Skip to main content

The future of the digital in-car experience

Vehicles are increasingly part of a driver’s digital world and just like smartphones they’re expected to provide a seamless experience. This, alongside e-mobility, is causing rapid and disruptive change. But that’s just the beginning. Discover the trends affecting the automotive industry in the coming years.


The future of the digital in-car experience

Vehicles are increasingly part of a driver’s digital world and just like smartphones they’re expected to provide a seamless experience. This, alongside e-mobility, is causing rapid and disruptive change. But that’s just the beginning. Discover the trends affecting the automotive industry in the coming years.

| Automotive

When the TV show, Knight Rider, premiered in 1982 there wouldn’t have been a single kid who wasn’t fascinated with the idea of having their own intelligent talking car. Now, exactly 40 years later – in their lifetimes – such a thing is quickly becoming a reality. We may not be up to KITT’s level of autonomy, but recent advances in smart cars are showing we’re close to it.


In-car digital assistants now use artificial intelligence and machine learning to directly respond to a driver’s or passenger’s requests and can even learn the preferences of each person. If you’re feeling cold, you simply have to say, ‘I’m cold’ and the system automatically increases the temperature.

The car can link up to multiple smart devices, collect all manner of driving data, even send it to your insurer as part of a ‘pay as you drive’ service. E-mobility solutions are also helping drivers of electronic cars to know their charge times, where to charge, and how far they can travel. Cars can now even drive themselves. Do you feel like being driven to your location in a particular way? Just select either a chilled, standard, or aggressive mode1. Some cars even let you play games while ‘driving’ (though legal issues are forcing manufacturers to only enable this when the car is stopped).

They’re becoming as much a part of the user experience as a smartphone.

Georg Hansbauer - CEO & Co-Founder - Testbirds - He wants to help his clients to build the best customer journey

“We are truly living in a time where mere decades ago this was the dream of a TV show.”

Georg Hansbauer, CEO & Co-Founder, Testbirds

It’s no surprise, then, that the automotive software market is expected to grow 250 percent by 20302. This highlights the ongoing – and growing – trend of customers expecting high-quality in-car experiences. It is quickly becoming a key factor when selecting a vehicle.

That means a range of challenges for the automotive industry – and opportunities.

But what then are some of the trends that will drive the industry over the next years? What are the areas that you may want to focus your digital efforts on? It’s these trends and developments that this whitepaper considers. I hope its insights provide you with guidance on where to best focus your digital efforts.


The automotive industry has come a long way since the first cars rolled off those early assembly lines in the early 1900s. The Model T’s fastest speed was roughly 68 kilometers (42 miles) per hour, it didn’t have seatbelts or windshield wipers and used gas lamps for headlights. Shock absorbers were an aftermarket accessory. While the originals came in several colors, in 1914, all cars were officially black.

Today, it’s estimated there are close to 1.5 billion3 vehicles in the world and we are now spoiled for choice. Colors, shapes, sizes, types of engines, and fuel. Whatever your need or lifestyle, there’s a car to fit it.

Soon, it’s likely that a customer will be able to select nearly every feature that makes up their vehicle.

That’s because the industry has always been about change. Especially as third-party technologies have evolved. Once it was radios then 8-track cartridges. Then tape decks and CD players. Now, new cars often don’t come with a CD player. Music is streamed from the customer’s smartphone (or plugged into a USB port) and GPS is updated at a service center or via an over-the-air update.

Such changes can happen overnight. That’s why manufacturers must quickly incorporate the latest technologies into their builds. But as everything becomes more interconnected and customer expectations change, the complexities are growing. Such innovative digital solutions are already challenging the industry, but through them, it’s possible to provide a positive customer experience that lets them (and you) stand out from the competition. Knowing what’s on the horizon can be a game-changer.

This is especially important as the past few years have seen big disruptions in the industry, resulting in global automotive sales contracting by roughly 15 percent in 20204, even as the entire industry entered a phase of stagnation in 2019. While this is gradually improving, it’s clear that the industry is still on its back foot.

“Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”



Delivering such innovative in-car experiences will help developers gain a competitive advantage, gain loyal customers and trust, and keep everyone on the road.

Trend 1: It’s all about the digital experience

Once upon a time, a minor change was significant – both to manufacturers and their customers. Tapes to CDs. FM to DAB+ to streaming. A static red warning light versus a digital countdown (such as when you need to fill up your diesel car’s AdBlue solution). A dashboard that once contained a radio is now a large touchscreen mini-computer that gives you access to multiple features in the car.

Yet such changes tended to come in a logical progression. New tech came with a new vehicle. This is all changing as fast-to-develop digital solutions, which are predominantly based on satisfying ‘immediate’ customer expectations, enter the market.

People want solutions that are as easy-to-use, seamless, connected, and as dependable as what they use every day, such as their smartphones and tablets. In many ways, they expect their in-car experience to be the same.

Internet on-demand, music as – and when – they want it, infotainment systems to work without interruption. The digital experience is becoming as important as the handling of the vehicle, its look, safety, and reliability. Not in the next model of their car in a year or two. Now.

This is particularly true for younger, digitally-aware buyers who want seamless connectivity and a broad range of infotainment features. Being able to effectively provide such immediate positive experiences is a true key to success. This will see a rise in closer partnerships with innovative ‘experience’ developers.5

Especially as we have never been more connected.


Customer Journey Testing

The line between the real and digital world continues to fade. Test interactions in all parts of the customer experience with the help of the Crowd, and in real-world conditions.

Find out more

Trend 2: Connected Cars

This huge rise in digital technology is seeing vehicles become far more connected.

Not only can the driver and passengers seamlessly utilize on-demand and online features in their car as easily as using their smartphones, but the vehicles themselves are increasingly collecting (and ultimately sending and receiving) a massive range of digital data, including over-the-air updates, vehicle diagnostics, and health reports, and even proactive messaging to help prevent accidents and breakdowns.

Drivers and passengers can connect to the internet, link their apps with the car, a car’s owner can even set up geofencing to alert them if the car is driven (for example, by their child) beyond a set boundary. It’s even possible to park your car using your smartphone or soon, utilize an automatic valet system where the car parks itself6. Cars can increasingly communicate with their passengers as easily as they can with the other vehicles around them, various service providers, and even their insurers. In an accident, they will immediately make an SOS call. If they break down, they will automatically ask for roadside assistance. The owner’s car dealers may even receive data that prompts them to offer a deal on a new car or service.

The potential is limitless.

Such connectivity and ease-of-use are also being reflected in the surge of shared mobility, and potentially, ‘car-as-a-service’ (CaaS) options.

Trend 3: Sharing the ride

As with the concept of owning your own home, it’s been traditional to look at a car as another investment. While depreciation will certainly impact any future sale, the money you get back can then go into your newer, and improved, car. But this mentality is starting to change. Not only is the overall return on investment not seen as good enough.

As more people live in crowded cities with expensive parking, the ongoing costs and even lack of needing a car 24/7 is seeing more people opting to use shared mobility (or Mobility-as-a-Service) as an alternative to vehicle ownership.

This convenient short-term access enables people to ‘rent’ the car for a specific length of time (and distance). This is a strong element of shared mobility – that there should be no unused cars. It’s a business model that is increasingly being used by new business start-ups and, as it’s already exceeding US$60 billion7 in value (in China, Europe, and the US), it’s no surprise that cities are seriously considering shared mobility as an alternative/addition to public transport.

This might be just the beginning. An extension of shared mobility is CaaS; particularly as more autonomous, self-driving transportation gains popularity and vehicles increasingly connect with users. Car-as-a-Service, as with shared mobility, enables a person to rent a car via an app. But the difference is in how the car can connect with the user’s device and remember them as they move from car to car. Favorite music, seat height, usual destinations, and more. Self-driving, autonomous, cars can also be used. This means there is no need for the user to drive the car or even own a driver’s license. Additionally, the car can arrive on its own and can even be used to deliver goods. The potential is highly flexible, especially when the driving is completely autonomous.

