Given the growing role smartphone apps play in everyday life, automakers have begun offering them to existing and potential customers as a kind of value-added service.
One of the recent examples is My Chevy.
Launched in April, the free app is gaining popularity among Chevrolet owners across the country.
It is designed to offer customers better after-sales service, said Duan Jiajun, head of the brand's after-sales department, in an interview with news portal sohu.com.
Among other functions the app serves as a car care and maintenance reminder because many people are too distracted by work and other obligations to focus on upkeep, Duan said.
It also allows customers to book the service with just a click on the nearest 4S store listed on the cell phone screen.
In addition, it provides tips on car use as well as advises you when to wash your car based on weather forecasts.
The app can also help users socialize because it enables them to enroll in activities that Chevrolet organizes for car owners.
This might have contributed to its popularity because socializing functions are instrumental in improving user loyalty, said Wang Jun, an analyst at Beijing-based consulting firm Analysys International.
In addition, he said an accurate understanding of customer demands and an easy-to-use interface will also help auto companies to develop a successful app and the results will be even better if automakers cooperate with experienced dot-com companies.
Compared to Chevrolet, Volkswagen is a veteran in mobile applications.
The German automaker launched its first app in early 2011.
Aimed at potential Shanghai auto show visitors, it was designed to help the company engage with them through providing overall auto show information, according to the company.
One of the most popular apps is My Bluemobility, which has been downloaded more than 1.5 million times.
According to the company, it is China's first in-car tracking app designed to help customers drive more economically by improving their driving habits.
It also has the Volkswagen Service App designed as an after-sales service tool.
For example, it can identify the closest Volkswagen Service dealer network, based on the user's geo position.
Such mobile apps are critically important for the company's efforts to grow its brand presence while continuously connecting and engaging with consumers, a Volkswagen rep wrote in an e-mail to China Daily.
It cited statistics that the number of mobile Internet users in China already exceeds more than 460 million, surpassing PC users.
And almost 80 percent of China's Internet users access the Internet via mobile devices and spend some 12 hours per week on average.
Yet Volkswagen does not just look at "apps" detached from other digital marketing facets, such as social media and websites, the company said, underscoring that it would rather consider what is needed and beneficial from the consumer point of view as a whole.
Marketers need to integrate mobile into a digital holistic picture and approach as to achieve an optimized mix with other digital channels, it said.
Like Volkswagen, Shanghai OnStar Telematics Co Ltd is also an early riser in launching apps.
A GM joint venture in China, the company specializes in safety, maintenance and telematics services for some models manufactured and sold in China by GM.
For instance, it offers an onboard app equipped inside the car that can also be connected to a mobile phone, making it a remote controller through which customers can start the engine or turn on in-car air-conditioning.
OnStar has recently introduced new features for the app, with the latest update released in September.
Now customers can share their current locations, vehicle locations, and destinations using both words and photos via WeChat, Sina Weibo and SMS with other OnStar users, making it easier for friends to meet at a specific venue, according to the company's website.