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From driving experience to health experience

Updated: Apr 19, 2023

From driving experience to health experience

The automotive industry turns into a health business.



"We manage our car better than ourselves". It has been a popular statement during my keynotes for the past seven years. With this statement, I'm not just talking about those people who don't smoke inside their car because it's might damage the interior. I'm also talking about how we all take good care of our cars. Because yes… we know about the condition of our car better than that of our own body. There are simply more sensors inside and outside the car. We will be notified of the slightest (suspected) defect, and it can be taken care of. Yet, this service is not widely yet available when it comes to the health of our bodies.


Being healthy and happy is becoming increasingly important in our lives. Just because we feel that we can have more and more of an impact on it ourselves. Driven by this Healthusiasm trend, managing our health is gradually entering every aspect of our lives. And let the car now be a very suitable place for that because we spend quite a bit of time in our car. Besides our home and workplace, the car is where we spend the most time: More than 8 hours a week. This is 18 full days a year, or more than four years in our lifetime.





Therefore, it is not surprising that car manufacturers are working on the driving experience but are gradually focusing more on creating health experiences. If you ask me: This evolution in customer experience strategy makes perfect sense. We all know the exhausted feeling after a car ride of roughly 3 hours. What if we could make people feel healthier after such a long car ride? How fantastic would this be? This vision drives the entire automotive industry to shift towards a Healthusiasm business and make their drivers healthy and happy.


Here is a brief outline of several small and more significant initiatives in and beyond the car. These are initiatives that are already in full swing today. So, this is not a look to the future.


First, let's see how Healthusiasm has become more critical inside the car.


Safety

Passenger safety has always been important. Cars have to protect the passengers by being sturdy and robust. Today, cars also correct themselves if they deviate from the lane. Or the car can automatically brake if the driver has not seen a pedestrian or other vehicle in front. But more recent cars now also have the technology to identify unsafe driver behaviour. For example, Volvo XC90 has cameras that analyse the reaction speed and eye movement of the driver. If he or she is too intoxicated or distracted, and on top of that ignored previous notifications, the car can take action itself.


Volvo's aim is that no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo. Being able to intervene quickly in the event of an accident also contributes to this. It also offers that sense of safety. For example, some Volvos in the Netherlands are equipped with an Automatic External Defibrillator today. This "Volvo Lifesaver" project ensures that first aid can be administered more quickly. We have already seen a similar initiative working at MyTaxi. It was then set up to bolster their image of "quick service". Because although MyTaxy was the first taxi app on the market, Über still became the market leader. Simply because Über had the image to be faster. MyTaxi, therefore, decided to place Defibrillators in the cars and give the drivers a "First Aid in case of accidents" training. Under the slogan that their Taxis arrive faster on-site than ambulances, they wanted to boost their image compared to the 'faster' Übers. An interesting fact: MyTaxi was bought in 2014 by the Daimler Group, which also includes Mercedes-Benz.


Germfree interior

Research by Ipsos in China (Feb, 2021) showed that a healthy configuration was even more important than safety when purchasing a car. With that choice, 69% of the respondents would mainly focus on the health experience. So, how does this translate into product features? More than half expected air conditioning with germ filters or an interior with antibacterial properties. This is an exciting evolution, undoubtedly accelerated by the pandemic.


But this evolution played well into the already existing ambitions of the Chinese car brand Geely. Their Healthy Car Program consists of vehicles with advanced health technologies. For example, the pressure inside the vehicle is automatically adjusted so that contaminated, unhealthy substances cannot enter. If vehicle pollutants do enter, they are sterilised and deodorised by the Intelligent Air Purification System. As a result, moulds, bacteria and viruses don't stand a chance inside Geely's cars.


Well-being and fitness

People are more concerned than ever with their fitness and well-being. But sitting still in a car for a long time seems to be in stark contrast to this. Sitting still for long periods is often regarded as the new smoking due to the enormous negative impact on human health. In their ambition to keep people healthy (and moving), Jaguar has now developed a technology that offers a solution. A 'morphable' seat uses a series of components in the seat to create constant micro-adjustments that tricks the brain to think the user is walking. With this health experience, Jaguar eliminates the risk of sitting still for a long time.


