The annual CES event in Las Vegas was barely under way when Amazon made a major announcement with implications for a voice-first world: new voice-based products and solutions that will encourage voice/conversational commerce in the car. The news is especially timely, with nearly 95 percent of consumers expected to use voice-based digital assistants (such as Alexa) in their cars by 2022, according to Capgemini.

According to Amazon, new features coming in 2020 will make it easier for drivers to make purchases from their cars. Per Amazon:

Later this year, customers will be able to say, “Alexa, pay for gas” to easily purchase fuel at all 11,500 Exxon and Mobil stations. The transactions for this new Alexa feature are made through Amazon Pay and powered by Fiserv, a global financial services technology provider.

The announcement comes on the heels of a 2019 relationship that Amazon formed with ExxonMobil to let drivers use voice commands to pay for gas at more than 11,500 Exxon and Mobile gas stations in the United States. Now, in 2020, drivers who have Alexa in their in-car infotainment system (or who use an Echo Auto smart speaker or other Alexa-enabled device, including a smartphone) will be able to use the service.

Amazon, Apple, and Google Battle for Car

This news is a significant development in the battle between Amazon, Apple, and Google to power voice-activated experiences in the automobile. In recent years, each company has traded announcements concerning the uptake of their own voice assistants in automobiles. For the most part, the big three technologists have focused on forming relationships with automobile manufacturers to embed their own voice assistants (Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant) in the car-driving experience.

Apple and Google have relied on their not-so-secret weapons, Apple Maps and Google Maps, as an entrée for their voice assistants. And those navigation apps have been a godsend for Apple and Google given how integral voice is becoming to simply getting around in our cars more safely and easily.

Using Siri and Google Assistant to navigate makes Apple and Google more ubiquitous and provides those firms valuable consumer usage data. (As noted in Retail Dive, “Monetizing the data from connected cars will become a $750 billion industry by 2030, consulting firm McKinsey estimated, including the direct marketing of products and services to consumers, and from sales of data and targeted advertising.”)

Auto manufacturers, in turn, can offer customers voice-first solutions to make car ownership more attractive — which is crucial at a time when auto sales in the United States are plateauing.

Amazon’s Ace in the Hole

Amazon’s workaround has been to launch Echo Auto, which make it possible for people to bypass Siri and Google Assistant and navigate with Alexa in both Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems. But Amazon’s real ace in the hole is making it easier to purchase things from our cars. For the most part, people continue to use their voices to do simple commands such as navigating or finding locations of businesses. But through its relationship with Exxonmobil and its CES announcement, Amazon puts itself in the driver’s seat to encourage actual commerce from the automobile.

Amazon made several other announcements to strengthen its hold on the automotive experience, including a relationship with Cadillac and ZeroLight (which provides a car configurator software) to demonstrate a new car-purchasing concept featuring the Cadillac XT6; keep in mind that this is in addition to partnerships with other major automakers to bring Alexa voice assistants to new models from Ford, Audi, BMW, and Toyota. The relationship is built on Amazon’s cloud platform, Amazon Web Services (AWS). Per Amazon, “The showcase uses a range of engaging, personalized digital experiences to guide a customer through each stage of purchasing a vehicle.” We have often contended that Amazon has been building a voice-enabled super platform that harnesses the power of Alexa and AWS. Here we see Amazon extending that platform to the automobile.

In 2020, expect Apple and Google to respond in kind as 62 percent of consumers prefer having the same digital assistant integrating their vehicle, home, and mobile device experiences according to Capgemini. The battle for the automobile with the incorporation of (voice/conversational) commerce is going to be an exciting race that involves many players: technology firms, retailers, and, most importantly, consumers.

Mark Persaud

Mark Persaud

Practice Lead, Immersive Reality