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AiThority Interview Series With Brent Gruber, Senior Director, Global Automotive at J.D. Power

Interview With Brent Gruber, Senior Director, Global Automotive at J.D. Power_cue-card

To me, J.D. Power then represented and still does, the pinnacle of Automotive Marketing research.

Know My Company

Tell us about your journey into research and analytics. How do you arrive at J.D. Power?

Growing up in an automotive family in the Detroit area, the industry had a large impact on my childhood. Upon attending my first auto show as a child I was fascinated by all the buzz – the glitz and glamour, the press, and consumers flocking to vehicles displayed as art. To me, it was a magic show. I knew that I wanted to be a part of it all. As I grew older I became more curious about the consideration aspect of automotive purchase decisions. What motivates consumers to purchase a particular vehicle?

This long-held curiosity led me to a career in automotive marketing research and ultimately J.D. Power. To me, J.D. Power then represented and still does, the pinnacle of automotive marketing research.

What makes In-Car Multimedia Technology ecosystem a complex, yet exciting space to work in? From an entertainment and connectivity standpoint, so many features and technologies are being introduced into vehicles at such a rapid rate.

When you couple this with the advancement in technologies related to advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), the level of industry evolvement is unprecedented. Vehicles are certainly becoming much more complex, but it is that complexity and rate of change that makes the automotive industry such an exciting place to be. The automotive industry is driving technological change that impacts our lives in a very tangible way.

How do new technologies like Voice Search and self-driving IoT automotive platforms disrupt the current state of driving experiences?

Disruption in the automotive industry should not be viewed as a negative risk to the industry. The disruption occurring is a result of new technologies such as autonomous capabilities and is a fundamental change which will improve the industry as a whole. Most notably, a considerable amount of technology development is taking place is in the area of safety advancement. This will ultimately lead to a safer driving experience and one that extends mobility for many people.

Could you elaborate further on your role in “AI-meets-Automotive”?

AI is driving a lot of technology development and integration in the automotive industry. At its core, J.D. Power is keenly focused on reflecting the customer experience. In a rapidly changing industry where AI has brought us to the precipice of autonomous vehicles and technologies, J.D. Power plays an important role in the industry transformation. It is important for us to be the voice of the customer in communicating to manufacturers the level of customer interest, receptivity and interaction with these technologies.

“In-car multimedia has been a problematic category for automakers.” How could new technologies help overcome these challenges?

In-car multimedia technologies can be both a blessing and a curse. When it works as designed it provides a tremendous benefit and positive experience to drivers and passenger. But, when it doesn’t work as intended, some of the very same technologies that have been designed to reduce driver distraction can end up creating a more distracting environment. In some cases, owners just simply do not see the value of certain multimedia technologies, representing lost value to the customer and unnecessary cost to the manufacturers.

Fortunately, manufacturers are providing a higher quality multimedia experience than in years past. New technologies that simplify the interaction and reduce distraction will continue to improve the experience.

Read Also: AI’s Next Frontier: The Contact Center

How do you see companies like Google, Amazon, and Apple making further inroads into in-car multimedia technology?

The giants of industry, such as Google, Amazon, and Apple have utilized technology to become integrated within the fabric of our lives. Any time we pinch and zoom, or swipe across a screen, we don’t think about it because it’s become a reflexive action. Whether directly or indirectly, technology giants have already shaped the way we interact with technology in general. This will continue for the foreseeable future as the line between the IoT becomes more blurred. As consumers, we have certain expectations for how things should work based on our experiences. Companies such as Google, Amazon and Apple are creating those expectations and I expect to see them further integrate their capabilities into the automotive multimedia experience. Vehicles will be a seamless link in the way in which we control our environment and monitor our health.

Do you see automotive and mobile industry working together to deliver a smooth customer experience? What takeaways would you enshrine from the report for our readers? The automotive and mobile industries must work together to provide a positive customer experience. A partnership is needed to ensure that smartphones integrate seamlessly into the vehicle. Customers expect features and technologies to work as intended.

For example, the top multimedia problem we see in our reports is with voice recognition misinterpreting commands. In fact, this is the top initial quality problem in the industry overall. Both vehicle and handset manufacturer bear some responsibility in that experience. Although the vehicle and smartphone may have separate voice recognition capabilities, from the user perspective they only experience a single problem that they cannot effectively provide voice commands in their vehicle.

A key takeaway from our research is that consumers should utilize the expertise of the dealerships in learning to use new vehicle features and technologies. Some vehicle capabilities are complex and better understood through a demonstration. Unfortunately, there is a lot of necessary information being provided at the point of purchase and it may be overwhelming. I would encourage owners to take advantage of online how-to videos from the manufacturer or ideally revisit their dealership after the sale to review some of the capabilities with a product expert.

Recommended: Interview with Angel Gambino, CEO and Founder of Sensai

How do you prepare yourself for an AI-driven world?

I am encouraged by the advancement of technologies underpinning the integration of AI into automobiles. It isn’t an all or nothing scenario. There are building blocks to future autonomous vehicles which we can readily experience such as automated braking and adaptive cruise control. Consumer trust in technology is a big hurdle the industry will need to overcome before we see the proliferation of autonomous vehicles. The more we experience some of the technological steps along the way, the more trust we will gain in those capabilities.

The Crystal Gaze

What automation technology start-ups and labs are you keenly following?

As a self-reported data junkie, I’m closely following companies such as J.D. Power that is either building or utilizing AI clouds to leverage Big Data being generated within the automotive industry. There is a tremendous opportunity to connect streams of data in a way that will allow us to improve the vehicle experience.

What technologies within AI and voice search multimedia are you interested in?

I am most interested in ADAS. It is these technologies that will allow for fully-autonomous vehicles in the future. As a “car guy,” I will always appreciate the pure ethereal experience of a performance car, but there will certainly be a welcomed time and place for autonomous vehicles. As the U.S. population ages, I am excited by the potential for the autonomous vehicle to extend mobility for so many millions of people.

What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack? I wouldn’t call it a hack, but it’s certainly something many of us struggle with, and that is learning when to put a product, project or idea behind us and move on. The auto industry is littered with ideas or products that stuck around too long either due to personal attachment or a bureaucratic environment. When you’re operating in an innovative manner, failing is inevitable. The key is to identify that ideal point at which to move on to your next potential success.

One advice on Team Management

Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and empower them to be innovative and take risks.

Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

I would love to see Elon Musk’s responses to these questions. 

Thank you, Brent! That was fun and hope to see you back on AiThority soon.

Brent Gruber currently leads the global automotive supplier practice at J.D. Power. He is responsible for representing J.D. Power within the automotive supply industry and consulting with clients on finding research based solutions to help grow their businesses through improving products and the customer experience. He graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a BBA in Marketing.

At J.D. Power, we amplify the Voice of the Customer and help brands improve the value of their products and services. Together, these principles empower everyone in the global commerce ecosystem, enabling better purchase decisions.

J.D. Power has been capturing and analyzing the Voice of the Customer across more than a dozen industries globally for 50 years.

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