Check out this quote by the Chief Medical Officer at Jaguar Land Rover



Lincoln, the luxury car brand within the Ford Group, also states that their cars should contribute to the well-being of their customers. The entire interior has been specifically designed to create a feeling of calm and tranquillity while driving. The car brand also repeatedly mentions in their official communications that stress is a recurring problem for drivers. With the purchase of a Lincoln car, you now get a free subscription to Calm, a meditation and mindfulness application. This $69 subscription is a small financial gesture when purchasing a $70,000 car, but it highlights the importance of health experiences within the automotive industry.


Bose is often the desired audio system for car buyers. It can also be included in almost all cars. Customers consciously pay extra for this option because Bose brings unparalleled sound quality to music playback. Many do not know that Bose has also been responsible for filtering out the unwanted noise from engines since 2010. Today, as a leading brand for noise-cancelling headphones, Bose now wants to make the in-car experience more pleasant. By cancelling all stressful noises from outside the car, the driving experience should become a healthy one.



Players who are not (yet) active in the automotive industry also see the potential of health experiences. For example, Reebok is considering converting the 114,000 gas stations into wellness hubs. Today these gas stations are a bit like pit stops in racing. You want to be in and out as quickly as possible. But that will all change as electric cars take longer to charge. Even Tesla superchargers take 30 minutes of your time today. So instead of letting petrol stations run down, why not turn them into places where you can recharge yourself? Gas stations are becoming fitness centres where you can find spinning, boxing, Crossfit and even a running track. Larger stations will function as healing gardens with meditation, yoga, nutrition classes and healthy eating. With the architectural firm Gensler, Reebok is considering making the driving and travel experience healthier.


Health monitoring

In 2018, Transparency Market Research released a report predicting that the global market for automotive active health monitoring systems would grow at an annual rate of 67%. In-vehicle health monitoring is expected to reach a market value of $10 billion by 2030. So it's no surprise that Ford has set up an Automotive Wearables Experience lab in Michigan. Ferrari has recently appointed a new CEO with particular expertise in the Sensor industry. Indeed, the seat belt, the steering wheel or anything the driver might touch can easily be used as a biometric sensor to obtain information about the driver. But cameras are also able to read vital parameters today. The car is the next home of the connected self.


The Ford Wearables lab focuses on stress, diabetes, asthma and allergies. But heart rate monitoring will also become an essential feature in cars. Today, there are few safety systems to monitor heart activities which can lead to loss of control of the vehicle and dangerous situations. But we know that about 70% of people over 65 are at risk of cardiovascular disease and may therefore get behind the wheel. That is why Toyota is currently testing the operation of existing technology for detecting Atrial Fibrillation. Mercedez Trucks is also experimenting with integrated ECG (electrocardiography) sensors linked to an online algorithm. This is all already possible with an Apple Watch. But how can you collect robust data in a car that often has to contend with disturbing noises, vibrations and other disturbances?


Health optimisation

Some innovations go much further than merely following parameters and can optimise experiences. Faurecia, a world leader in automotive technology, launched the “Wellness Seat” in 2017. The smart chair uses various sensors to collect and process data such as heart rate, breathing rate and body movement. In addition, it also considers essential information about the environment, such as time of day, driving conditions and behaviour. With this data, the chair can detect in which position the driver will be most comfortable. It is the first seat in the automotive industry to detect the driver's or passengers' mental and physical state and help reduce stress levels.


While Faurecia primarily uses the seat as a sensor, KIA achieves a similar goal through cameras. The car brand debuted a car in 2019 that can detect and decipher a driver's emotional state (facial expression, heart rate, etc.). The R.E.A.D. system also provides a personalised driver's room (lighting, sound, cabin temperature, seat vibrations and smell) that optimises driving pleasure, but above all, the health experience. Small additional trick: The cameras could also be used as a virtual touch-type gesture control technology. This allows the effortless operation of numerous vehicle functions with the simple swipe of a finger. (Nobody said ease of use has become unimportant, of course)

A few years earlier, Mercedes-Benz launched the Fit and Healthy car with features that went one step further. This new Mercedes-Maybach S Class is a holistic ecosystem with something to offer for all senses. The driver's vital functions are monitored, and other types of data about the environment are also recorded. Based on this, the vehicle will perform specially designed programs: including stimulating exercises, revitalising or relaxing massages, new types of vibrations and sounds, and climate control or scents tailored to the mood or traffic situation. In this way, it has become a car that reactivates the body and mind.


