Automotive Market Research and Car Clinics

Automotive Market Research

Around the world, automotive companies compete fiercely for customers and sales in markets that are increasingly demanding and sophisticated

Have you ever wondered how car manufacturers decide on the design, features, or technology of the next big model? The answer lies in automotive market research. 

This process analyzes consumer behavior, market dynamics, technological innovations, and a multitude of other factors. As the automotive industry evolves, market research continues to play an instrumental role in shaping its trajectory.

What Is Automotive Market Research?

Automotive market research is not merely about counting the number of cars sold or identifying the most popular color of the season. It’s a multidimensional approach that seeks to understand the nuances of consumer preferences, market dynamics, competitive landscapes, and emerging technological shifts.

The Importance of Automotive Market Research

Automotive market research supports organizations with the insight and data to conceptualize, manufacture, and customize vehicles to the desires and perceptions of their customers. Research also guides the development of new advertisements, messaging, and marketing materials. As new technologies are increasingly being included in vehicle products, innovation is an important priority for many car manufacturers and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).

Automotive Market Research and Car Clinics

Connectivity and technology pose the question of whether it’s essential to own a vehicle. Ride-sharing is an obvious example. Consumers pay for the use of a car only as needed. However, they sacrifice the benefits and responsibilities of individual ownership. Another Digital Disruptor is Autonomous Vehicles, which are on the horizon. Vehicles are increasingly coming equipped with smart technologies. 

The last few years have seen the rise of Connected Cars, causing manufacturers to integrate Big Data, Cloud Computing, and the Internet of Things in car designs. Automakers, more than ever, need to predict consumer demand, preferences and trends. The largest source of revenue for automakers is still consumer sales. Market Research ultimately uncovers consumer trends, tastes and behavior and is therefore a high priority for industry players.

Key Benefits of Automotive Market Research

The benefits of automotive market research extend far beyond mere data collection. These research activities equip automotive businesses with the tools and insights they need to thrive in an industry characterized by rapid technological advancements and shifting consumer preferences. Below are some of the pronounced benefits:

• Consumer-Centric Approach: Through market research, businesses can capture the voice of the customer, ensuring that products and services are tailored to genuine consumer needs and desires. This results in better customer satisfaction and loyalty.

• Innovation Boost: The feedback loop created by regular market research propels innovation, guiding R&D teams on what features or technologies need to be introduced or improved upon.

• Market Entry Strategy: For automotive businesses looking to enter new markets, research provides invaluable insights into local preferences, competitive landscapes, and regulatory challenges. This reduces the guesswork and uncertainties associated with international expansions.

• Optimal Pricing: This market research offers insights into consumers’ price sensitivity, allowing businesses to determine the best pricing strategies that maximize profitability while ensuring market share.

• Enhanced Branding: Understanding the market’s perception of a brand versus competitors can help in refining brand positioning, messaging, and overall branding strategies.

• Tackling Challenges Head-On: From supply chain disruptions to technological shifts like the rise of electric vehicles, automotive market research equips businesses with the knowledge to anticipate challenges and develop strategies to tackle them proactively.

• Relationship Building: By understanding the needs and pain points of dealers, suppliers, and other stakeholders, businesses can forge stronger, more collaborative relationships that benefit the entire ecosystem.

• Predictive Analysis: Using advanced analytics and AI, automotive market research can now offer predictive insights, giving businesses a glimpse into the future and allowing them to adjust their strategies accordingly.

Opportunities in Automotive Market Research

The automotive industry’s ongoing transformation offers a plethora of opportunities, and automotive market research is the key to unlocking them. Let’s uncover the multitude of opportunities businesses can seize:

• Data-Driven Personalization: With the explosion of data from connected cars, businesses have an unprecedented opportunity to offer personalized services. Market research enables firms to analyze consumer driving patterns, preferences, and behaviors to craft customized offerings.

• Partnerships with Tech Giants: As cars transform into mobile tech hubs, partnering with tech giants can be a strategic move. Collaborations with companies like Apple, Google, or Amazon can elevate the in-car experience. Insights from automotive market research can help identify the most profitable and sought-after integrations.

• Innovative Financing Options: With a shift away from traditional car ownership towards leasing and subscription models, there’s an opening for innovative financing solutions. Market research can help businesses gauge consumer interest in such offerings and tailor them accordingly.

• Green Technology Investments: As sustainability becomes paramount, investing in green technologies, from battery developments to lightweight materials, is lucrative. Automotive market research can guide investments by pinpointing technologies with the highest potential ROI.

