There is a great movement afoot in the automobile business to create a continuous relationship with the customer.
Some automakers plan to offer onboard information technology that has a modest charge every month - sort of like the old pitch that we'll give away the razor and you pay for the razor blades forever. General Motors wants to offer an OnStar service in all its vehicles and then charge a customer about $30 a month for years.
Ford wants to be your car company from cradle to grave. The Ford folks would like to sell you your first used car, handle the financing and insurance and all service, and then trade you into your first new car, never letting you out of their comfortable clutches.
Other companies would like to do the same thing in different ways. AutoNation hoped to let you rent or buy, new or used, and pay for repairs, all through your AutoNation connection. They've changed their model somewhat.
These models are based on a dangerous premise - one that I'm not sure is valid or in the best interests of the industry. That is that you and I think of automobiles as just transportation, and we're willing to equate that transportation service with a simple cost per day.
When I rent a car, it's no big deal if I'm unhappy with it because I'll be giving it right back. But I think most of us are buyers, not renters.
GM has another challenge because a lot of folks just don't want that much service in their automobiles. I've always felt that the real need for services like OnStar and Global Positioning Satellite is in rental cars, when you're in an unfamiliar environment. The last place you need help is in your own hometown. Perhaps the safety aspect is enough to convince people of OnStar's value.
With a lot of these features, the vehicle makers seem to be trying to make the car or truck a commodity. When that happens, I think vehicle sales will decline.
There has to be a balance between what manufacturers would like to do for millions and what customers want, one at a time.