Steve Jobs trained consumers too well, says Kjell Gruner, the new CEO of Porsche Cars North America. And now car companies have a lot of catching up to do to match Apple's standards for user interface.
"With their ecosystem and their seamless customer experience, they have shaped the customer expectation," Gruner says of Apple. That has a direct impact on how people feel when they get into--or shop for--a piece of technology as big as a car.
"We have to integrate [digital] with the physical experience because we are a very, very physical product," he said. "If you don't have digital experiences, you are not on the radar screen. You're irrelevant."
Digital experience includes everything from an electric vehicle turning itself on and instantly syncing with your phone the moment you step inside, to an app that lets you build your own "dream garage" of cars, to being able to download performance-related software directly to the vehicle.
On a private video call, Gruner spoke admiringly of the instantaneous, seamless nature of Apple's integration into daily life. The expectation now extends to cars, he says, which makes staying relevant "tricky" for the 90-year-old automaker that has thrived producing naturally aspirated, manual, decidedly analog racing machines.
Indeed, when Porsche executives talk about future plans, they typically focus on improvements and upgrades to those heritage-inspired 911s that excite longtime fans, as well as the heightening luxury in its SUVs, which help expand its market share.
For Volkswagen Group's top-earning brand, that has long been enough to generate passion among die-hard customers, spurring record sales in recent years for the company.