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Those who believe that cellular technologies—particularly 5G—carry and transmit the novel Coronavirus can head back to their caves and pore over their “flat Earth” conspiracy theories. The rest of the world needs to move on, and in the CoViD-free online world, things are, indeed, moving at a blinding pace.

For the automotive industry, the pandemic has especially fast-tracked the digital revolution. Many companies are now enlisting their marketing and sales teams for online training, virtual car launches are now the norm, while purchasing vehicles can now be initiated with online transactions with dealerships.

In virtually all levels of the organizational hierarchy, going online is an inevitable reality. Presidents and CEOs attest to the heightened online activities as playing a key factor in the immediate and near future not just of the automotive industry, but for all socioeconomic, political, and cultural sectors.

Ma. Fe Perez-Agudo, president of Association of Vehicle Importers and Distributors (Avid), pointed out: “This pandemic has triggered a digital revolution in the auto industry in such a short span of time. By going fully digital, we are able to reach out to customers in their homes, book appointments or test drives, show our products and services virtually, or simply engage in some form of social interaction.

“Today, you can get all pertinent information in a second at the click of a button. Actual showrooms are slowly being transformed into digital marketplaces. Digital is here to stay and with consumer-driven expectations, you can expect more innovations to make the customer journey more convenient and efficient,” she added.

Agudo, who is also the president and CEO of Hyundai Asia Resources Inc (Hari), stressed: “Just talking as Hari, our H.O.M.E. (Hyundai Online Market Experience) Page allows customers to safely and conveniently buy their dream Hyundai vehicle from their mobile devices. Our digital campaigns and initiatives have fast-tracked digital transformation while successfully capturing the needs of the new consumers evidenced by the significant increase in social media metrics across the 42-strong Hari network. On average, our dealers are seeing a 100-percent rise in engagement rates, an 800-percent increase in total reach, and 1,600 percent more post engagements.”

Atty Rommel Gutierrez, president of Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines Inc (Campi), said: “The initial success in online activities, such as product launches, sales inquiries, and service appointments, is very encouraging. This online revolution is a game-changer and will certainly become part of the new normal in the auto industry.”

Froilan Dytianquin, general manager for Sojitz G Auto Philippines/Geely Philippines’ sales and marketing division: “I believe this will be the way of doing things from now on. This situation has taught us a lot of things, like adapting, while at the same time being efficient. Online seminars, virtual car launches prove to be cost effective in relaying your messages to employees and customers. I’m sure software developers are further on the grind to find better solutions to bring the better experience of communicating and selling to customers.”

Keiichi Suzuki, Suzuki Philippines Inc vice president and general manager of the Automobile Division: “We welcome and understand the digital shift since online transactions done are the most viable route to take to ensure a safe transaction between our representatives and our customers. This time more than ever, going digital is an opportunity for us to remain resilient and prove to our customers that we are still within reach. Our multi-faceted online showroom is one of our strongest initiatives to date.”

Suzuki showcased features of the company’s online showroom, adding that its Online Auto Loan “acts as a direct portal to our bank partners, a convenient way to conduct a loan application. To maintain solid communication with our customers, we now have Chatbot integration with live 24/7 customer care assistance and Viber community for easier communication.”

Atty Albert Arcilla, president and CEO of Chevrolet, MG and Volvo in the Philippines: “At The Covenant Car Company Inc (TCCCI), we have always championed digital in both Chevrolet and MG, and we are committed to the sustained transformation of our digital systems, processes, and communication channels so we can efficiently engage and connect with our stewards, dealer partners, and customers. These modern systems are not without the continued trust of our stakeholders which serves as the first gateway for people to engage with us online. With two established heritage brands under our helm—Chevrolet was founded in 1911 and MG in 1924—we remain earnest in keeping the quality and reliability of our vehicles and services so as to promote trust amongst our customers online.”

Buying cars a ‘physical, tactile’ experience

Rommel Sytin, president of United Asia Automotive Group (Foton Philippines/Chery Philippines): “Digital sales will continue to grow in every industry. The car dealership model might be a bit behind consumer goods in the shift to digital, but mostly because buyers want and need to actually see and experience the car in the flesh before committing to buying it. It’s a lot easier and simpler to order a new smartphone or clothes online, but buying a car is a very physical and tactile experience. Having said that, the safety protocols dictated by this pandemic require all parties to be able to transact online, and this is why we are doing everything we can to be ready for a purely digital sales environment.”

Toyota Motor Philippines president Hiro Okamoto: “Digital advertising, online inquiries and reservations, virtual product launches, interactive website features, online service appointments, and real-time response to customers are just some of the things we have done to make the customer online experience better. Even if the situation improves and physical activities resume, online activities may still remain strong as customers see the comfort of and convenience of transacting online. But as the online platforms evolve, the responsibility of brands and companies also increase to make sure that their customers can make sure they are transacting in a safe environment, they are talking to certified sales people, and they get authentic promotional offers. Companies should also be able to provide a seamless customer purchase, ownership or usership journey from end-to-end, at the palm of their hands.”

He added, “The digital world also opens up a lot of opportunities for the automotive industry. For example, Toyota Financial Services Philippines launched several products that change the way vehicle ownership and usership is done. If a car can be used without being owned, with monthly subscription booked and paid online such as with Kinto One, maybe more people will have access to vehicles. TFS also launched a connected auto-loan solution for easier vehicle loan approval if vehicle usage and location can be monitored and tracked. Whether online or offline, each customer has his or her own preference and Toyota will work hard to give a good customer experience.”

PK Umashankar, president and managing director, Ford Philippines: “At Ford, the digital revolution has paved the way for us to adapt to the ‘new normal’. We have launched three new Ford vehicles virtually over the past few months and used various social media platforms to inform and engage media, dealers, customers, and the general public. Our Ford dealerships are also strengthening their online platforms and online payment systems to engage our customers. Internally, we have also strengthened employee communication and collaboration through virtual meetings and townhalls since we are working from home since March. Technology is definitely helping us at Ford operate in this ‘new normal’, and we look forward to harnessing its benefits further in the next months to come.”

Hajime Koso, president/CEO of Isuzu Philippines Corp (IPC): “With the ongoing digital transformation of majority of automotive companies, the future of purchasing a vehicle will definitely change. Our dealerships can now close a transaction with little to no physical client visits to our showroom. Transacting online is no longer an option, it is the way to go. What we need now is to strengthen the ‘digital trust’ coming from our clients. Our dealers need to reassure our clients that transacting online is safe and convenient for them.”

Mutsuhiro Oshikiri, president and CEO of Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corp: “We at MMPC acknowledge the strong need to utilize online to engage with our customers. We have partnered with online automotive sites and we are currently making efforts to improve the website for a better online customer experience. We are also investing more on online advertising to reach more potential buyers.”