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Mention the legendary Italian design house Pininfarina and most people will immediately think about Ferrari. After all, the two companies are inextricably linked as Pininfarina has designed some of the most beautiful Ferrari models in history. It has also designed other incredible looking cars including some Lancias, Alfa Romeos, Maseratis, Fiats and Peugeots.
Mahindra acquired Pininfarina back in 2015, bringing global levels of design and engineering expertise into the Group. At the time, Mahindra Group Chairman, Anand Mahindra, remarked, ”The legendary design credentials of Pininfarina will significantly enhance the design capabilities of the entire Mahindra Group. Given the increasing design sensibilities of today’s consumers, product design will greatly influence customer choice.”
Car dealership of the future
Once Pininfarina became part of the Mahindra Group, one of the first projects Mahindra’s automotive division tasked Pininfarina with was designing its vision of the Car Dealership of the Future. The brief was to blend cutting edge technologies, including Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, to create a whole new experience for potential customers. The design house and the automotive division were ready with a mock-up of the concept by 2018 when it was showcased at the Auto Expo near New Delhi.
Let’s take a closer look at what Pininfarina did to conceptualise Mahindra’s car dealership of the future, working closely with Mahindra’s automotive division. The focus was on creating an incredible Customer Experience through an immersive world in which digital touchpoints were integrated into the features of the dealership environment and the cars themselves.
The experience was designed to start online even before the actual visit to the showroom and continue during the after-sales process in a very seamless manner. The objective: to completely re-imagine the car dealership format in light of changing user needs, wants and preferences; and to do so within a surface-constrained urban context.
The concept store needed to provide engaging experiences to complete online services in a very seamless way. Pininfarina researched trends, checked out what the competition was doing and modelled the customer and their journey during the car buying process.
After careful analysis, the team at Pininfarina developed the Customer Experience (CX) and the in-store User Experience (UX) design, created the actual CX and UX specifications, and finally did the art direction for the display at the 2018 Auto Expo.
Mahindra’s car dealership of the future relies on digital technology to be the primary driver in creating an immersive and visual car buying experience. With digital tools, the visual experience can be nearly limitless, and independent of the actual vehicles on display. The Pininfarina architecture team has therefore proposed a new visual identity to give shape to this stunning new generation of Mahindra car dealerships.
Currently, Mahindra has not implemented this new retail experience, which it calls ‘The Cube’ at its automotive dealerships. However, some of the digital experience events, which were to be part of ‘The Cube’ have in fact been incorporated into the dealerships already.
The new retail normal
Digital technology had already started changing the way people buy cars even before the Covid-19 pandemic. However, most manufacturers still rely on traditional sales channels, like dealerships, as crucial touchpoints in the consumer’s purchase journey. What was clear, however, even at that time was that the entire experience needed to become more of an omni-channel one for consumers.
Automakers and dealers have already started investing huge amounts of money in new digital sales tools as consumers demand more online and personalised services. This allows consumers to choose how much of the process they want to conduct online, such as scheduling a test drive or taking delivery of the car.
This also results in less time being spent at the dealership, and flexible options for the customer, such as having the car picked up or delivered. Also, more flexibility means that customers can continue the process even outside traditional business hours.
Due to Covid-19, dealerships now also need to include a sanitization process to offer a safe environment for customers and staff. In addition, they need to offer a combination of online and in-person sales, which can be termed a phygital process.
The entire vehicle inventory should be available online for easy viewing by potential customers. Sales teams should be available for video chats and virtual vehicle walk-throughs. Financing and pre-approvals should be completed online; credit card payments should be accepted by phone, and the dealership team should be able to deliver vehicles right at the customer’s doorstep.
In parallel, greater precautions will be necessary, such as monitoring physical distancing throughout the dealership, and technology will help make this possible.
Pininfarina and the Italian start-up Blimp, for example, offer a solution that integrates physical and digital design, technology and services to analyse people flows. This makes it possible to verify and monitor the application of anti-Covid-19 containment measures in all indoor and outdoor settings, including dealerships, shops and large-scale retailers. The same multidisciplinary team at Pininfarina has developed new solutions to cope with the Covid-19 situation, such as a ‘Smart Working Kit’ concept, which consists of highly reconfigurable modular elements that can be used synergistically, or independently, to transform any environment into an office, while ensuring that all safety norms are met for the current situation.
