Whether an avenue to gain enriching experiences or to better connect to their digital lifestyle, the consumer’s perceptions and expectations of their car have gone beyond traditional mobility standards. Understanding it’s no longer simply about getting from Point A to Point B, HARMAN has been leading the automotive industry’s shift from RPM to EPM or Experiences per Mile. To learn how about how consumers now want to stay connected to the world around them all from the comfort of their cars, we spoke with Christopher Ludwig, Vice President of the HARMAN EPIC Experiences Team, about the trends he’s observed and the projects he’s dreamed up with his team, all of which are driving consumers into a more connected car of the future.

In today’s age where autonomous driving technologies are getting more mainstream, mobility means more than getting from Point A to Point B. How does this transition impact the in-car experience?

CL: This question really touches on the research HARMAN recently conducted about the car as a ‘third living space’. As part of our PROJECT MOVE research, in this study we went directly to consumers, asking them what mobility means to them and how they see that meaning changing in the future.

My daughter, for example, just got her first car. She’s using it in ways we’ve never thought about before, especially prior to the pandemic. It’s a social content creation studio, where she’s constantly making TikToks with her friends. It’s a spot to have lunch, as indoor dining is limited and takeout is the norm. Most importantly, though, it’s simply a means of escape. Being confined to the house can get pretty exhausting, and she’s taking advantage of any opportunity she can to get in the car and go for a drive. It’s become a bedroom on wheels for her!

If people are already finding these new and creative -- and necessary -- ways to use their cars today, how can we amplify that and more in the future, as the in-car experience becomes more connected and, eventually, autonomous?

This question really drove the three unique, innovative HARMAN ExPs we debuted at our HARMAN ExPLORE virtual event in January.

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We’re very focused on exploring the ways we can augment our consumers’ favorite pastimes into superior in-car experiences. So far, we’re seeing that microphones, displays, sound systems and similar connected technologies have a big role to play in that effort.

People can’t go to concerts right now. But what if your car had a top-of-the-line, industry-leading sound system and multiple displays that allowed for concert-like experiences that you could stream straight to your vehicle? How could you amplify that experience? You’d be able to recreate the beloved concert-going experience safely. The same goes for the Creator Studio ExP and the Gamer Studio ExP. 

This is how we can make the car an extension of your life, and help it become more than just a simple mode of transportation.

How did COVID-19, a globally disruptive event, impact the relationship between car and passenger?

CL: A lot of this thinking was inspired by the pandemic. I think the Drive–Live Concert ExP is a great example, as it came out of how much people miss the live music experience.

The sudden, necessary pause of live music and concerts was one of the disruptions that stood out to us. HARMAN has such deep roots in the music industry and we use those connections to inspire us in every facet of our work, including on the automotive side. So this became one of those moments where you turn lemons into lemonade. How could we utilize the car to keep the tradition of live music alive in a safe, positive way?

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Sure, there are live performances on IG Stories or YouTube streams. But, the camera quality could be weak, the stream could lag or the sound could go in and out. Of course, this is no fault of the artist, but it inspired my team and me to find a solution that serves both performers and audiences. We had to put ourselves in the shoes of the musician – think of the live crowd that missing now, and that energy and real feedback that you get from the crowd. That’s why we recreated the concert experience with Drive-Live, like audible cheer noises, which mimic the sound of a crowd of thousands, and ways for the viewer to interact directly with the performer on-stage, all from their vehicles.

To be clear, we absolutely do not want in-person performances to go away. In fact, we want exactly the opposite. But it looks as though, as things return to normal, hybrid versions of our favorite pastimes, like limited-capacity concerts, will be the norm for a while. With Drive-Live, HARMAN can ensure that anyone who wants to experience a live show can get the full experience safely. Artists will be able to reach fans around the world during live performances, regardless of whether they’re actually at the show, making this a great future-facing model that can thrive in a post-pandemic world.

With these ExPs like Drive-Live, what makes HARMAN uniquely positioned to lead this “EPM Revolution?”

CL: To me, it’s the fact that we already have all of the necessary pieces to complete the puzzle. It puts us at a real advantage.

When you think about all of the different groups within HARMAN’s Automotive business, the innovations they’ve worked so hard to create can come together to form industry-leading, connected experiences. We’re starting with our revolutionary Digital Cockpit platform as the base and looking to augment it with next-generation algorithms, and visual and audio processing.

Our incredible developments with 5G and Edge computing technologies can be layered on top of the building blocks of telematics, all of which to link these tangential technologies that can then be built into revolutionary connected experiences. On the Ignite and Cloud side, we’re figuring out ways to train our cloud systems to learn from the user, so that they can change and improve experiences over time. With cloud and telematics playing such a central role in our connected car work, we’ve eliminated the need to rely on hardware, which can be extremely limiting.

When considering each of these factors, it becomes quite clear that HARMAN is in a unique position to serve consumers and drive them further than they’ve ever been into the future of smart mobility. We have all of the necessary tools in place to create ExPs for whatever new experiences consumers are loving. We’re continuing to conduct research and communicate with OEMs on trends. We can’t wait to see where it drives us.

Now more than ever before, the future of connectivity is not only in sight, but it’s also in demand. Consumers want seamless experiences in every facet of life and the car is no exception. We at HARMAN are ready, as we always have been, to lead the industry with our deep expertise and cutting-edge technologies that keeps the consumer experience at the core of it all.