As most industries, the automotive industry no longer exists as an industry solely based on manufacturing. Of course, without factories there will be no cars, but this part of industry has left the western city and has moved to industrializing countries. Detroit might be the clearest example of such a former industrial city. But who thinks the automotive industry has entirely left the city is wrong. The old manufacturing industry has made place for the automobile experience economy.
Henry Ford introduced his first Model-T car with the famous words “any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black”. Things have changed since then. Nowadays, car production is highly customizable and adjustable to the consumer’s wish.
Fun shopping is no longer about buying products, but about experiencing a city, its shopping facilities and its products. This consumer experience can be found in more and more types of industry, with experience stores popping up in inner cities to lure new customers. The automotive industry anticipated on this trend — by adding experiences to the production of cars, the big brands have reclaimed the city in order to be close to the customer and their consumption behaviour.
If you want to feel, smell and hear a Lamborghini, the place to be is Berlin’s Kurfürstendamm — the car brand opened a flagship store that combines the Lamborghini experience with fashion and lifestyle accessories. At another major street in the German capital, Unter den Linden, as well as at the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris, one can find Renault Avenue, a similar kind of brand experience store. Another example is the Volkswagen factory in the city of Wolfsburg. This Transparent Factory is still a place for car production, but has also become one big Volkswagen exhibition, where you can actually experience the production of (your own) car. Car brand MINI chose to open its first Brand Store in Amsterdam because of the city’s “large young and creative population”.
But there’s more. Smart traveled around Europe with its Smart Urban Stage, an experience center that not only showed the brand’s new electric car, but also featured city and sustainability-related events, as well as series of exhibitions around the Smart Future Minds Award competition. BMW partnered up with the Guggenheim Museum for the BMW Guggenheim Lab, a mobile laboratory that will visit nine major world cities over six years. Currently located in Berlin, the Lab addresses issues of contemporary urban life through programs and debates and wants to explore new ideas and forward-thinking solutions for urban life.
The experience economy can also be partly considered as a reaction to the rise of online shopping. A rather new trend is an increasing number of car brands that extend their experience-focused activities to the online world. A famous example is Volkswagen’s famous Fun Theory, an online/offline initiative that aims to promote the ‘play’ factor in urbanism and other creative ways to improve public space.
Since last year, Mercedes Benz got its own online style platform, called ‘mb!’. This style platform offers a place to report about “interesting events and the lives of creative people and their work” and “reflects on contemporary culture” Mercedes Benz likes to be related to. Another example is Lancia’s TrendVisions, a blog and newsletter that features design, art and lifestyle news. Audi City, an Audi experience center near Piccadilly Circus in London, started a Tumblr blog with creative ideas for cities.
Smart decided to go analog. It asked Le Cool to produce a publication that features a range of creative ideas that improve cities. The result is A Smart Guide to Utopia, a book with a series fascinating international projects that are breathing new life into our urbanscape, selected by a range of authors including your fellow Pop-Up City editors.