Trend 4: Hands-free transportation

Removing the driver from the actual act of driving is intended to make vehicles safer, more fuel-efficient, reduce accidents, and improve traffic flow. For industry use, downtime can be minimized and the range of 24/7 deliveries, increased.

This is not to say that all autonomous driving is 100% done by the car. There are six agreed-to levels of what constitutes autonomous driving (as reflected in BMW’s five levels8 of autonomy, with 0 as ‘no automation’):

  1. Driver assisted, where systems support the driver but do not take control
  2. Partly automated driving, which lets the car take over some functions, but the driver is responsible for operating the vehicle
  3. Highly automated driving, where the driver can ‘disengage from the driving for extended periods’
  4. Fully automated driving with the car driving independently but where the ‘driver must remain able to drive’
  5. Full automation, in which the people in the car are only passengers and the car takes care of all driving functions

While most modern vehicles only provide levels 1 and 2, some driver-assisted and fully autonomous cars are already on the roads. However, testing is ongoing, as are the many discussions around practicality, overall safet9, and country-specific laws on autonomous driving.

For example, in the Vienna Convention of 1968, Article 810 states that ‘Every moving vehicle or combination of vehicles shall have a driver’, that ‘Every driver shall at all times be able to control his vehicle’, and (in a 2016 amendment) that vehicle systems which influence the way vehicles are driven must be able to be ‘overridden or switched off by the driver’. Though this does not make fully autonomous driving compliant. Pending that change, for today’s average consumer, being able to purchase an affordable and realistically self-driving car is still years away, but there is no sign of the industry slowing down. Particularly when it comes to trucks. Self-driving trucks, alone, are projected to reach a global market size of US$1.6 billion by 2025.11 This is also expected to see a rise in ‘truck platooning’, where multiple trucks are synced together using connective technology and automated systems – resulting in faster reaction times and reduced fuel consumption12.

Once they all become mainstream, it’s clear that they will be filled with digital technologies to keep everything secure, and everyone entertained.

A real-life Testbirds story.

The future is electric: Moving with the times

As digital solutions become more tightly integrated with a vehicle’s multiple systems and need to connect with a wide range of third-party products, the data being displayed must be accurate. This was the challenge that a major German automotive manufacturer set us when testing the e-mobility features of their app.

Specifically, that the data the driver received was as correct is possible. Using their own cars and devices, our testers used their app to ensure that the information received, such as when the battery needed charging or how much time was left for charging, was accurate.

Additionally, they checked that worked correctly on a variety of charging stations and gave all the relevant information, such as where they were located and if they were available.

Being able to directly check the accuracy of the data displayed in their app meant that they could release a solution that directly benefitted its users.

Trend 5: The electric revolution

Latest innovations were traditionally first placed into electric and hybrid cars, from cruise control with automatic distance control to heads-up displays. This is only becoming more so as dashboards become more minimalist, utilize touchscreens, and are filled with digital solutions. The rise of EV’s comes naturally from concerns over the cost and availability of fossil fuels (plus shortages for additives, such as AdBlue for diesel vehicles13) and the health of our environment. This move toward sustainability was summed up in a Forbes article by Thomas Pohl14, “Big and small players in the automotive industry are increasingly feeling the pressure to rethink the way they operate. They must reevaluate everything from the design and engineering stages, through the manufacturing and shipping processes, all the way to how vehicles operate, how they are serviced, and how they are dealt with at the end of the product lifecycle.” One clear direction for this is the development of electric vehicles.

As they become more widespread, affordable, and able to travel greater distances, adoption is gaining speed. But this is bringing additional challenges, especially regarding the amount of charging stations. With estimates there could be up to 220 million electric cars on the road by 203015, and that six automakers and 30 countries have pledged to phase out gasoline cars by 204016, ensuring there are enough (ideally fast charging) public chargers is essential. As are those that are readily accessible at workplaces and in multi-family residences – currently, it’s clear that most EV purchasers live in single-family (detached) houses where they have direct control of the charging station.17

As public access continues to grow this will create challenges around e-mobility (but also opportunities for developers), especially regarding the digital solutions that track and report on charge status, where charging stations are located, and how much further the EV can travel on any given charge.

