Techpoint Charlie
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Techpoint Charlie

How car manufacturers are preparing for a new mobility ecosystem

What I learned following the Autotech theme at 4YFN (Part III)

SEAT booth at 4YFN

This post is the third installment of our future of mobility series from 4YFN. If you haven't yet, you should read Part I (link) and Part II (link).

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“In the past decade, the mobile phone industry has seen amazing progress, but what has been done in the automotive industry?”

The automotive experts at 4YFN not only looked at how legislators and tech companies need to change — but also what the automotive industry must do to be prepared for the future. “In the past decade, the mobile phone industry has seen amazing progress, but what has been done in the automotive industry?” Tanja Kufner, Partner at MHP — a Porsche Company, challenged the panelists at her session. Avner Goren, Director of IoT and Imaging Architecture at Intel Corporation, echoed this sentiment, albeit slightly more dramatically:

“I don’t see how the automotive industry can survive if the pace of development doesn’t catch up to that of consumer electronics.”

These turtle and hare comparisons, while accurate, fail to consider the stakes if a faulty model goes to market. “The biggest difference is that a car is a top quality product. If the safety of a vehicle hasn’t been tested and confirmed 1000 times, it could cause deaths. If a phone malfunctions, it’s annoying, but not deadly. We as manufacturers have to ensure the quality of each car to the highest standards, and phones simply don’t have that pressure,” explained Olivier Lenz, Programs Director at the Fédération International de l’Automobile (FIA).

"There’s no financial incentive right now to move away from what works.”

There’s also less motivation to change because it doesn’t affect the bottom line…yet. While we may be thinking about what mobility will look like in the future, people are still buying cars today. Kufner added, “VW, for example, had its most profitable year in history in 2018. There’s no financial incentive right now to move away from what works.”

Oliver Grimm, Head of Multimodal Mobility at SEAT

When asked how SEAT will make money when personal vehicle ownership goes down, Oliver Grimm, Head of Multimodal Mobility at SEAT, said “there will still be cars sold, but the variety of cars will change; small autonomous cars will be used in urban areas, and SUVs for long distance road trips and IKEA runs.” Whether owned by individuals or fleets, the total amount of cars on the streets will reduce, but their usage will go up. Right now, cars spend about 90% of their lifetime parked somewhere.

“When there’s fewer cars being used more efficiently and more often, they will need to be replaced more often than cars today.”

Time will tell whether his positive outlook for OEMs is realistic or just wishful thinking.

Nissan, for one, is focusing its energy (pun intended) on listening and responding to consumer needs. Their vision is to move from a push to pull model, wherein customers will drive new innovation in products and services. Francisco Carranza, Managing Director of Nissan Energy, emphasized this point:

“We need to evolve, car manufacturing needs to adapt. We need to transform the supply chain and develop more batteries and charging infrastructure.”

This type of strategic overhaul requires building an innovation ecosystem with three key elements:

  1. Recognize your own limitations; you cannot do everything alone
  2. Support open innovation and build internal capabilities
  3. Attract, recruit, develop, and retain top talent

This requires fighting the ‘not invented here’ syndrome common to most corporates. Daimler realized that this mentality directly hinders innovation. “Our mentality went from ‘not invented here’ to ‘proudly found elsewhere,’ said Philipp Gneiting, Head of Open Innovation at Daimler, on their transition from premium car manufacturer to mobility service provider.

Philipp Gneiting, Head of Open Innovation at Daimler

“Our mentality went from ‘not invented here’ to ‘proudly found elsewhere"

Historically, carmakers never had a direct relationship with their customer — there was always the dealership in between. It was a push model. Auto brands would build a model, ship it to a retail center, and it would sell or it didn’t. They would then improve the models based on performance results and innovate in increments. Right now, there’s a lot of opportunities to open up the market.

“We look to startups to break through our closed OEM environment,” said Lenz on the FIA perspective.

Dirk Evenson of New Mobility World argued that there’s always been innovation in the automotive industry, that companies don’t necessarily have to look to startups for technological developments:

“Without startups, there would still be innovation, but not disruption. Not the kind of leap that changes the game.”

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Stay tuned for Part IV of this series, "Collaborations as key to OEM survival!"

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A group of tech enthusiasts telling stories of the future of mobility, startup/corporate partnerships, and collaborative innovation

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Karina Schultz

Karina Schultz

Marketing @ SPREAD.ai 🚀

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