Automotive innovation in the fast lane

Mike Tristram explores the future of automotive; predicting the retail and car buying trends of the next decade.

Words by: Mike Tristram

Senior Strategist


Automotive is on the cusp of a revolution so big, 10 years from now we will look back and think we were living in the dark ages. With such a steep innovation curve how do automotive retailers and car brands navigate the road ahead? We look at what urban pedestrianisation means for personal vehicle ownership and why in-car entertainment will become the key purchase driver for cars in the future.

This year Deloitte predicted that “the global automotive industry is on the cusp of a massive transformation.”

Here’s how we see things playing out:

Short-term : accelerated appeal

Pre-pandemic ride-sharing platforms like UBER were automotive’s ‘unicorns’. Covid has prompted an unprecedented shift away from public transport and ride-hailing to personal mobility. Globally, nearly half (46%) of consumers intend to use their cars more, while in the UK cars have become the primary mode of transport, rising from 64% to 84%. The number of non-drivers who expect to drive and own a car in the future has also risen by 21%.

A raft of new innovations is also making cars more appealing in a post-covid world. Flexible ‘usership models’ are catering to young, commitment adverse consumers. VUI (voice user interfaces) and the rise of drive-thru retail concepts is seeing cars become a key retail channel. Couple this with new in-car health, wellness and wellbeing (HWW) features at CES 2021, cars are becoming much more than a method of getting from A to B.

Mid-term : drive towards carbon-neutrality

While this uplift in car ownership is good for the global automotive market, it’s not good for the 2030 climate target. Planned political interventions will see an increase in clean air initiatives. Pro-EV regulations and incentives will also be used to offset the rise in carbon emissions.

Regenerative urban planning will also prioritise urban pedestrianisation and rewilding projects which mean less roads for the future of urban cities. It is now widely reported that we are moving towards a ‘pedestrian age’ with TFL’s Streetspace programme looking to accommodate a predicted ten-fold increase in cycling and five-fold increase in walking.

Long-term : smart city transport

Over half of consumers worldwide expect driverless cars to be their preferred mode of transport by 2024. For the first time consumer demand is outpacing technology. While Germany is planning to permit driverless cars as early as 2022, there is still a long way to go and a lot of infrastructure to be built to make AV’s truly mainstream.

This is where smart cities will come into their own as they employ dynamic street management systems to ease congestion and the complexity of traffic hazards. Powered by a network of intelligence, personal mobility will become more akin to a public transport network. Mobility as a Service (MaaS) 2.0 will give us access to vehicles on-demand and make ownership a thing of the past.

As the mobility landscape sees unprecedented upheaval and evolution, the current retail sales model is losing its relevance.

Future Possibilities

With so much change, there remains one constant when it comes to automotive retail : the hard-sell. A pre-conception that the industry just can’t seem to shake. An industry that has been digitally-averse up until now will need to invest in digital and use this as an opportunity to re-imagine the customer experience for a new era of automotive. Here's some thought starters:

1 - Sell fun and freedom, not fuel economy

Car buying is evolving from rational to emotional purchase. Freedom, in-car entertainment and safety features will become the key purchase drivers of the future. Campaigns and sales comms will need to reflect this.

Retailers should also invest in immersive and gamified test driving experiences. They will remain the number one reason consumers would come to a showroom, so experiences should differentiate and compliment the online journey. A great example is Range Rover’s Terrain Challenge which gives potential buyers a chance to put the car through its paces before buying.

As a flood of new in-car technologies enter the market, retailers will have to think less horsepower and more computer power. Car buying experiences of the future will need to be more akin to tech demos. Nissan’s new Pavilion concept in Tokyo is ahead of the curve, allowing people to play a game of tennis against in the in-car sensor system to test its responsiveness – way better than reading the spec sheet!

2 – Allow consumers to switch lanes

As cities swap highways for walkways, consumers switch four wheels for two, and less roads means less cars, automotive brands need to adopt flexible service over sales strategies. Chinese auto brand NIO has recently launched a game-changing BaaS (Battery-as-a-service) model – allowing people to switch out their battery with one for more or less range - updating your subscription fee in real-time.

As access over ownership becomes the norm physical ‘stores’ need to feel a million miles away from the hard-sell showrooms of today. Lynk & Co Club is the disruptor that’s leading the way with an anti-dealership approach, launching local member’s club for it’s car community.

By 2030 autonomous vehicles will account for over 40% of the personal mileage driven in Europe (PWC). This further influences the role and design of the car beyond just as a mode of transport. As seen by Mini and Mercedes-Benz’s - “driverless living spaces” are the future, which means completely re-imagining the automotive retail experience. It will no longer be about what the car can do, or even the AV system, but about all the things we can do in it – from gaming, to working to detoxing.


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