think about it,” she explains, “every morning you probably do five things when you get into your car. You decide what podcast or entertainment you’re going to listen to. You order your coffee. You think about who you need to call. So how do we do what I call an intuitive ‘pre-sponse’ for all of that? We are building all of that. And how you deliver it for our brands will be different between Cadillac and Chevy. It will be a unique experience.”

Kimberley Gardiner, the CMO of Mitsubishi Motors North America, says the ubiquity of mobile phones has been a game-changer. The devices, she says, have opened new doors for automakers. And somewhat ironically, the industry’s drive to provide more in-car tech related to phones has helped reassert the automobile’s relevance.

“The one thing that people are very much close to is their phone,” she says. “They’re connected to technology every single day. The more we incorporate that into their everyday driving experience, we really make that part of the center of their universe, and the car becomes even more relevant again — much like it used to be, maybe 10 or 20 years ago.”

Hyundai Motor America CMO Angela Zepeda, who only recently started her new job, tells Ad Age her company is “really bullish on getting very first-to-market type of technology on the vehicles, like blind-spot monitor, or what we call smart parking assist, which actually is remote way to park and unpark your car,” adding that “getting it in the hands of every consumer and democratizing that technology is the goal.”