Ensuring the accuracy of these apps is essential.

Trend 6: The rise of the truly green car

Gas and oil prices continue to rise. Pollution from the world’s 1.5 billion vehicles clouds the air. Non-degradable and non-recyclable materials from cars, bikes, and trucks (especially tires) fill rivers and landfills. While it sounds grim (and right now, it is), there are strong signs of change from both consumers and carmakers. Thankfully, efforts to create more environmentally friendly vehicles are increasing.

Once, such efforts were more about improving efficiency. The diesel engine improved on the efficiency of the gasoline engine, as ‘greener’, more refined gasoline proved better than diesel fuel. But then diesel introduced AdBlue to remove pollutants from the vehicle’s exhaust. An ongoing back and forward struggle. Then came gas-run cars. Then buses using a range of alternative fuels from gas to methane, ethanol, and a biodiesel blend. Now the electric-powered vehicle is making its move.

But new entries are challenging this traditional struggle and looking at ways to make the overall vehicle greener.

One is the hydrogen-fueled car. They have no flammable fuel, don’t need to be plugged in (and as such produce no greenhouse gasses – unlike energy production for electric cars), produce zero emissions, and can travel decent distances. The Toyota Mirai, for example, can drive up to 500 kilometers (312 miles) on a single charge. Conversely, the Hyperion XP118 hydrogen sports car can travel up to 1609 kilometers (1000 miles). That’s impressive by any standard, as is its estimated US$300,000 price tag. With many of the world’s biggest auto manufacturers, including BMW, Audi, Hyundai, Honda, and Chevrolet, developing their own hydrogen cars, this field shouldn’t be ignored. As more hydrogen filling stations appear, so will their appeal. Beyond fuels, there are additional efforts to create more bio-friendly cars.

In 2017, students at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands created Lina, a car composed primarily of sugar beet resin and flax19. That same year, Michelin promoted a 3D-printed, airless, biodegradable concept tire20 and has since committed to only producing sustainable tires by 205021.

While in 2020, the Goodyear reCharge22 concept tire was unveiled, which regenerates its tread, as required, using biodegradable fibers and can even change the tread to suit driving styles and weather conditions. Even BMW has developed a car made of nearly 100% recyclable mono-materials23, the i Vision Circular.

This movement to more eco-friendly fuels and car components is encouraging and matches up with people’s concerns over the environment and their efforts to minimize their ecological footprint.

It should be noted, however, that for now, diesel is still here to say. As noted in Vaclav Smil’s book, Numbers Don’t Lie24, “Most of the ite that readers of this book eat or wear are transported at least once, and usually many times, by diesel-powered machines, often from other continents; clothes from Bangladesh, oranges from South Africa, crude oil from the Middle East, bauxite from Jamaica, cars from Japan, computers from China. Without the low operating costs, high efficiency, high reliability, and great durability of diesel engines, it would have been impossible to reach the extent of globalization that now defines the modern economy. … And diesel engines are here to stay. There are no readily available mass-mover alternatives that could keep integrating the global economy as affordably, efficiently, and reliably as diesel’s engines.” But as more trucks and other large movers become more electric, (and potentially hydrogen-driven) this will slowly change.

Case Study

End-to-End Testing of BMW Motorrad‘s Connected App

Trend 7: Ongoing lockdowns, supply chain shortages, and dropping stock values

As mentioned in the introduction, global automotive sales contracted by roughly 15 percent in 2020 and are still in recovery mode.

As noted by Just Auto’s David Legett in his ‘2022 and the global sales picture’ article, “GlobalData forecasts that the global light vehicle market in 2021 will total 79.9 million units, just 5.5% ahead of 2020 (75.7 million), with the chips crisis and resultant supply shortages this year contributing to a market around 4 million units below where underlying demand suggests it should have been. For context, the global light vehicle market exceeded 90 million units during the 2016-2018 period (slowing slightly in 2019).

