The successful launch of Honda’s 2016 Accord in Silicon Valley at the end of July is adding fuel to the innovation fire spreading across the West Coast from the auto industry.
Not only did Honda forgo traditional auto shows for the Accord reveal – it unveiled the technologically advanced vehicle in its new Silicon Valley research and development facility.
Since event day two weeks ago, Matt Sloustcher, assistant manager of corporate affairs and communications at Honda North America, says the company has earned 15 million media impressions and more than 135 articles in North America. Through its myriad social media elements – which included having actor and filmmaker Bradley Hasemeyer cover the event live using Periscope and inviting Instagram influencers from the area to take photos – Honda believes it reached more than 50 million people online.
While introducing the vehicle in Silicon Valley – which Honda claims was a first among major automakers – had its risks, Sloustcher says the company was confident.
"Tech is meeting auto in a big way," he explains, and it made sense to debut the 2016 Accord since it’s the first Honda model to feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Another reason the Honda event thrived was because the company invited both tech and auto press, as well as influencers, says Sloustcher. With the lines blurring between tech and auto in Silicon Valley, it was wise for Honda to gather a mix of journalists and bloggers.
Honda’s announcement follows the recent influx of car companies getting more comfortable on the West Coast. Earlier this year, Ford opened a research and innovation center in Palo Alto, California, situating itself in the same vicinity as tech giants such as Google, Apple, Tesla, and Hewlett-Packard.
Ford also hired former Apple engineer Dragos Maciuca to lead the Silicon Valley center, which Tony Hynes, partner at North of Nine Communications, believes is "the most meaningful move to date" in the space.
"The potential of autotech is seemingly limitless," adds Hynes.
Interestingly, the poaching from tech to auto seems to go both ways. Six months ago, Apple reportedly brought on former Tesla, Ford, and General Motors employees to support its automotive team as it works to create an electric car.
The swapping and trading of staffers in these two fields will surely carry on as connected cars and smart devices keep evolving.
Knowing that Silicon Valley is overflowing with innovators and designers, Honda linked its recent announcement with a creative initiative called Xcelerator. The program, which allows people who have tech ideas to engage directly with the company’s engineers, is focused on highlighting Honda’s core message of "open innovation," explains Sloustcher.
This move is especially smart since traditional automakers are not only competing against each other, they’re up against the likes of Google, Uber, and Tesla, which was founded on the backbone of technology.
Hynes, who is based in San Francisco, says the fact Mercedes-Benz, Honda, GM, and other automakers have set up their research facilities in Silicon Valley is – to some extent – a "defensive measure" to keep an eye on outside companies.
Jason Clarke, VP of marketing and business development for North America at Text100 in San Francisco, notes traditional auto companies have to take the threat of tech businesses as direct competition "seriously or risk becoming more and more irrelevant over time."
In February, Uber teamed up with Carnegie Mellon University to develop a driverless car and mapping technology.
And last month, Google began testing its driverless car in Austin, Texas – its first foray outside of California with the vehicle. As Austin continues to become a major tech hub, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more auto companies make the jump to the Texas capital for the sake of innovation.
Honda’s 2016 Accord reveal, along with its R&D facility news and Xcelerator program, is a great example of the auto industry harnessing technology, while thoroughly executing traditional and social media strategies – and it’s a trend that’s far from over.