Cluno, a Munich-based company, has been marketing cars under a subscription model since 2017. Maximilian Ehrlich, the startup’s head of data science, talked to automotiveIT about digital business models, the use of artificial intelligence and big data, and cooperation with traditional car dealers.

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Cluno’s data chief, Maximilian Ehrlich, says car subscriptions help dealers expand their traditional business (Photo: Cluno)

Mr Ehrlich, how much potential do AI and big data offer when it comes to online sales of vehicles and mobility in general?

There is value added in many areas, including purchasing, sales, the shape of the offering and customer acquisition. Essential questions can be answered, for example, what kind of demand will we see at what time and for which car. That means supply and demand can be synchronized optimally and the right offering can be available at the right time. With the help of data analysis, we know which vehicle functions are preferred by a particular customer category. Variables include engine power, trim, powertrain or the size of the trunk. That way, we can make individual offers as well as introduce new mobility concepts. Such curated offerings help reduce time-consuming complex processes customers would otherwise have to engage in. Also, we connect data from different areas and process them in real time with the help of intelligent machine learning algorithms.

Dealer groups are partners in the Cluno business model. How open are German car dealers to new, digital business models?

Automotive retailers know that digitalization is changing the industry. Automakers already are developing digital business models. Individual dealers have a tougher time here, because many small and individual digital models are not particularly promising. That’s why standalone dealers are looking for partners with the relevant expertise. Cluno isn’t seen as a competitor, but as a partner in a consistent digitalization process. Also, a car subscription model addresses a different target group. Dealers of different brands can expand their stationary car sales business, thereby broadening their reach and expanding their business model.

Platforms such as the one operated by Cluno are increasingly becoming the main interface to customers. Did car companies and dealers miss that boat?

I wouldn’t look at it that way. As a startup with a digital focus we obviously have a different emphasis than car manufacturers and dealerships. But we don’t profit from any omissions on the part of carmakers or dealers, but rather fill a market niche. We provide the retail sector with an opportunity to participate in this and have partnerships with both dealers and car companies. These partnerships offer synergies for all involved. And it’s not just about car sales, but also about services in after-sales.