Everything’s changing, but some things remain the same

Bringing a global perspective to Canada’s changing automotive landscape.

Despite the long cold winter and a harsh second wave of the pandemic, I am joyful to be home in Canada again. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy my time living and working in Asia — quite the contrary, my family and I loved our expat adventure in tropical Singapore — but true patriot love brought me home.

I am truly excited to become a regular contributor to Canadian auto dealer and Affaires automobiles, and to share with you the launch of Canada’s newest automotive and mobility advisory firm, Clarify Group Inc.

Clarify has assembled a national and global network of expert partners to bring the best data, insights, advisory support and digital tools to Canada. Our mission is to accelerate the business performance of clients across the industry including OEMs, dealers, suppliers, aftermarket providers, lenders, new mobility, government, and technology partners to the automotive ecosystem.

Our industry is experiencing transformative change on a scale and pace we’ve not seen before — from how we perceive the vehicle itself (mechanical device or software platform), how it’s powered, how it’s marketed, sold, serviced and upgraded over time, and how it’s financed (or subscribed to).

As the late, great HBS strategy professor Clayton Christensen described, disruption displaces an existing market, industry or technology and produces something new and more efficient — it is at once destructive and creative. In these uncertain times, it is sometimes hard to tell whether the glass is half-empty or half-full.

And that’s where Clarify enters the scene with our ability to help clients understand and respond to the evolving needs and expectations of consumers in a fully digital, rapidly transforming world. We view disruption as opportunity, not threat. While we don’t pretend to have a crystal ball, we know how to find answers to the challenges keeping industry leaders awake at night.

After leading the J.D. Power automotive practice in Canada for many years, and spearheading the company’s entry into Latin America, I had the once-in-a-lifetime privilege to lead the team in the Indo-Pacific region from 2017 to 2020, with focus on the high growth markets of India, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Australia, among others.

While it may be true that the auto industry down under was more mature than it was growing, it was amazing to see the intensity of competition there, with many more brands and models competing for customers in a market roughly half the size of our own. No doubt fellow Canadians who blazed the path to Australia before me (notably John White at Volkswagen and Stephen Lester at Nissan) can attest to this reality.

In developing markets like India and Vietnam, it was fascinating to see the strength of the motorcycle segment, where families as large as four and even five, use “two-wheelers” as their primary vehicle.

I came to appreciate the special significance to families when they are finally able to trade up from a two-wheeler to a small sedan or hatchback. This is not simply the purchase of a new vehicle. It represents a level of social and economic achievement that most Canadians take for granted. Dealers in India really celebrate the delivery with customers, especially if it takes place during the Festival Season, an auspicious time for such a purchase — annual sales peak during this period.

It was also eye-opening to see how countries like Singapore are pursuing a net-zero emissions future by aggressively encouraging electric vehicle and autonomous vehicle investment, infrastructure and incentives designed to accelerate the transition from ICE powertrains across its public transport fleets, for last-mile delivery and personal use vehicles.

Hyundai Motor Group’s recent investment in a Singapore EV Research and Development Centre includes a pilot program in which EV battery packs will be leased to consumers, separate from the vehicle itself. This pilot will be interesting to watch for the implications it may have on enhancing BEV affordability.

If I’ve learned one thing from my international travels, it is that the challenges and opportunities we face in Canada are remarkably similar across markets, despite cultural differences. The nature of the relationship between OEMs and their dealer-partners is more similar than it is different; and so too the dynamics between dealers and customers.

In some ways, it’s almost like I never left Canada. In other respects, a decade of global automotive experience in Latin America and Asia has equipped me with perspectives and relationships that are hard to replicate. I’ve heard this described as the ability to be “glocal” — think global, act local.

I can’t wait to get started, and look forward to sharing insights and thought provoking commentary in this space in the coming months.

Editor’s note: We are proud to introduce a new columnist who will offer insights into trends and changes across the automotive ecosystem. Darren Slind is Co-Founder and Managing Director, Claify Group Inc. and a respected auto industry analyst. You can reach him at dslind@clarify.group

About Darren Slind

Darren Slind is Co-Founder and Managing Director, Clarify Group Inc. and a respected auto industry analyst. You can reach him at dslind@clarify.group

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