Your Next Car May Anticipate Your Needs
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Your Next Car May Anticipate Your Needs

Automakers are developing intelligent vehicles that spot motorists’ wants and let them subscribe to options after the sale.

By WILLIAM BOSTON
Thu, Jul 8, 2021 12:10pmGrey Clock 3 min

The next time you buy a car and fret about whether or not to splurge on that snazzy new feature, fear not: Chances are you’ll be able to download it later.

In the past, the ordeal of deciding which features you could afford and which you could live without may have been painful and time-consuming, mainly because you would be stuck with whatever suite of options you chose until the time came to buy another car.

Those days are quickly fading as cars morph from vehicles to get around town to artificial intelligence-enabled, smartphone-like connected devices packed with software for work and play. In the near future, cars won’t only be able to constantly update and adapt to situations months and years after the time of purchase, they will be able to use AI to anticipate the needs of drivers and passengers and tailor their offerings accordingly. This also has the potential to create a new business model for automakers, with car owners paying on-demand fees or monthly subscriptions to get access to new features.

Automakers like General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Volkswagen AG , BMW AG and Mercedes-Benz are shifting from banging metal to software-centred design with which they hope to make money even after they have sold you the car.

Tesla Inc. has been doing this for years. Early on, it took control of the software development process, from chip design to AI systems. The company is already collecting huge amounts of data from customer vehicles that it uses to improve the car’s systems through over-the-air updates, which automatically and remotely update the car’s software, just like with a smartphone. Tesla offers subscriptions for what it calls “Premium Connectivity,” which covers things like video streaming and live traffic visualization. Chief Executive Elon Musk has raised the possibility that Tesla could offer its advanced driver-assistance package as a subscription but has not launched that yet.

Older automakers are following Tesla’s lead. Many have created in-house software operations to catch up. A Volkswagen division is developing core software for the company’s vehicles and aims to have a system in place with advanced autonomous functionality by 2025.

 “The question is whether people are willing to pay,” says Axel Schmidt, head of global automotive at the consulting firm Accenture. “Are you willing to pay $2 so the car finds you a parking spot instead of circling around for half an hour to find it yourself?”

If the smartphone experience holds lessons, analysts say, it is that people do take advantage of the opportunity to allow technology to help them personalize their experiences. Inside the car, digital assistants and sensors that observe passengers allow the car to learn about them and adapt to their routines.

Automakers are also taking a page from Apple Inc.’s playbook, using the car’s software to establish a profile of the user that, just like the Apple ID, would allow that person to carry his or her profile to other vehicles, even when car-sharing. Automakers have already paired customer IDs with their digital offerings, but in the future the ID will be a key that unlocks a person’s preferences from seat position and driving style to music playlists and navigation histories, accessible in any car. This will become a big driver of shared mobility, analysts say.

“In shared mobility you will be able to port your mobile world,” says Mark Wakefield, global co-leader of consulting firm AlixPartners’ automotive practice. “Even things like sound isolation where you can be in a [vehicle] with other people and you can’t hear them, you only hear your own music.”

Subscription features aren’t limited to personal preferences. Data generated in traffic in real time could also be turned into a business, making certain information available for paying customers.

A host of safety and advanced navigation features could come standard or available with a premium subscription as cars become more connected and exchange real-time information directly, instead of routing the data through a cloud, says Giovanni Lanfranchi, chief technology officer of Here Technologies, a digital mapping company owned by a group of big auto makers.

Here is working on a pilot project that uses car-to-car communication to predict traffic situations just five minutes ahead, using AI and machine learning to achieve up to 95% accuracy.

“This is something that only a machine can understand,” he says. “I’m learning about you to offer a better experience.”

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: July 7, 2021



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Why Prices of the World’s Most Expensive Handbags Keep Rising

Designers are charging more for their most recognisable bags to maintain the appearance of exclusivity as the industry balloons

By CAROL RYAN
Tue, Mar 5, 2024 3 min

The price of a basic Hermès Birkin handbag has jumped $1,000. This first-world problem for fashionistas is a sign that luxury brands are playing harder to get with their most sought-after products.

Hermès recently raised the cost of a basic Birkin 25-centimeter handbag in its U.S. stores by 10% to $11,400 before sales tax, according to data from luxury handbag forum PurseBop. Rarer Birkins made with exotic skins such as crocodile have jumped more than 20%. The Paris brand says it only increases prices to offset higher manufacturing costs, but this year’s increase is its largest in at least a decade.

The brand may feel under pressure to defend its reputation as the maker of the world’s most expensive handbags. The “Birkin premium”—the price difference between the Hermès bag and its closest competitor , the Chanel Classic Flap in medium—shrank from 70% in 2019 to 2% last year, according to PurseBop founder Monika Arora. Privately owned Chanel has jacked up the price of its most popular handbag by 75% since before the pandemic.

Eye-watering price increases on luxury brands’ benchmark products are a wider trend. Prada ’s Galleria bag will set shoppers back a cool $4,600—85% more than in 2019, according to the Wayback Machine internet archive. Christian Dior ’s Lady Dior bag and the Louis Vuitton Neverfull are both 45% more expensive, PurseBop data show.

With the U.S. consumer-price index up a fifth since 2019, luxury brands do need to offset higher wage and materials costs. But the inflation-beating increases are also a way to manage the challenge presented by their own success: how to maintain an aura of exclusivity at the same time as strong sales.

Luxury brands have grown enormously in recent years, helped by the Covid-19 lockdowns, when consumers had fewer outlets for spending. LVMH ’s fashion and leather goods division alone has almost doubled in size since 2019, with €42.2 billion in sales last year, equivalent to $45.8 billion at current exchange rates. Gucci, Chanel and Hermès all make more than $10 billion in sales a year. One way to avoid overexposure is to sell fewer items at much higher prices.

Many aspirational shoppers can no longer afford the handbags, but luxury brands can’t risk alienating them altogether. This may explain why labels such as Hermès and Prada have launched makeup lines and Gucci’s owner Kering is pushing deeper into eyewear. These cheaper categories can be a kind of consolation prize. They can also be sold in the tens of millions without saturating the market.

“Cosmetics are invisible—unless you catch someone applying lipstick and see the logo, you can’t tell the brand,” says Luca Solca, luxury analyst at Bernstein.

Most of the luxury industry’s growth in 2024 will come from price increases. Sales are expected to rise by 7% this year, according to Bernstein estimates, even as brands only sell 1% to 2% more stuff.

Limiting volume growth this way only works if a brand is so popular that shoppers won’t balk at climbing prices and defect to another label. Some companies may have pushed prices beyond what consumers think they are worth. Sales of Prada’s handbags rose a meagre 1% in its last quarter and the group’s cheaper sister label Miu Miu is growing faster.

Ramping up prices can invite unflattering comparisons. At more than $2,000, Burberry ’s small Lola bag is around 40% more expensive today than it was a few years ago. Luxury shoppers may decide that tried and tested styles such as Louis Vuitton’s Neverfull bag, which is now a little cheaper than the Burberry bag, are a better buy—especially as Louis Vuitton bags hold their value better in the resale market.

Aggressive price increases can also drive shoppers to secondhand websites. If a barely used Prada Galleria bag in excellent condition can be picked up for $1,500 on luxury resale website The Real Real, it is less appealing to pay three times that amount for the bag brand new.

The strategy won’t help everyone, but for the best luxury brands, stretching the price spectrum can keep the risks of growth in check.

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