Published on: December 4, 2008Now available on iTunes...
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Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, brought to you by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.
The newspapers and cable news shows have been reporting this week on the latest efforts by the Big Three American automobile manufacturers to get the federal government – which, in the end, really means the American taxpayer – to bail them out of their past misjudgments and management errors to the tune of billions of dollars.
But let’s forget about whether this is a good idea or not. Essentially, that means looking backward. I’d rather look forward and to the future.
In Northern California, three cities – San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose – are working with a Palo Alto company to create the infrastructure for electric vehicle charging stations that would be located all over the region.
The plan would create 250,000 different charging stations by 2012. In addition, the plan would create a series of battery “switching stations” in appropriate areas, especially along freeways, where people with batteries nearing depletion could simply pull in, replace the old battery with a freshly charged one, and go on their way. The charging stations and switching stations would all accept credit and debit cards, and the whole thing would be about as self-service and user-friendly as possible. (San Francisco, it should be noted, already has some charging stations installed at some parking meters and lamp posts…so it is more a matter of ramping up and expanding existing technology than creating something entirely from scratch.)
Now, automobile companies that include Nissan, BMW, Toyota and, yes, even General Motors, all are talking about having electric cars ready to hit the road in just a few years. But a major obstacle to their becoming popular would seem to be the lack of access to charging facilities and the time it takes to recharge batteries, which can be a hassle on extended trips. If the infrastructure is there, suddenly these aren’t obstacles anymore.
What is this all going to cost? Well, according to the company developing the project, about a billion dollars.
A billion dollars? Hell, that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the money being asked for by the auto companies, which have yet to prove to a lot of people that they want to do anything other than shore up outmoded and near-obsolete policies linked to fuel oil ands traditional internal combustion engines. Policies that had them selling Hummers and oil-rich foreign countries getting wealthier by the hour.
But that’s not really the point I want to make.
These Northern California cities are looking to the future and putting into place an infrastructure that will put them in a great position when the future arrives.
Sometimes in our businesses, we have to look to the future and place a bet on where we think things are going…and invest in the infrastructure necessary for us to be in the right place with the right technology at the right time. Otherwise, we run the risk of being both irrelevant and obsolete. It isn’t even a risk, in fact. It is a certainty.
In the retailing business, that means looking at how customers are changing and evolving, and what kinds of priorities the next generation of consumers will have. No matter how much we’d like to pretend, it seems incredibly likely that our kids – raised on cell phones and iPods and text messaging and not remembering a world before Amazon.com - are not going to shop like us.
Like those Northern California cities, retailers cannot afford to just respond to consumer demand, which is the standard excuse for lack of innovation. Sometimes, by developing services and technologies, one can actually create demand that is in line with what consumer priorities might be.
Placing a bet is, by its very nature, a gamble. That isn’t always an easy thing to do, especially in these tough economic times. But gambling on the future, it seems to me, is a lot smarter than gambling on the past.
For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
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