• Diversification into Mobility Services: Beyond selling cars, there’s an opportunity to offer mobility services. Ride-sharing, car-sharing, and e-scooter services are booming in urban areas. This kind of market research can help businesses find the right niche and market segment for expansion.

• Global Market Expansion: Emerging markets present tremendous growth opportunities. But entering a new market requires nuanced understanding. That’s why automotive market research provides key insights into local consumer preferences, regulatory landscapes, and competition, ensuring a smooth entry.

• Focus on After-Sales Services: The aftermarket is evolving, and there’s a vast opportunity to offer software updates, tech integrations, and maintenance packages. Automotive market research can guide businesses on what consumers desire most post-purchase.

• Investing in R&D: As the automotive landscape shifts, continuous innovation is the only way to stay ahead. Automotive market research can guide R&D investments, ensuring they align with future market demands.

Challenges of Automotive Market Research for Businesses

The evolving landscape of the automotive industry, while filled with opportunities, is not without its hurdles. Automotive market research provides businesses with a clear perspective on these challenges, aiding them in devising strategies to navigate and overcome them:

• Stringent Regulations: Governments worldwide are setting aggressive targets for emissions, safety, and tech integrations. These regulations can vary significantly across countries, making global automotive market research a complex endeavor.

• Supply Chain Disruptions: From semiconductor shortages to disruptions due to global events, the automotive supply chain is under strain. Market research needs to anticipate such challenges and their impact on consumer sentiment and purchasing behavior.

• High Investment Risks: The automotive industry demands high capital investments, especially when venturing into new tech. Automotive market research has the mission of ensuring these investments are data-backed and strategically sound.

• Keeping Pace with Consumer Expectations: Today’s consumer expects a lot from their vehicle – not just in terms of performance but also in tech integrations, safety features, and eco-friendliness. Meeting these expectations, as revealed through “automotive market research,” is a tall order for businesses.

About Car Clinics

One way to gain more input about the opinions and preferences from the customer’s point of view is the “Car Clinic.” A Car Clinic is a market test in which customers provide in-depth feedback on a new concept or existing car model. The automaker shows between four and eight competing brands and models to the consumer. These vehicles are placed in a showroom for consumers to view and provide feedback. Car Clinics can be Dynamic (involving motion), or Static (involving stationary prototypes or test materials).

Automakers conduct car clinics at different times for varying purposes. The most common goal is assessing and learning how to improve new models. Another objective of conducting a car clinic is to understand the buying processes among competing car models.  Additional factors can be tested.  During a typical car clinic, respondents may have the opportunity to experience vehicle design, performance, interior/exterior, and competitor test materials.  Respondents may also be asked to test drive vehicles in a Dynamic Car Clinic to evaluate vehicle performance.

What a Car Clinic can uncover

  • Design preferences

  • Improvements

  • Performance

  • Interior/exterior experience

  • Segmentation insights

  • Marketing messaging

  • Pricing insights

  • Market positioning

  • Competitive Insights

Online Car Clinics are efficient & useful.

Online car clinics are most suitable for:

  • benchmark clinics

  • external design evaluation

  • vehicle interior equipment and supplies evaluation

  • market positioning

  • early vehicle development phases during which vehicle prototypes are limited

  • research of factors that might not be revealed during static car clinics

  • as an additional car clinic technique

Why is Car Clinics Market Research Important?

Car Clinic Market Research

The Automotive industry is a broad sector involving numerous automakers and thousands of models. Consequently, potential customers could face dozens or even hundreds of different models to choose from and to better understand consumers, specialists rely on sophisticated market research methods such as car clinic market research.

What is car clinic market research?

Car clinic market research consists of a direct evaluation of vehicle models, in which participants provide live feedback.

It is a highly effective tool to gather valuable feedback from car users and experts. By employing this tool, consulting firms enable carmakers to obtain an accurate picture of consumer demand and build improved products, market more strategically, and accurately predict potential profits.

Car clinic market research strengths and weaknesses

Car clinic market research has several advantages for carmakers including:

• Effectiveness: If vehicles require improvements, detecting flaws during an early stage is a valuable opportunity to upgrade the design and adapt it to the needs of the public in general.

• Improvement of automotive products: By having the users’ feedback, carmakers can enhance the qualities of the vehicles and incorporate new technologies to keep them up to date and fulfill the unmet demand of the general public.

• Boosting the chances of success: There is no substitute for physically experiencing the vehicle, being in the seat, handling the controls, and envisioning what it would be like to drive it. For this reason, car clinic market research delivers actionable insights that not only refine the design of future vehicles but also improve targeting and pricing.

Despite the importance of conducting car clinic market research, it is necessary to take into account that, although it is a cost-effective study, it can be costly and complex.

