For years, auto makers and dealers have used Salesforce for CRM \u2014 but it\u2019s involved a hodge-podge of company-specific customizations. Now Salesforce is hoping to sweep that away with Salesforce Automotive Cloud, a dedicated platform for the auto industry that sticks close to industry standards on data exchange.\n\nThis new offering has arrived as auto makers rethink their relationships with dealers and intermediaries who handled face-to-face customer relations and local inventory since the pandemic made online auto sales and touchless delivery seem desirable. Until that point, few consumers wanted to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a car they had never seen or touched.\n\nMichael Ramsey, a VP and automotive analyst at Gartner, said Automotive Cloud offers a way for auto makers to take back control of their branding.\n\n\u201cAt a basic level, Salesforce built this because they could see that the auto companies were suddenly in need of actually delivering customer experience rather than relying on dealers to do it,\u201d he said.\n\nAchyut Jajoo, Salesforce\u2019s company\u2019s GM of manufacturing and automotive, pointed to moves Ford is already making to impose a new way of working on its dealers. \u201cThey basically want them to become more experiential,\u201d he said. \u201cThe dealership of the future would actually look more like an Apple Store.\u201d\n\nAutomotive Cloud is intended to help auto makers get closer to their customers by analyzing data not just about one person and their vehicle, Jajoo said, but their entire household and all interactions with dealers on one screen.\n\n\u201cAnd because we have that data, we can now recommend to dealers what next best action to take,\u201d he said. \u201cWe\u2019ve created tools to do this in a more declarative fashion, rather than custom coding.\u201d The tools include a rules engine that can look at the data and fire off alerts and recommendations.\n\nBy gathering data from their dealers in one place, auto makers will also have a better picture of the market, Jajoo said.\n\n\u201cNow you can run performance analytics: what cars are selling, which make, model, model year, in which geographies, which dealer is performing better \u2014 all of those types of things,\u201d he said.\n\nMaintaining standards\n\nOne of the things that lubricates data flow around and between enterprises is compliance with standards. The US auto retail industry realized this almost two decades ago, and came together to create the nonprofit corporation Standards for Technology in Automotive Retail. STAR\u2019s members include the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA); automobile manufacturers such as Ford, GM, BMW, and Toyota; and IT vendors such as Microsoft, Nuspire, and Tech Mahindra. Many of STAR\u2019s IT vendor members have offices in Detroit, once known as Motor City and increasingly becoming a hub for technology companies.\n\nSTAR deprecated its original flat file exchange format long ago, and now publishes over 200 XML message formats for Business Object Documents (BODs) covering everything from exchanging sales leads through arranging credit, selling the vehicle, servicing it, and ordering parts for repairs to resell it.\n\nSalesforce adheres to STAR\u2019s standards, making sure all necessary fields are available in its platform, said Jajoo: \u201cSalesforce as a platform is API first, so it becomes easy for us to exchange information between parties.\u201d\n\nThe company has created templates to facilitate that data exchange. \u201cIt's an ecosystem play,\u201d he says. \u201cWe extend this data out for your partners, whether they\u2019re dealers, agents, or other third parties.\u201d\n\nThat means companies adopting Automotive Cloud should be able to continue exchanging data with those using other STAR-compliant platforms.\n\nBut there\u2019ll be more work involved for CIOs who have already built their automotive CRM systems on the Salesforce platform, as they\u2019ll have to unwind years of customization in order to adopt Automotive Cloud.\n\n\u201cFor legacy car companies, it will be a big leap to adopt the platform wholesale because most already have a pretty robust Customer 360-type database,\u201d said Gartner\u2019s Ramsey.\n\nToyota Financial Services is one of the companies looking forward to the migration challenge. Its digital information officer is excited by the potential Automotive Cloud offers to build more meaningful relationships with customers.\n\nAccelerator peddling\n\nSalesforce isn\u2019t the only company targeting CRM solutions at the automotive industry. Microsoft offers an \u201cautomotive accelerator\u201d for its Dynamics CRM product \u2014 but, as with Salesforce\u2019s previous efforts, this is more about making it easier for customers to develop applications on top of the vanilla CRM tool to meet their needs, and less about providing a turnkey solution.\n\n\u201cAutomotive Cloud provides a modular way to connect customer, car, dealer, and other parts of the organization together that need customer info, like finance, warranty and connected vehicle services,\u201d said Ramsey. There needs to be something like this in place to manage customer IDs and all the interactions between companies, he said, adding, \u201cI\u2019m sure other companies will follow with some kind of vertical offering like this, but right now it fits in a niche that\u2019s a step above a standard CRM and is something closer to a customer operating system,\u201d he said.