Tell us about your role at FITCH.
I head up the digital practice at FITCH, essentially looking after a number of teams in across the studio network who are involved in various aspects of innovation and design around tech.
Tell us about the brief from Lynk & Co, what did it ask?
It originally started as a CX brief, we were asked to re-think people’s relationships with cars and mobility in urban environments. We had to start with the assumption that the existing paradigms were all wrong which was constantly challenging but also very refreshing to hear – we usually have to push our clients to be brave but with Lynk & Co, they rarely needed it!
How did you approach it and what was the insight?
The key insights were fairly obvious, there was a small but rapidly growing group of people who frankly couldn’t be bothered with cars any more. In the US, the number of license applications per capita were dropping. Further user research showed two other interesting trends; firstly that a lot of the progressive, urban demographic refused to be defined by, or fit into ‘car brand’ stereotypes and secondly that the whole process of buying, leasing, parking, maintaining insuring etc was frankly outmoded with their lifestyles. They quite liked having a car but the value exchange wasn’t really there to have to deal with all the hassle. We realized pretty early on that we were building a car company for people who didn’t really want a car. It sounds a little contrarian but it actually kept us true to the cause, if we were not actually adding value and removing hassle – we were doing it wrong. There was never any of the usual nonsense of product prettymaking – we just assumed nobody cared.
The Chinese market is often considered one of the hardest to crack, how did you go about diving into it for the launch?
Every market professes to being unique, we hear it all of the time and sure, there are nuances. China however is discreetly different in so many ways that would take an essay or a book to answer fully.
I had been working in and out of the Chinese market for many years but every time I come back to it, it’s moved on again dramatically. We quickly realized that we’d have to move a lot of people to China for a while had a fairly large team, including myself living in Hangzhou and Shanghai as well as hiring a lot of local people and leaning quite heavily on our Hong Kong studio.
What was the greatest challenge that you and your team faced bringing this to life?
I think the biggest challenge was the speed and scale. We had essentially a year to launch a completely new car company with an entirely unique proposition at scale in the world’s biggest car market.
Startups all need to pivot and it’s often a process of taking two steps forward and then one step back, it’s always a bit of a rollercoaster but a car startup needs many thousands of people, huge infrastructure and unimaginable man-hours before the first product hits the road – especially when your first market is China.
Moving away from Lynk & Co and over to the wider automotive space -what do you believe is the biggest issue the industry is facing today?
There are a lot of issues which make automotive such an interesting field at the moment, in many ways ripe for disruption. For me, the most interesting is probably the field around autonomous vehicles because it’s really a discussion about disrupting our entire civic society. Despite what a lot of people say, the enabling technology is pretty much there but there are so many other mountains to climb. Our cities will need to be redesigned for cars that never need to park, all of our traffic laws will need to be rewritten, legislation around culpability will need to be rethought, many millions of workers will be displaced, trillions will need to be invested in transport and connectivity infrastructure, vehicle design will need a total rethink, gas stations and service infrastructure will all need an overhaul and thousands of unexpected startups will be spawned which will potentially change our fundamental understanding of mobility.
For me, it’s a very interesting and mentally stimulating field.
In a broad sense, what do you think the future looks like for automotive and what changes do brands need to embrace to get there?
Everything is about to change pretty drastically; it’s probably going to be the most significant era of change in mobility since cars themselves replaced horses. For sure there will be people who are passionate about driving, torque and horsepower (as there are still a lot of keen equestrians) but I think that all of the automakers are starting to place their bets on which version of the future they believe in. Change won’t come around quickly, there’s just too much infrastructure, investment and development needed, but for the first time, perhaps ever, automakers are embracing futurology thinking about scenarios which may be decades out and placing their bets. Certainly EV, autonomy (both in logistics and passenger vehicles), flexible ownership/PaaS are all here to stay and as better connectivity partly due to 5G, and battery technology and charging infrastructure becomes more available – the rate of change will accelerate.