• Car clinics are expensive and time-consuming; Building prototypes is expensive. Then, it is necessary to rent vehicles from the competition and bring them to a showroom. In consequence, it is necessary to take extremely strict security measures since the prototypes may be disclosed and reach the competitor’s headquarters. There must also be security personnel on-site to prevent any of the testers from taking a photo with their mobile phones.

• Logistical complications are common: The logistical commitment involved is costly because cars are transported to the target countries for conducting the research. Additionally, the manufacturers need to rent a showroom with enough space to evaluate their prototypes.

• The selection of the sample is complex: Relevant research requires the participation of individuals who are willing to purchase the vehicle. Recruiting participants with the right characteristics is not always easy and it requires time and preparation, as well as the availability of the respondents’ time to attend the car clinic market research.

Car Clinic Market Research Best Practices

Market research firms are contracted to conduct car clinics to determine the attractiveness of the prospective new model to customers while the model is still in the development phase.

Therefore, to carry out the study it is necessary to follow the following steps:

• Selecting the right vehicles: The automotive industry is composed of a wide variety of segments and vehicle types. Automakers should focus on a specific segment and car models. Generally, at least 3 or 4 samples are considered for comparison purposes in addition to competitor vehicles to make accurate comparisons.

• Facility selection: If the budget allows several facilities located in various cities, the sampling will be better. It avoids bias that the people in a specific city are exposed to. Moreover, the facilities should be away from the corporate headquarters to prevent the same company workers from affecting the sample in any way. In addition, the optimal showroom should be brightly lit to make the vehicles easy to visualize. Finally, it should also contain rooms for focus groups and one-on-one interviews with all the material needed for the assessment process such as laptops and microphones.

• Ensure secure conditions: The research center facility must be highly secure because the prototypes will be unloaded and reloaded from trucks without exposing them to cameras. Ideally, the showroom should not have exterior windows and the security team must remain there with the vehicles to guarantee access to authorized individuals with no cameras or recording devices.

• Vehicle exhibition phase: All vehicles involved in the car clinic market research should be thoroughly polished and touched up regularly during the research to guarantee an optimal view of all details. The lighting must be fairly bright and evenly spread to ensure that all cars are well-illuminated.

• Respondents selection: In the car clinic market research, the participation should be limited to those who plan to purchase a new car over the next few years. Having a minimum household income is often considered a key selection factor, and the sampling should be as representative as possible. Similarly, in the car clinic market research, each participant may have a device to write down answers. If this is not the case, personalized interviews must be conducted to fill out the questionnaires and later analyze the information.

• Sales forecasting: After participants assess the vehicles and understand the main differences between them, they should answer questions about the likelihood of future purchases based on the data collected and the vehicle’s characteristics. With this feedback, the price could be adjusted to take into account the preferences of potential buyers and, above all, the production costs.

Future Opportunities in Car Clinic Market Research

With the help of virtual reality (VR) technologies and artificial intelligence (AI), car clinic market research could be greatly simplified and have a broader reach, while significantly reducing cost and time.

They could take place simultaneously in different countries with much fewer logistical challenges in terms of finding the proper testing location. At the same time, car manufacturers can receive early feedback about different models before a real prototype is produced.

Therefore, VR can lower the costs of car clinical market research and provide a high-quality image of the prototypes that allow an accurate study. Moreover, with AI the results could be evaluated instantly and obtain a much more accurate final report that the participants could corroborate on the spot.

New Research Methods

Technological advances have made it possible to take focus group research online. Web 2.0 and new technology platforms allow automakers to reach hard-to-contact consumers. Automakers also have new tools available to them. They can also use Online Insight Communities and Online Focus Groups.

Another new method is Eye Tracking, which produces gaze trails and heat maps. Researchers are also conducting eye-tracking exercises in Virtual Reality environments. Such a setting makes it easier to record participants’ physiological responses to products. Reactions include electrodermal activity, brain state, and so forth.

Automotive Market Research Solutions

SIS International Research continues to maintain a strong business affiliation with clients in the automotive industry. Our over 35 years of experience have provided us with unmatched insight into the wants and needs of consumers, and the inner-workings of competitors.

We provide organizations with accurate prognostication of emerging trends and critical feedback from the very people who drive their vehicles and use their products. With offices worldwide, we conduct Automotive Research in China, Europe, and the United States.

Our Automotive Research and Strategy solutions include:

  • Car Clinics
  • Focus Groups
  • Usability Testing
  • Test Driving
  • Online Insight Communities
  • Market Opportunity Research
  • Market Entry & Sizing Assessments
  • Competitive Analysis
Autonomous Vehicle Market Research