Christophe Aniel is CEO of Allianz Global Assistance (AGA) China, which works with automakers to provide roadside assistance services, along with travel and medical assistance. AGA is owned by the Allianz Group, Europe’s biggest insurance company. Aniel spoke with China Economic Review about the market for help on the highway.
Q: What are the primary drivers of demand for auto assistance in China?
A: Our model is business-to-business, which means that automakers buy assistance services from us and then give it to their customers as a free service within the warrantee period. The primary [demand] driver, of course, is the explosive sales we’ve seen in the auto market. But there’s also a second driver: As the auto market matures, manufacturers focus more and more on the value-added services that build up brand loyalty. Customers have a positive brand experience when troubles caused by road hazards or accidents are solved by a group of professionals at the scene.
Q: Is roadside assistance in China different from Allianz’ other markets?
A: We operate in 28 countries on five continents, so we’re in a position to see that the market in China is quite unique. A lot of auto manufacturers in China rely on their own teams to provide roadside assistance to their customers, because they think it’s more cost-effective and easier to handle. But by outsourcing these services to a company like AGA, the auto manufacturers can get more consistent service quality. We have troves of data that we mine for information on how to prevent future breakdowns. We also use economies of scale to make providing network coverage, implementing internal IT systems and other processes cheaper.
Q: What have you found to be the biggest challenge of operating in the Chinese market?
A: For us, the biggest challenge is delivering services on a nationwide scale. China is a vast and very diverse country. This poses a lot of challenges for us, as we try to provide the same quality level of service to customers in both developed and remote areas. To cope with this problem, we use our IT platforms to organize providers, and also supply regular technical updates to highlight new car models and their handling requirements.
Q: Looking forward, how do you see the market evolving?
A: We see the market extending into supporting second-hand cars. More technological breakthroughs, such as telematics – the computerized navigation panels on dashboards – will likely be introduced to further improve service levels. Overall, we expect the assistance market to continue its rapid growth in the coming years.