Consumers are starting to design cars over the Internet

Some auto manufacturers are dipping their toes into co-creation with customers, seeking design preferences via online communities, social network sites, crowdsourcing and contests.

Until recently, auto manufacturers relied on surveys and customer focus groups to help guide new car designs. Now, through social media, they may go to the customers directly for ideas and innovations.

Fiat Mio, designed via crowdsourcing.Photo credit: Fiat spa.

That's one of the conclusions of a new report issued by PwC, which describes how automobile design is evolving into a collaborative engagement between customers, dealers, employees and suppliers.

Modes of connectivity include online communities, social network sites, crowdsourcing techniques and contests. "But co-creation is more than just getting thousands of 'followers' or 'fans,'" the report advises.  "A company’s goal should be to create an engaged, extended community that is committed to the product and company shown by their involvement in collaborative activities."

PwC was addressing the auto industry in its report, but the notion of co-creation extends across all industries as well.

The report cites three examples of customer co-creation in action:

  • Fiat Mio was launched in Brazil, "based on more than 11,000 ideas submitted by 17,000 subscribers in more than 120 countries," PwC relates. "Social media sites Facebook and Twitter generated some of the ideas, and videos about the 'making of' the car are hosted on YouTube."
  • Volkswagen's "People’s Car Project" in China sought ideas from consumers via an interactive website, which resulted in more than 200,000 design submissions, the report states. "Volkswagen turned three of the ideas into concept cars and launched them at the Beijing Auto Show in May 2012."
  • Local Motors crowdsources its designs, "and then manufactures the new models on a small scale in micro-factories." The company's first model, the Rally Fighter, "took just 18 months to go from a 2-D drawing to a vehicle ready for pick-up," says PwC. "That compares to the industry standard of 3 to 5 years."

There is solid, tangible business value that comes from such efforts. For manufacturers, there is the added advantage of also opening up greater collaboration between employees and departments within their organizations, as well as enhancing supply-chain partnerships. At the dealer level, co-creation opens up relationships which will bring customers back for services after the big sale -- historically not a big money-maker.

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