Friday, January 13, 2012

Recap: North American International Auto Show Part 1

I am somewhat of a geek. I love seeing how things work, and I'm fascinated to see all the different ways that technology is making the things we do on a day to day basis easier. A perfect example of this is the technology being put into cars today. I've talked before about how I love what's been integrated into some of the new GM cars I've driven over the past year.

After spending a couple days at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), I really really want a new car. It goes beyond the heated and air conditioned seats. And the heating/cooling cup holders. And the infotainment systems that rise from the console. And the cargo holders that most and adjust to fit what you're carrying. And the improved gas mileage. And the acres and acres (it seemed) of hybrid and electric cars. And the in vehicle communication and management systems. I suffer from severe car envy.

GM hosted me and other members of the press during the NAIAS, and we were able to attend some fun and informational events, as well as interviewing several GM team members. We had a blast, and I learned a ton.

John McFarland from Chevy spoke a lot in their press conference about where Chevy is heading. They introduced two new concept cars, the Tru 140S and the Code 140R. Pretty sweet cars, but very different from each other.

I was fascinated to learn that when they designed these cars, they gathered information from millenials about what they wanted and needed. The focus for Chevy is is on young consumers - technology and digital interactions are key. People now have so many digital experiences without leaving the driveway. They are passionate about brands like Facebook, Nike, etc., but car brands fall between disinterest and complacency. Chevy's aim is to take their initial interest and turn it into passion while staying true to their brand. From product planning to marketing now involving the millenials more and more. They want to capture minds and hearts of young consumers - and there are 32 million out there.

Chevy is asking for customer feedback via interactive kiosks both at NAIAS and at other shows to then lock down what ideas the cars will include and how they will incorporate them. Chevy wants to ensure the cars will be designed to delight the customer. They want to find out what makes the largest car buying block that will be emerging over the next years.

Chevy has several lines they're focused on growing right now. The Chevy Cruze, was number one last year in the small and compact car segment. The Sonic will grow this market for them, too - it's designed with the buyer in mind. They are currently three months into launch, and they've done no tv ads, just a strong presence online and they can barely keep up with demand. The 2013 model has a lower suspension to improve handling and a 1.4 liter turbo with more aggressive sports styling to make it look "better". They've also incorporated a racing inspired steering wheel, and the MyLink infotainment is standard. Drives can now access hands free calling, listen to streaming music via their smart phones, and there is a new nav app to make life easier for others.

Really fun about the Sonic at the NAIAS was their display. You can create a ringtone for your phone using a funky electronic table, something individual and unique. Why yes, I did create a ringtone, and I love it. It took me a little bit before I actually recognized when my phone was ringing. It was just too hip to really be my phone, right? I sort of want to go to the Auto Show when it's in Chicago so I can make another one. Or two.

The new compact car for Chevy is the Spark. It is selling already in Europe and Asia and will be coming to the States and Canada this summer. Even more cool? It will be a pure electric vehicle in some markets. I'm fascinated by the oh so cool colors it comes in. This is the car I could so see myself driving right after college.

It was interesting, too, to learn about some of the customer care initiatives GM is working on. Jim Maloney from Buick's customer care spoke to us about his philosophy and what they're putting together on the Buick side. They are really using social media to monitor customer sentiment. Online, they found people complaining, asking about product configuration, dealer locations, etc. There is also a dealer side which focuses on technical services questions or issues with parts procurement (primarily phone calls).

The goal with Buick's customer care is that they want to get more proactive rather than waiting for customers to contact hem. This initiative started in summer 2010. They started with monitoring and interacting on Facebook and Twitter but realized the need to migrate to forums where customer enthusiasts are. Now, they have representatives monitoring nearly 100 sites. Where they have an actionable opportunity - to correct misinformation, take customer issue offline to solve - they can do so. They have agents monitoring Monday to Saturday plus now Sunday hours, as well.

Lots more to come on the NAIAS... come back to see more about concept cars, see some of my favorite new features, learn about how OnStar worked and evolved, and more.

In the interest of full disclosure, I attended the NAIAS as a guest of General Motors. I was not asked to write about my experience, nor was I compensated. As always, all opinions are my own.

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