In spite of the ongoing move towards digital, customers still want to visit showrooms to actually look at the cars, touch and feel them and take test drives to make sure they like the car. This is a great opportunity for developing ways to control ‘social compression’ without alarming people.
Pininfarina can imagine and help create retail spaces where the building comes ‘alive’ and literally talks to customers, suggesting the safest route to move around the space in order to avoid the fear of bumping into other shoppers by using lighting and ‘live walls’ to guide them safely.
Virtual Reality (VR) is one technology tool that gives a significant new experience that can help with retail design to create a new adventure for customers. With VR, one can look at buying cars and clothes ‘virtually’ at home. And using virtual reality, one can even participate and become an integral part of virtual events like motor shows, sports events and concerts from the comfort of one’s home.
Data is the new oil
The key challenge is to go beyond a proof of concept and to transform today’s automotive dealer network into a digital, profitable and modern sales channel that combines the opportunities of the online world, with the strengths of the traditional dealership channel. One way is to innovate the dealership experience itself.
To be sure, this or any other solution requires time to develop and test. But that’s the amazing thing about the current environment and the technology that is available to us. Data is all around us, and every action one takes will generate more data. Dealers can easily tap into this wealth of information and create well-designed experiences that not only revive but revolutionise the industry.
While digital transformation poses challenges to every industry, the benefits of this to the automotive business simply cannot be ignored. Pininfarina is helping Mahindra do exactly that -- navigate the fast-changing automotive retail environment, allowing it to keep up with rapidly evolving customer and technology trends.
Designing visual strength into new Furio
Another exciting project that the two companies worked closely together on was the Furio Intermediate Commercial Vehicle (ICV) range that made its debut in the India market in 2019. “It was a really exciting project starting with a full immersion into the Indian market, visiting different locations, talking to drivers and dealers. It was truly a rewarding experience both professionally and personally,” says Giorgio Astesano, Furio’s Project Manager at Pininfarina.
Discussing the brief, Alfredo Palma, Chief Designer of the Furio Project explained, “The design needed to combine both real and visual strength on the exterior, while offering interior comfort, helping to create a new brand identity for Furio.”
Keeping a strong customer focus
The interior of the new ICV was designed around the driver and passenger, with styling solutions that were not only beautiful but also functional, while conveying quality and sturdiness. The curved and sinuous shapes of the exterior seamlessly transform into an enveloping and smooth environment inside the cabin of the Furio.
Particular attention was paid to ensure the overall comfort of both the driver and passenger and a specific foot support was designed to help with that. Comfort is also ensured by six independent, adjustable air vents, a great solution for an efficient cooling system inside the vehicle.
Astesano recalls the close working relationships between the two teams during this project, saying, “The best memory was the daily sharing of the project's growth, working side by side with Mahindra engineers and designers that forged strong professional relationships and true friendships.”
Pininfarina believes that it has learnt a lot through the implementation of the Furio project, particularly the efforts taken to understand the customer experience and expectations better. This obsessive attention to interpreting and satisfying all their possible needs is something that Pininfarina intends to transfer to its other projects globally.
Naturally, every project has its share of challenges that must be overcome. In case of the Furio, it was the management of a large number of product variants on the new platform, and the industrial optimisation of the same, in addition to ensuring that the vehicles met future safety regulations, especially crash safety standards.
Synergies drive our future growth
It’s quite evident that both Mahindra and Pininfarina complement each other well in terms of their cultures and overall synergies. Pininfarina’s leadership in design combines very nicely with Mahindra’s industrial expertise to bring success to both companies. Mahindra also benefits from Pininfarina’s remarkable ability to combine design with technology, as well as its passion to deliver exceptional, environmentally responsible automotive performance. It was not by mere chance therefore that Mahindra Racing’s Formula E team has constant access to Pininfarina’s Wind Tunnel testing facility in Italy, which helps the team enhance the aerodynamic efficiency of its electric racing cars.
The two company’s deep knowledge of their respective markets and customers is an added source of strength for this partnership. As a result, Mahindra and Pininfarina are perfectly aligned while developing exciting new products that always meet and indeed exceed customer needs by integrating their skills and experiences at the Group level.
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