It’s no secret why consumers have been drawn to premium cars for decades. These globally recognized brands project sophistication and style. With precision engineering, sleek design, and well-appointed interiors, their vehicles offer a sublime experience.
Such features have made premium automobiles not only coveted by drivers but also immensely profitable for OEMs: in 2017, this segment made up 13 percent of vehicle sales but 40 percent of profits. Year after year, premium OEMs have waged a battle for dominance in the familiar realms of performance and styling in an effort to delight buyers.
The backdrop is a tightening market environment. Prospects for the premium segment are reassuring in the near term: global growth is forecast to be around 2 percent a year through 2021 before increasing significantly until 2030. However, changing market dynamics are beginning to be felt.
Five trends shaping the premium-automotive market
After years of strong sales and steady growth, the premium-car segment is cruising into a bumpy stretch of road. Our research identified five overarching trends that will upend the auto industry in the coming years and force OEMs to respond with decisive action:
- Divergence across the triad: China, Europe, and the United States. Premium automakers historically have developed models for a global market. However, our research reveals that consumers in the segment’s primary markets—China, Europe, and the United States—vary widely on what they value most in a premium vehicle (Exhibit 1).
- Premium customers driving digital disruption. Far more than customer journeys in other segments, the premium-ownership journey is increasingly digital, and consumers are engaging with brands through a range of digital channels. The influence of digital has also helped to fuel the appetite of premium consumers for shared-mobility solutions.
- New differentiating factors in premium. Differentiating premium-car metrics range from Nürburgring lap time to design and connectivity. The rise of electric power trains will turn auto performance, once a distinguishing factor for premium brands, into a commodity. Going forward, superior connectivity and interior design will become decisive factors for premium consumers (Exhibit 2).
- Brand remains king—but evolves. The concept of a monolithic brand will face challenges from the non-OEM companies behind the proliferation of mobility services, which are beginning to compete directly with OEMs on brand. In addition, OEMs that add more products, services, and partnerships will be challenged to maintain their brands amid increasing complexity.
- Driving disruptive force: regulation. In markets around the world, governments are establishing more stringent emissions standards. At the same time, the rise of autonomous vehicles is forcing elected officials and policy makers to implement regulations that balance consumer adoption with public safety.
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SOURCE: McKinsey & Company