Categorized | Editorial, Reviews

Why Don’t Cars Go Into Beta?

Posted on 15 February 2013 by Adam Kaslikowski

Why don't cars go into beta?

Remember when Spotify was in private beta? Only the cool kids could get in and non-cool kids openly begged their friends for a referral code into the music site. Betas serve the dual purpose of building buzz and working out bugs in a controlled environment. So……rhetorical question: Why don’t cars go into beta?

An automotive beta could look like trying the car out for a week or buying it outright. It could involve weekly debriefs with an engineering liaison or monthly surveys. It could be as simple, and as risky, as trying out a new part and not telling the public. It could be any or none of these options. Betas are not set in stone, but the point is that they could be hugely useful to the companies and welcomed by the public.

If I’ve faithfully bought every Corvette since they hit the road, I sure want to get my hands on a new one before the unwashed masses. Hell, I’d probably pay a premium for the privileged of filling out weekly surveys for Chevy’s Quality Assurance Department just to feel like “part of the process.” I’m sure I’d drive it around even if it was covered in camo and stuffed with computers and logging equipment. If Barrett-Jackson has taught us anything, it’s that collectors will pay a premium to be first.

This goes beyond lust-worthy sports cars like the Corvette also. By using special pricing or other incentives, manufacturers could enroll beta customers for such pedestrian offerings as a Versa or CX-7. Offering a lower price, better rates, or an extended warranty would certainly be enough to enroll willing testers. Who doesn’t like good deal?

In exchange for giving select customers bragging rights or a sweet deal, the OEM’s would get real world non-engineer road use and that cool buzz of being experimental. How many recalls have we seen on basically new cars, and how many of those could have been avoided by letting the public get our greasy fingers on the cars in a controlled environment like a beta? Maybe a lot, maybe a few, but the downside of trying is vanishingly small.

So small in fact that automotive betas aren’t unheard of per se, just uncommon. The General Motors EV-1, the electric 1-Series, the Honda FCX Clarity, and to lesser extents the Ferrari FXX and the Rolls Royce electric Phantom. Some of these are perfect examples while some are merely a good start. What I’m talking about though is a widespread adoption of the beta system to more than just cutting-edge tech like EVs. Manufacturers want to get younger customers into their cars? Giving them a discount for being a tester is a great place to start. The age bracket between 18 and 35 that manufacturers so desperately crave are used to the latest and greatest tech being in beta first. They have shown their proclivity for trading polish and completeness for exclusivity and having the latest technology.

These wouldn’t be unfinished or dangerous cars either, the DOT wouldn’t allow that. At least they would be no more dangerous that any other new vehicle on our roads. Beta cars could be lease-only, so then auto companies could get the cars back and tear them down to see what failed. Leasing would also provide a great way to track the customers and make sure where the beta vehicles are being driven, how often, how much, and who is working on the car.

The most innovative companies are using white labels, A/B testing, beta releases, and innovation labs to stay on the cutting edge. For some reason, these methods have not percolated into the auto industry. Too bad for them, and us. Maybe I’ll give Telsa a call; I’m sure Elon would recognize many of these approaches and be happy to allocate a corner office for me to implement them.

 

Comments

comments