retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

My friend Frieda Caplan forwarded an article from Automotive News that struck me as an Eye-Opener.

(What Frieda is doing reading Automotive News I have no idea … except she’s one of the most curious people I’ve ever met. We all should be as open-minded and inquisitive as she is.)

The piece was by Bob Lutz, the former vice chairman and head of product development at General Motors, and focused on a automobile industry “in the throes of change.”

Lutz writes:

“It saddens me to say it, but we are approaching the end of the automotive era.
The auto industry is on an accelerating change curve. For hundreds of years, the horse was the prime mover of humans and for the past 120 years it has been the automobile.

“Now we are approaching the end of the line for the automobile because travel will be in standardized modules.

“The end state will be the fully autonomous module with no capability for the driver to exercise command. You will call for it, it will arrive at your location, you'll get in, input your destination and go to the freeway.

“On the freeway, it will merge seamlessly into a stream of other modules traveling at 120, 150 mph. The speed doesn't matter. You have a blending of rail-type with individual transportation.”

It all will start with trucking fleets, Lutz says, but will eventually affect the automobile industry. We already can see a possible/probable future in today’s stories about how Uber has signed a deal with Volvo under which it will buy as many as 24,000 self-driving Volvos once the technology is deemed to be ready for full-scale production.

This isn’t to say that automobiles as they currently exist will vanish; it is, however, likely to be a much smaller segment of the transportation industry, though dealerships as we know them will cease to exist except as a fringe business.” Lutz suggests that “the companies that can move downstream and get into value creation will do OK. But unless they develop superior technical capability,” their relevance will be short-lived.

“I think probably everybody sees it coming, but no one wants to talk about it,” Lutz writes. “They know they will be OK for a few years if they keep providing superior technology, superior design and have good software for autonomous driving.” But the transition will be underway, inevitable and inexorable, and “will be largely complete in 20 years.”

It is a fascinating look into the future by someone with deep roots in the past and yet maintains a willingness to see the future for what it is, or at least is likely to be. You can read the entire story here. It is the very definition of an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: