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Pelata addresses IT executives during a Salesforce convention in Paris June 26 (Photo: Salesforce)

MUNICH ”“ Google may not be a direct competitor to established automakers yet, but the internet company's drive to capture customer information is a threat to car brands. That's the message Patrick Pelata, head of Salesforce.com's automotive operations, is sending to the auto industry.

"I think Google is competing with carmakers in the area of customer information," Pelata said in a recent interview. "I'm telling carmakers that the day Google has more information about their customers than they have, they are in bad shape." The same holds true for dealers, he said.

The former Renault COO, who joined Salesforce in 2012, said Google's business model relies on gathering customer data and then targeting people with relevant information. "If Google has the customer information about automotive customers and, on top of that, owns the integrated smartphone inside the car, it can push any kind of relevant advertising to the car driver," Pelata said.

The Salesforce executive said two business areas that carmakers rely on for a substantial part of their earnings ”“ spare parts and credit ”“ could be "seriously disrupted" by Google. But new-car sales may also be affected if, for example, a competing brand pays Google to push its advertisements to a prospective buyer.

Pelata warned that the pace of change in the connectivity game is set by the consumer and that carmakers cannot wait five or six year to adapt their customer relationship management to the new times. At the moment, Google may already be able to send more relevant information to a car owner than an automaker.

That doesn't mean the car brand has to lose this battle. "Carmakers have much more relevant information to do the job well," Pelata said. But the time pressure is high as customers want change today. Said Pelata: "Carmakers need to hurry up."

-By Arjen Bongard