For drivers who want to stay fit 24 hours a day and maintain their active lifestyle - also outside the car - a corresponding "Mercedes me" application will soon be available. Based on collected insights, this app will make personal recommendations for the user, such as specific health workouts. This initiative builds on Mercedes-Benz's broader health strategy. For years, more relevant health information can be found on their website than on the website of an average health provider. The strategic focus of Mercedes-Benz thus makes a further evolution from a focus on the driving experience to a focus on health experiences.


Healthy ageing

The above innovations point to the growing importance of health experience in the automotive industry. This fits perfectly in a future with self-driving cars, where the “driving experience” will become secondary anyway. But autonomous driving vehicles in themselves also contribute to being healthy and happy. Just think how this will help older people, for example, to live longer at home. Voyage Auto (now renamed Cruise) was one of the first start-ups in the self-driving car industry to realise this quickly. Funded by Honda, Voyage Auto first began offering self-driving cars for door-to-door "travel" within California's retired communities. In this way, older people were less dependent on caregivers or informal caregivers.


Healthy environment

Cars are, of course, one of the biggest polluters on this planet. It is known that the polluted air we breathe has a particular impact on our health. The radical switch to electric cars should gradually change this. But while there are still certain limitations to implementing this quickly and continuously on a large scale (think of the battery life), Ford already came to the market with a creative concept. The new Ford van automatically switches to the electric driving mode when the vehicle approaches sensitive areas such as playgrounds and schools. It activates battery power to reduce air pollution when entering such low-emission zones. But it also offers a flexible response to weather conditions and air pollution levels. Where and when necessary, this car can, therefore, automatically switch to the electric driving mode and thus contribute to the environment's health.


Healthy living

Car brands have been aware for longer than today that the added value for customers will no longer come solely from launching new products or services. A comfortable car to drive no longer creates enough value. People want to travel ecologically and healthily, quickly and efficiently. How this happens is secondary to this.


BMW and Daimler AG have partnered with a broader ecosystem to reinvent mobility. They no longer focus on creating value by offering 'mobility with a comfortable car'; they want to provide 'mobility' itself. This mobility-as-a-service model offers customers solutions in their urban environment, regardless of whether they own a car. The belief that we need a car has disappeared. Instead, we will look for a solution that provides a seamless transportation experience through an ecosystem of car-sharing and rental companies, parking aids, charging stations and location-based mobile lifestyle apps. Such a joint venture aims to make “getting around” feel lighter, cleaner, and more accessible. It naturally also plays into a healthier way of life.


Ford wants to take the impact of mobility on healthy living one step further. It is currently converting an old part of the city of Michigan into a neighbourhood where the future of mobility will be tested. While the environment will be used to try out innovations, the focus is building an area where people can live healthily and happily. This unique mobility testing platform prioritises community needs. The district will have sustainable homes, open spaces with greenery, cycle paths, cafes, shuttles, scooters, shops, supermarkets, childcare, housing and various parking options. The entire neighbourhood is built on the principle that everything must be accessible in 20 minutes. But the focus of this project will be on ecological resilience, the sense of belonging, flexible mobility solutions, and of course, the promotion of the health and well-being of the inhabitants.


White paper coming

Soon, a white paper will be available on my website as a free download. The document will build upon this newsletter and map the health experiences in the car industry. It will contain Healthusiasm examples by Ford, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, BMW, Honda, Volvo, Daimler, Jaguar, Geely, and Lincoln. Follow me closely on Linkedin to be informed about the launch, or hit me with a mail to receive a personal notification.



Stay tuned in, and till next time.



-Christophe-

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