The question of how to properly convey the benefits of autonomous vehicles lingers, unresolved, for marketers today. An industry which, in its infancy, seemed like yesterday’s sci-fi flight of fancy into the limelight—preoccupying both mainstream media and top-notch marketing teams at a handful of forward-thinking companies.
But as actual R&D work is still unfolding on the technologies necessary to bring these cars to market, unsettling realities begin to sink in. The upshot? Development of autonomous vehicles is prohibitively costly, with completion timelines trailing into the indefinite future. Despite the hype, no company has yet brought a fully-autonomous vehicle to market: even the smartest solution still requires partial driver supervision.
Prominent in the public eye are persistent concerns over safety. Every death or injury caused by a partially supervised self-driving vehicle seems to create a spiral of distrust.
The thing is, although these attempts have amounted to high-profile false starts, the fully self-driving car industry is still largely speculative at this early stage.
Even still, increasingly (and remarkably), corporate players are finding ways to test the marketing waters, from video demonstrations to creative copy—a domain we’re keenly watching.
Autonomous vehicles tech that drives business
With no products to sell to consumers yet, the primary market for self-driving vehicles is, well, other businesses. To boot: As a ridesharing company that leverages drivers’ own cars, Lyft isn’t looking to manufacture vehicles of their own. Instead, from 2017 to April 2021, Lyft’s Level 5 division developed self-driving technology for manufacturers to use in their autonomous vehicles.
And in April of this year, it paid off. Lyft announced that Level 5 would be purchased by Woven Planet, a subsidiary of Toyota’s Research Institute. Toyota has a good reason to want to invest in the tech: unlike Lyft, they do manufacture cars. Toyota can see that somewhere (off in the distance) is a future in autonomous vehicles; this move readies Toyota to hit the ground running when that day comes.
For Lyft, the move was necessary: they needed to turn a profit, and Level 5 was weighing them down. And now, Lyft has a strong business partner in Toyota.
Similarly, in December 2020, Aurora purchased Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, their division dedicated to developing self-driving vehicles. Like Level 5, Aurora develops the technology powering autonomous vehicles; they don’t make the cars themselves. Like Lyft, Uber chose to divest for financial reasons.
An industry finding its own direction
To outside investors, these recent consolidations may indicate a burgeoning restlessness within the industry. After all, in 2017, Lyft themselves anticipated that by this year (2021), most of their business would leverage self-driving vehicles. We’re very far from that in reality.
Still, companies aren’t throwing in the towel just yet. The front page of Alphabet’s Waymo lays out a bold mission statement—to offer customers the safest autonomous commute in the business.
Their Waymo One rideshare service currently only operates in the East Valley of Phoenix, Arizona, but given their parent company is the fifth largest company in global market capitalization, it’s easy to believe that the service will one day find a ticket to ride.
What’s more, every Tesla vehicle comes equipped with Autopilot: hardware capable of running the company’s autonomous driving software—ensuring that Tesla drivers will benefit from the self-driving revolution, once it ultimately arrives.
A video embedded in the Autopilot page on Tesla’s site demonstrates the robustness of Tesla’s autonomous driving tech, displaying a projected commute in all its input-free glory. To me, watching the vehicle slither its way through town, stopping to avoid other cars and pedestrians, was jaw dropping—the stuff of sci-fi indeed.
MarketSmiths Case Study
Ketra illuminates how sophisticated LED technology can brighten a day, bring out all the vivid colors in a painting, and turn a house into a home. Beautiful as their products have always been, the company found it difficult to not only explain what its products do, but evoke what their products make a space feel like. That’s when the copywriting team here at MarketSmiths got onboard. We brought Ketra’s products to light—so to speak—by developing product pages, illustrative case studies, and more. Soon after, Ketra were acquired by Lutron—a leader in the lighting industry—and MarketSmiths are proud to have shared in that history.
Where we’re going, there are no roads
The Tesla video plants a seed to understanding what this industry could be, one day.
It’s an open secret that Apple, the largest company in the world (and decidedly non-automotive), has been working for years on self-driving electric vehicles. The company is aiming to begin production of the car as early as 2024.
And the reveal? True to Apple’s historic marketing ethos, so far…dead silence. Crickets. Apple knows that zero hype is its best hype, that they don’t need to show a single shot of a car, until said car motors its (own) way onto stage or street. Then, they just sit back and watch the pre-orders come pouring in.
With the shape and timing of autonomous vehicles still fundamentally a giant question mark, marketers await on the ground floor. Once the future of autonomous vehicles begins to take firmer shape, stringent regulation will naturally occur (along with the compliant marketing that goes along with it), proving that this next-generation tech is here to stay. For copywriters like us, this is an exciting white space—and we’ll be watching eagerly as the industry continues to develop, settle, and emerge.
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