The Connected Driving Experience

Volkswagen's SmileDrive app can make your next road trip more fun and social. After all, it isn't just about the destination anymore, is it?

While location-based apps like Foursquare and Yelp have exploded in popularity over the past few years, they fail to capture a critical part of the user experience: actually getting there.

Backed by research that showed that drivers are spending an increasing amount of time alone in their cars, the team at Volkswagen set out to make the journey as social as the destination… and at least a little bit happier.

“For Volkswagen, driving a vehicle doesn’t have to mean just going from Point A to Point B,” said Jeff Sayen, advertising manager for Volkswagen. “There’s the fun of the actual driving experience itself.”

That’s the thinking behind SmileDrive, a new mobile app developed by Volkswagen in collaboration with Google and creative agency, Deutsch LA.

Making Driving Social

Set to launch in summer 2013, SmileDrive ( integrates social elements into every car ride. By connecting directly with the car, a driver can track and share real-time details of his or her journey on a choice of social platforms. And bysyncing with Google, in particular, users can also tag fellow passengers and share images, while family and friends can follow along and comment.

Mirroring the success of badges and points in other check-in social apps, SmileDrive also reinforces the successful precepts of gamification by awarding points based on factors such as the length of a trip and the weather. What also makes the app special is that – while competing automakers have focused on developing apps customised for their own drivers – SmileDrive is designed to be used by anyone, in any brand of car.

“We’re excited about this, because consumers can share their stories even if they or their friends and family may not have personal experience with our brand,” said Sayen. “There’s a fun-to-drive spirit associated with owning a Volkswagen, and SmileDrive helps deliver the experience of driving a Volkswagen to someone who isn’t driving one right now.”

Smart. Very smart.

Of course, current Volkswagen drivers get special perks. In honor of the classic road game “Punch Dub” – wherein one punches his or her driving companion when spotting a Volkswagen – the app gives “punch” points for passing another

Volkswagen vehicle and “twinsie” points for driving by an identical model.  While these targeted features help current Volkswagen drivers feel like they’re part of a cool club, ultimately, “the spirit of the app is to socialise the driving experience for everyone,” says Raymond Wicks, a digital media director at MediaCom, which is handling the app’s launch.

To Volkswagen’s credit, the brand considers SmileDrive to be just a starting point. “We look at this app as a road marker on a long journey,” said Sayen. “We will continue to use Bluetooth and emerging technologies to amplify the positive experience of driving a vehicle and being able to share the trip with the most important people in your life.”

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