By Alysha Webb, Editor and Publisher
LAS VEGAS — If you needed one more sign that the automobile industry and the dealership business model are changing, look no farther than J.D. Power. The venerable voice of the consumer market research firm turns 50 this year. At the National Automobile Dealers Association in Las Vegas, J.D. Power introduced Dave Habiger, its new president and CEO. He is a harbinger of the evolution of the industry.
“We are moving into a period of change and an inflection point with autonomous driving, direct-to-consumer strategies [and] ride sharing,” Habiger tells a small group of reporters in Las Vegas.
Habiger, 49, says he took engines and transmissions apart with his father and still tinkers with them on weekends. But he doesn’t come from an automotive background. Habiger has spent decades with software firms. He sees that as a strength.
“I am used to a speed and rate of change that is probably different than a 100-year-old industry” is used to, says Habiger.
He replaces Finbarr O’Neill, an industry insider who came to J.D. Power after stints at DMS supplier Reynolds and Reynolds, Mitsubishi Motors North America and Hyundai Motor America. O’Neill is retiring.
J.D. Power is known for its “voice of the consumer” studies on everything from how satisfied a buyer is with his vehicle three months after the purchase to how satisfied a buyer is with after sales service at a dealership. A poor scorecard on its Customer Satisfaction Index spells trouble for a franchised dealer.
The voice of the consumer is still at the heart of JD Power’s mission, says Habiger, who invested his own money in the company when he took the post. “I am not here to fix something,” he says.
But, he tells Automotive Buy Sell Report, the way the customer wants that voice to be used, and how quickly it should be heard, is “uniquely different.”
“I think their expectations are higher,” says Habiger. “Consumers expect a much faster response to the things they like and don’t like.”
The response “has to be in the digital format,” he adds.
To help automotive manufacturers and auto dealerships respond to that change, J.D. Power aims to become “increasingly a technology partner,” says Habiger. The firm is looking to acquire companies to address “pain points” for its customers, he says.
Habiger also sees electric vehicles as becoming more of a mainstream product, which creates value for J.D. Power, he says.
“That will require customer information to understand product issue, understand quality,” says Habiger.
All these changes don’t mean the demise of the dealership business model, Habiger hastened to add. But he grants that the sales model might evolve.
“That is where we come in,” says Habiger. J.D. Power will put together an ecosystem of companies that can help auto makers and dealers handle the evolution in the industry and find opportunities in it.
Indeed, Habiger seems to figure the more change, the better.
“I am coming in with the assumption we are going to see a lot of change in the next five to ten years,” he says. “If that happens, we will be quite successful.”