Amid the mass of electric cars and eye-catching new vehicle designs at the New York Auto Show, two brand partnerships showed how the consumer experience is changing, reports Maya Yegorova from WARC.

The 2023 New York International Auto Show was, somewhat predictably, dominated by a diverse slate of electric cars and futuristic vehicles.

But within this year’s showcase of four-wheeled innovation – attending the event on Easter weekend each year is a tradition for me – two brand partnerships stood out as demonstrating how carmakers are looking to build engagement and serve consumers in new ways.

Hyundai taps the magic of Disney

The first was Hyundai’s unveiling of a concept car as part of its collaboration with Disney, the entertainment giant that is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

In helping to commemorate this landmark occasion, Hyundai revealed the limited-edition IONIQ 5 Disney100 Platinum Concept Car to the gearheads visiting the Javits Center in the Big Apple.

The automaker is the North American automotive sponsor for Disney100, a year-long celebration which is marked by everything from festivities at Disney’s amusement parks to a slate of exclusive products. As part of this process, the special-edition IONIQ 5 was designed by the automaker’s designers in collaboration with “imagineers” from Disney.

“At Hyundai, we are always looking for new ways to connect with customers on every mile of their journey, and the magic that Disney creates inspires us to deliver moments of delight for our customers,” Angela Zepeda, chief marketing officer at Hyundai Motor America, explained when the partnership was announced.

The IONIQ 5 car is thus equipped with a plethora of Disney-related features, including sparkling animations on its headlights, logos on floor mats and center console, and a themed introduction when the interior screen is activated. There’s even a synchronized in-car light show.

Last year, the car manufacturer joined with Marvel Studios – an arm of Disney’s sprawling content empire – for a campaign marking the release of the 2022 Hyundai Tucson. As a result, characters from Disney+ series including “Loki” and “WandaVision” starred in a set of ads, connecting the vehicle with super hero appeal.

Such initiatives demonstrate how automakers can leverage partnerships to stand out in a crowded marketplace: By tapping into Disney’s greatest strength – storytelling – Hyundai can create more engaging ads and develop more compelling in-vehicle experiences.

Such a collaboration also hints at the idea that cars are, increasingly, not just functional spaces. Rather, the vehicles of tomorrow can become multi-faceted entertainment centers. At present, the options may be limited to tech such as screens that can be watched by passengers in rear seats; looking ahead, autonomous vehicles could offer a much wider set of engagement possibilities.

Chrysler champions automotive inclusivity

Another partnership demonstrating how automakers are thinking in new ways involved Chrysler and the Autism Society of America.

Coinciding with Autism Acceptance Month, which occurs every year in April, this partnership saw the creation of the “Calm Cabin” package for the Chrysler Pacifica minivan.

“At Chrysler, we believe it's no longer enough to be ‘aware’ of the millions of people living and thriving with autism; we must put acceptance into action,” Chris Feuell, brand chief executive officer at Chrysler, said.

In response, this partnership seeks to make traveling by car a more comfortable experience for passengers with autism, as heavy traffic, loud noises and fast highway speeds can often be overstimulating and stressful.

The “Calm Cabin” package includes a 12-pound weighted sensory blanket, a Bluetooth meditative light and sound therapy device, and a soft-touch travel pillow. The attention to detail is exceptional, right down to seat-belt sleeves having a soft, velvet feel.

Collectively, these features seek to reduce anxiety for people with autism, and help reassure their family members and friends – whether drivers or passengers – that journeys are comfortable for everyone as they are on the move.

The package is only one component of Chrysler’s pledge to increase accessibility and inclusivity, as the automaker further announced that all dealership employees will receive training on how to communicate appropriately with people with autism.

It will also use its social media presence to encourage donations to the Autism Society, spread awareness for the early diagnosis of autism and encourage greater inclusion and acceptance in everyday life.

Such an effort illustrates how automakers can use new technology not only to develop electric and self-driving vehicles, but also to improve the current in-car experience for different audiences – whether that involves delivering new modes of mass entertainment or driving social good.