The outlook for 2022 is for the global light vehicle market to grow to around 84 million, but supply and demand issues – as well as ongoing pandemic risks – point to a continuing fragility to the auto industry’s recovery next year. At 84 million units we’re still not quite back to pre-pandemic levels, though.”25 The coronavirus pandemic, now with its new omicron variant, shows no signs of ending in 2022. Previously, this has seen factories close, continuing work stoppages, and various parts shortages. All of which directly impact the automotive industry. A substantial issue has been a global shortage of semiconductor chips, which are an important part of many electric devices. For the auto industry, this is especially relevant as it is estimated that electronic systems will be half the total price of a new car by 2030.26 One potential way of addressing these problems will be stronger collaborations.

Trend 8: Sharing knowledge and manufacturing capacities

Cross-industry networks27 are now helping to bring a range of industries together to help with the development of innovative solutions and deal with supply chain issues, sustainability, and multiple e-mobility challenges.

Such blending of ideas, people, experiences, and technologies can result in utterly unique ideas. Take Owen Maclaren, the inventor of the lightweight baby buggy, whose design was inspired by his work in the aeronautic industry and resembled an airplane’s retractable landing gear28. Where one business (or industry) cannot effectively handle a new issue (such as the creation of an integrated hardware and software solution to manage the entire charging process of a new battery), another with specific knowledge can contribute. A third, such as Testbirds, can then provide the comprehensive testing that is required to ensure it works as intended.

“It’s not where you take things from. It’s where you take them to.”



The entire industry – all industries – are now having to work smarter.

This means finding inspiration and developing unique ideas with the help of others’ specialized knowledge.

Trend 9: Truly smart cars – the rise of artificial intelligence

AI technologies are increasingly used to develop autonomously driving and driver-assisted vehicles, along with fleet management, supply chain sourcing, inspections, and even more peripheral areas, such as financing and insurance. Even within the customer’s collection of Internet of Things devices, voice assistants, and more.

For traditional automakers, AI is set to complement their existing processes and designs. Without effective AI, it will simply be impossible to provide the seamless, fast, and always-ready in-car experience that customers are now demanding.

Take BMW’s constantly learning Intelligent Personal Assistant29. You can say “I’m hungry” and it will recommend a restaurant. Say “I’m cold” and it will turn on your seat heating. It can tell you everything about the car’s performance and will learn your habits. Without AI, this could not be done.

Collaborations will be essential to ensure that all components work together – from sensors to software (and its development) to the hardware being able to process such massive amounts of data.

Off the beaten path

The future isn’t written. How the industry handles the challenges of the coming years will come down to a variety of factors. New business models, such as ‘direct to consumer’ sales, may become more standard. Innovation spending may need to be ramped up. Taking a completely different path may be essential.

An even greater focus on customer satisfaction may need to be made, especially as individualization of the in-car experience and e-mobility becomes more necessary. To discover what creates a positive experience. This is because the reasons why someone buys a particular vehicle are highly personal. For many, it comes down to the range of little things that somehow make a big difference. When they sat in the car and took it for a drive, was the experience the right one? Could they make the car a Wi-Fi hot-spot? Were they able to easily stream music from their smartphone? Did it have voice commands? Lane departure warnings? Does it scan road signs and tell you the speed limit? Can their insurer receive milage and driving behavior data to help lower their premiums? Can they locate and unlock the car via their smartphone? It’s an endlessly diverse checklist.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”


Knowing your solutions work as intended is one thing but finding out what makes a wonderful experience is an equally big challenge. But getting both right can help create a loyal and long-term customer.

Crowdtesting can help you discover this in real-time with actual people giving unbiased feedback in real-world conditions. It’s an essential way to help develop an in-car experience that your customers will love.


The future of the digital in-car experience


  • Smil, V. (2021) Numbers Don’t Lie: 71 Things You Need To Know About the World. Dublin, Ireland. Penguin Random House UK. P.112

Ready to learn more about UX and Crowdtesting?

Get in touch
Testbirds is certified by: