Automotive Technology

Building on Elon Musk’s master plan: Payment systems and the future of automotive

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In a recent Let’s Talk Payments article, I discussed Elon Musk’s recently published Master Plan part 2 that outlines his vision for the future of Tesla, which now includes the acquisition and merger of Solar City. In my article I pointed out the disappointing omission of an in-vehicle payments platform from Musk’s plan.

Therefore, I took it upon myself to update Musk’s master plan part 2 to include a necessary fifth item about payments, which many automotive companies are already working on but have yet to fully develop. The new plan looks like this:

  1. Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage
  2. Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments
  3. Develop a self-driving capability that is ten times safer than manual via massive fleet learning
  4. Enable your car to make money for you when you aren’t using it
  5. Install an operating system that allows your car to pay for things using a digital wallet

The need for in-vehicle payment systems

Connecting the vehicles we drive with our surroundings is universally believed to be the future of the automobile.  The use cases for including a payments platform across passenger vehicles, heavy duty trucks, buses and semis are many; parking, tolls, fuel/charging, maintenance, car washes, the drive-through and even for use by an advanced digital assistant to help with booking reservations, hotels, etc.  Thus alleviating the need to find and locate a credit or debit card and read the numbers over the phone which would in-turn make vehicles safer.

With the inclusion of the sharing economy as #4 on Musk’s to-do list, coupled with the fact that Musk’s fleet of solar electric vehicles will be autonomous, e.g. self-driving, this leaves plenty of opportunity to plan, shop and make purchases while in route. And with the rest of the automotive world including Ford, Honda, Mercedes and potentially Apple working on autonomous and electric cars, wouldn’t a seamless payments capability be a differentiator for Tesla’s vehicle; further increasing Musk’s lead from the pack of other automakers?

Making auto-based payments invaluable

To make an in-vehicle payment system superior and encourage usage over an app on a phone, the user experience must be superior.  Integrating customer needs with functionality and simplicity that trumps mobile app usage will go a long way to making the vehicle the payment method of choice among consumers. And although Musk shuns market research, these types of design and usability preferences can be easily determined through a well-designed user experience research program.

The value proposition of including an in-vehicle payments platform may be lost on consumers today, but in the future it will be a table stake, much like cruise control and blue tooth capability. By getting there first, Musk could dominate and create yet another competitive advantage for Tesla.

Whether or not Musk finds a payments platform too detailed for inclusion in his master plan is yet to be seen, I’m still waiting to hear back from him.

Tim Spenny is Senior Vice President on the Financial Services team at GfK. He can be reached at tim.spenny@gfk.com.

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