Dongle will give birth to a new customer relationship, says Honda Europe’s Jean-Marc Streng. Paul Myles reports. [Tele.Myles.2016.09.30]

Soon all new cars in Europe will have telematics boxes fitted as standard to meet eCall emergency call-up regulations and many carmakers are seeing the commercial opportunities this can provide.

One such manufacturer is Honda who will be putting the first European specification consumer behaviour connectivity package into its new Civic model next year.

Honda Europe’s general manager, Jean-Marc Streng is adamant that the carmaker is ready to exploit a power marketing tool to create a new relationship with customers.

Speaking exclusively to TU-Automotive, Streng explained: “We currently have a new project called MyHonda because we want to have a tool installed in our vehicle that will be on the market in early 2017. This dongle will give us many more applications we can provide for the customer.

“This will include vehicle information, data streamed from the car, the ability to directly call into the dealerships in the event of an emergency while we will be able to understand exactly what has happened to the vehicle.

“Of course we will be using this data under current regulations but this will allow us to communicate with the customer in terms of maintenance. In a way it’s like a CRM tool where we can have a tailored approach with communications for every individual customer.”

It’s the bespoke nature of the technology that excites Streng who can envisage an entirely different commercial relationship between carmakers and their customers through connectivity.

He said: “Naturally, we would need an agreement from the customer to be able to use their data and this is particularly true for aftersales business and I’m in no doubt this will help us improve the overall quality of our cars.

“This is a very new field for us and, in the past, we thought the database should be at the dealership but then the data was limited to who you are, where you live, your hobbies and family status and would, maybe, renew the relationship with them every five or six years. Today we want use data from the dongle to give us additional information on the usage of the car and this information will be in real-time. That’s a change because all the current CRM information is only used for new car activity and not for aftersales customer care.”

The dongle, which will be digitally tethered to each individual car, should improve upon Honda’s existing web-based customer relations offerings, Streng hopes.

“We get quite a lot of interaction with customers on our European digital platform but where we find an issue is in being able to follow those customers in their purchase journeys. So with the dongle, using either a user code or email address, we can follow the customer as they configure their vehicle to suit their needs.”

He added that customers would be expected to sign-up for something like a three-year contract to access special offers such as additional free maintenance schemes as well as other deals yet to be finalised. He said: “Naturally, as the technology evolves we will be able to offer more and more performance or capacities or activities.”

Streng also emphasised the importance of reacting appropriately to European consumers’ desires and wishes saying: “We have to find a balance and we do not want this technology to become too intrusive and communicating with the customer on a monthly basis which would be too much. We want to have a soft approach and we have to learn how best to use this tool and to monitor the reception by the market.”

However, Honda has the advantage of data gathered from its trial of the dongle in India last year. Streng said: “We already have some information about customer acceptance but for everyone, including us, this is a new field of exploration. Yet it is a good way to link the digital platform to the dealerships to form a relationship somewhere in between.”

One finding that did stand out in the Indian trial is the anti-theft capacity of the technology that consumers did greatly appreciate.

Streng explained: “We have found that vehicle security can be boosted by geo-fencing your car so that if it is stolen or if your children are driving, you can prevent the car from moving out of a certain area and limit to running at certain hours.”

In conclusion he added: “This is a new area that in terms of developing our cars and engines, this could open up new doors.”