The Spirit of ‘Restless Reinvention’ Drives the Rise of AI at Cox Automotive

Three Cox Automotive leaders share insights on the ambitious AI-driven advancements reshaping the customer experience and operational efficiency.

Written by Brigid Hogan
Published on Jun. 24, 2024
The Spirit of ‘Restless Reinvention’ Drives the Rise of AI at Cox Automotive
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“We focus on trying to restlessly reinvent ourselves, and generative AI is a game changer.”

Director of Product Management Kelsey Downer knows the vision for advancement is ambitious, but she and her teammates at Cox Automotive aren’t shying away from the challenge.

“We are comfortable at the cutting edge — we often reference a picture that shows a guy using a machete to cut through a dense jungle,” she said. “It sounds silly, I know, but we do forge a path so it is easier for the next crew to follow us — eventually leading to a nice, paved road.”

As the use of artificial intelligence continues to expand across the auto industry, Cox Automotive, part of the Cox family of businesses, is harnessing the power of AI to transform its operational practices.

Chief Data Officer Benjamin Flusberg is at the helm of this transformation, leading Cox Automotive’s data and AI strategy. His team manages the Enterprise Data Platform, which serves as a centralized hub for secure data sharing and access across the organization.

Flusberg is focused on how his team can leverage data to revolutionize the way Cox Automotive does business and serves its customers.

“Our top priorities are to drive data literacy throughout the Cox Automotive organization, to continuously mature our data and AI capabilities and to utilize data and AI to differentiate our company’s customer-facing products,” he outlined.
 

Ben Flusberg stands on stage at a conference in front of a blue backdrop with obscured white lettering, presenting and smiling.
Cox Automotive

 

Under Flusberg’s leadership, the internal user base of Cox Automotive’s Enterprise Data Platform has grown sixfold since 2020, and the platform’s capabilities have significantly reduced the time required to deploy new AI models by 80 percent. These advancements are opening doors across all areas of Cox Automotive’s business, from enhancing digital products to streamlining processes.

“It’s incredible how much we’ve matured our foundational data and AI capabilities over the past few years,” he remarked. “In the near future, I expect us to expand our application of AI into more physical and operational processes. These will include Manheim auction operations — which Cox Auto is already beginning to transform by applying our Fyusion computer vision technology to improve vehicle inspections — as well as our mobility fleet services and fleet operations businesses, and potentially solutions for dealer fixed operations.”

 

Cox Automotive’s Brands

  • Autotrader
  • Central Dispatch
  • Dealer.com
  • Dealertrack
  • EV Battery Solutions
  • Fleet Services
  • FleetNet America
  • Kelley Blue Book
  • Manheim
  • NextGear Capital
  • vAuto
  • VinSolutions
  • Xtime

 

Possibilities in generative AI continue to expand as well. For Flusberg’s team members, 2023 offered time for learning and experimentation, and as 2024 continues, they’re beginning to put prototypes for customer relations and marketing into production — “with appropriate guardrails, of course,” Flusberg noted.

Downer has been supporting these advancements in generative AI. She leads a customer communications initiative to improve and personalize the content that dealership sales teams send to potential customers.

“Right now, we are focused on getting cutting-edge generative AI technology in the hands of dealership sales team members to improve and personalize the content going out to customers interested in purchasing vehicles,” she explained.

This effort has already yielded significant results, including a doubled rate of email responses.

Without generative AI, dealership employees would need to manually sift through customer information to craft individual messages, and many rely on templates, “which can be impersonal,” Downer said.

The AI-driven approach not only enhances efficiency but can also improve interactions.

“Generative AI is helping us adapt our products quickly and help our dealers deliver a high-quality, personalized buying experience,” Downer said.

“But this is just the beginning,” Flusberg added. “Generative AI is a fast-moving technology that has the potential to transform many ways of doing business, and so we’re closely monitoring industry developments, continuously experimenting and expecting to drive additional value for our clients in the near future.”

As generative AI capabilities expand, Senior Principal Software Engineer Brian Antonelli has been instrumental in establishing strong practices and protections for its use at Cox Automotive. His focus has been on ensuring the safe and responsible use of AI, making it accessible to all employees and addressing critical challenges, such as protecting personally identifiable information.

“One of our largest challenges is protecting PII data and preventing any unauthorized disclosure outside of the organization,” Antonelli said. “By providing robust prompt-management capabilities, we can ensure that our generative AI initiatives are built on a solid foundation.”

 

An aerial view of Cox Enterprises' headquarters — a group of large, modern buildings surrounded by green space.
Cox Automotive

 

To manage and optimize AI prompts — a critical component in generative AI workflows — Antonelli has developed tools for versioning and tracking prompts, monitoring their performance and rigorously evaluating outcomes. This meticulous approach enables Cox Automotive to maximize the efficacy of its AI models and continuously refine its strategies.

Cox Automotive’s AI initiatives also help the company work better cross-functionally. Downer emphasized the importance of being part of the connective tissue that spans brands, ensuring seamless collaboration across products and projects.

“We stay attuned to the aspirations and goals of various projects across Cox Automotive so that we can position ourselves to contribute effectively and anticipate potential impacts,” she said.

 

Cox Automotive employee sits behind a laptop and speaks to someone out of the photo, with colleagues chatting in the background in a communal seating area.
Cox Automotive

 

Antonelli’s work establishing strong patterns and guidelines for generative AI across the enterprise supports this alignment and ensures that Cox Automotive’s AI capabilities are scalable and robust.

“By proactively defining these frameworks, we can empower our teams to accelerate their Generative AI initiatives without becoming mired in the difficulties of inconsistent approaches,” he said. 

Cox Automotive is poised to further integrate AI into its operations, with a focus on generative AI applications across customer operations, marketing and physical processes.

“We are forming a specialized ‘tiger team’ to vet various Generative AI proposals and ensure that their needs are met,” Antonelli shared. This cross-functional team will also be responsible for training existing engineering talent to develop a deep understanding of generative AI systems.

 

A large water feature with lily pads, trees and covered seating at Cox Enterprises’ headquarters.
Cox Automotive

 

The leaders at Cox Automotive believe that the company’s commitment to innovation, combined with its collaborative culture, makes it an ideal destination for tech talent.

“Cox Automotive is a high-functioning organization with a focus on how we can be 1 percent better every single day — which compounds dramatically,” Downer highlighted.

Flusberg agreed. “I can’t imagine working anywhere else,” he said. “Cox Automotive is a fantastic company to work for. We have a great culture. We care about our customers and team members. We drive positive impact for the automotive industry and our communities, and we have fun using innovative technologies to achieve our goals.”

As AI continues to evolve, Cox Automotive is prepared to harness its potential and drive efficiency, personalization and innovation across its wide organizational ecosystem. 

“The opportunity to work on so many different amazing technologies and ideas is a huge draw,” Antonelli said. “Regardless of what career path you want to take, chances are there’s a fit for you here. The innovative projects underway provide lots of opportunities for professional growth and the ability to make a meaningful impact. Our dynamic, challenging and rewarding environment is what makes Cox Automotive such an attractive destination for talented software engineers and technologists.”
 

“Our dynamic, challenging and rewarding environment is what makes Cox Automotive such an attractive destination for talented software engineers and technologists.”

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images provided by Cox Enterprises.

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