The auto industry is one of the most competitive markets in the world. After the boom of automobile manufacturing that followed the Second World War, the industry was slowly whittled down over the decades to a handful of huge, global auto groups that now jostle for supremacy.

The last decade has been an age of disruption for these powerhouses, with new players like Tesla entering the market and beginning to take a larger and larger share with their futuristic electric vehicles. The in-car experience a manufacturer provides its customers has become more important than ever, helping auto makers define their brand and set new standards of convenience and luxury to retain their customer base and attract new buyers.

There are big changes ahead for consumer vehicles, and not just in how they are powered. With autonomous driving capabilities already being implemented, the experience of being in a car is going to become more crucial than ever before. Here we are going to look at a few of the reasons why the in-car experience is now so important for auto manufacturers, and how it is going to change in the future.

The Disruption of the Digital Era

Cars have often been at the forefront of advances in design and technology, but as the rest of the world began to move quickly into smart technology, like smartphones, tablets, and digital streaming media, the car world struggled to keep up.

For a long time, auto manufacturers had difficulty keeping up with the rapid changes in digital consumer technology and often couldn’t provide their customers with compatibility with their devices or streaming services. Though Tesla struggled with elements like consistent build quality and paint finishes, they excelled at providing people with an in-car interface that was not only compatible with their devices and services but also provided services of its own. By utilizing third-party products like Google Maps into their own GPS system, for example, they made their features recognizable and easy to seamlessly switch from using one device to theirs.

In spite of Tesla’s many faults in its early days, its cars were thought of as smarter than the major manufacturers, which was a highly-desirable feature and unique selling point that made consumers forgive their other issues. Now auto manufacturers are trying to catch up with the standards this new, disruptive competitor has set.

The Future Will Be Automated

For generations, autonomous vehicles driving through cities and down highways have been seen as a part of our future, and now that future is nearly here.

Different levels of autonomous driving have been creeping into consumer vehicles slowly for a few years now, and not just from electric cars. Self-parking features, adaptive cruise control, and features that automatically keep a car in its lane on the highway are becoming more and more common, even on budget and entry-level vehicles. As we move forward into the future, these features will grow, until the car will drive for you. When this happens, the in-car experience will become the crucial feature for auto manufacturers. Autonomous driving will turn your car’s interior space into something more like a lounge or media center room.

The in-car experience that auto manufacturers provide will no longer be centered around a driving experience, and instead, be focused on relaxation and entertainment. Décor, ambiance and features are going to become the biggest drivers of consumer choice in the next decade, not horsepower.

Fluid, Reactive Designs from Fluid, Reactive Manufacturers

One of the reasons the many of the auto manufacturers struggled in the digital era was that they couldn’t react fast enough to trends and technological developments, and their in-car technology was always a step or two behind the rest of the world’s tech.

Auto manufacturers are going to have to change design processes and management structures to become more reactive to the demands of consumers and the marketplace as well as have designs and manufacturing processes that allows the in-car experience to be flexible and easily adapted to these demands. According to this article from Kanbanize, agile automotive project management uses project management techniques that adapt quickly to changes in a project and cut down on the time it takes to get feedback from consumers implemented into designs. With help from Agile, any company can become much more reactive to changes in consumer demands and a volatile marketplace.

In-car design is also going to be more reactive and fluid. The interior of cars will themselves change and react depending on driving situations and demands. Lighting will change to help set the tone between relaxation for long highway driving, and brighter lights for more alert inner-city driving. Seating will also be fluid, with the conventional driving seat of the future adapting into a lounger or even lie-flat bed.

The in-car experience that auto manufacturers provide their customers is going to become increasingly important in the next decade and may make or break some auto makers as they wrestle with the ever-evolving digital era and electrification. It is easy to see why this area is so important.