Kia's Bzeih says CRM will be crucial in attracting customers to the brand (Photo: Arjen Bongard)

Kia announced at the CES consumer electronics show that it plans to spend an initial 2 billion dlrs on advanced driver assistance systems in the next three years as it pursues a goal of fully automated driving by 2030. The Korean carmaker also said it will be grouping all its advanced driver assistance systems under a new brand called “Drive Wise.” Henry Bzeih, chief technology strategist for Kia Motors America (KMA), spoke to automotiveIT about Kia’s digital roadmap for the US. Bzeih is also in charge of KMA’s connected-car and technology planning.

How important is all this new technology for a brand such as Kia?Henry Bzeih: People at the helm of automotive companies today may be manufacturing or product-oriented, but they are also pragmatic. That’s why many automakers are reinventing their businesses. Customers are demanding it, so you have to make a commitment to technology as one pillar of your product strategy. It’s why we are investing 2 billion dlrs in Drive Wise. That’s a lot of money.

Every car brand seems to be introducing new high-tech features all the time and many look very much alike. How do you deal with that?I agree there’s definitely a “me-too” approach in the car industry. Advancements in software development and off-the-shelf technologies mean the cycle of change has shortened. An important change in the auto industry is that carmakers are willing to take more risk and are more willing to roll out products that function very well but may not be 100 pc perfect. That’s becoming acceptable as long as these products are not safety-critical and don’t affect the functional safety of the car. People are willing to take more risks in introducing those products.

So how can you still differentiate yourself?What’s going to differentiate one carmaker from another is how well we develop our customer relationship. Machine learning and big data, for example, will help us create more value for the customer. The brand should not just be about the car itself but it should go beyond the car. At Kia Motors America, we're putting in place a strategy that's centered on customer relationships.

Is every part of company involved in this transformation?In my connected-car organization, we are committed to it. It’s not so clear in areas such as sales and marketing and finance. There is widespread support, but they probably won’t become believers until new products are launched and they realize the benefits and see the return on investment.

A different topic: Let’s talk about vehicle-to-X communication. Isn’t one of the key barriers here, the lack of cross-industry standards?V-to-X is an industry standard. Automakers are working together on a common set of messages, on common protocols and certificate management. Vehicle-to-vehicle will come sooner than vehicle-to-infrastructure. I think the topic is a little bit overblown. There’s far more standardization than people realize. If I look at in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) in our cars and the cars of other brands, it’s all Linux-based. You find convergence around Linux in the auto industry.

-By Arjen Bongard

Read the full interview with Henry Bzeih in the March issue of the automotiveIT International magazine. For a complimentary subscription, please go to: