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When I told my five-year-old daughter that I was buying an electric car, she was to say the least excited. But this excitement turned to huge disappointment when she realised that there was no internet in the car. It got even worse, when she realised she could not control the car with her iPad as she could our home entertainment and heating system. Then she saw the control display on the car and wanted to swipe it with her fingers but that did not work either so she gave up in frustration. She just could not use it but let’s be honest neither can most people. Therein lies the challenge of the incumbent automobile manufacturer be that a BMW, GM or Nissan. Not alone can they not keep up with the speed of technology change around them but more worringly they don’t have the necessary competencies and skills to electrify the automobile.
The incumbent automobile manufacturers may have built up significant engineering prowess and intellectual property around the internal combustion engine. But let’s be clear, in the world of the electrification of transport this intellectual property is not needed and the major manufacturers are way behind when it comes to electrification. The world’s biggest producer of EVs is not VW or Toyota but the Chinese company BYD. And it’s the new competitors such as Tesla with their iPhone like displays, autonomous driving ability and incredible performance that are showing the way forward.
Can the incumbent automobile manufacturers change their ways and catch up?
Yes they can! But it will not be easy as they will need to, as quickly as possible, develop skills and knowhow around batteries, electric drives and software, as well as developing new business models. In the meantime, they will have to rely on a handful of suppliers such as Samsung and Panasonic for the needed hardware and companies like Apple and Google for the software. And here’s the dilemma, if they don’t team up with these companies they will not give their customers the driving experience they want, and if they do they may be creating future competitors for themselves. And worse still if they don’t bring these competencies in house quickly they will be restructuring and shedding jobs for the next decade.
We are already seeing the first glimses of the future in the new business models of companies like Tesla and Uber. With Uber I don’t need to own a car. All I need is a mobile phone to find and pay for a driver who will pick me up and bring me where I want. And it’s so easy to use and it beats having to use the navigation system on a “modern” automobile! But let’s be clear that is not the end game for Uber. They want to control global mobility and they can only do so with autonomous cars.
Going forward, Uber will control a fleet of driverless cars, ever ready to pick up customers on demand who will step into a personalised vehicle complete with full office and entertainment systems. Given that these cars will be much more used than a car today, they will also be cheaper for people to rent. And I can imagine Uber offering customers a “flat-rate” monthly fee for using their service. And what this all means is that my daughter will not need to learn to drive a car and even if she does she probably won’t need to drive and even if she does know how to drive she will not own a car…