The Car Industries Innovator's Dilemma

car-brands2015 was a banner year for automotive sales in the United States. It was officially the best year ever (let me repeat EVER) for them by selling 17.471 million new cars and beating the previous record of 17.402 million cars set back in 2000. Strong demand, cheap gas and sub-prime like lending practices helped achieve this sales record. Now the bad news, this sales trajectory most likely will not continue for years and years.

Car companies have a great opportunity to take the profits from the past several years and invest in new markets. But, will they? In Clay Christen’s book – The Innovator’s Dilemma, he says:

successful companies put too much emphasis on customers’ current needs, and fail to adopt new technology or business models that will meet their customers’ unstated or future needs.

Remember Kodak? They invented the digital camera but never monetized it. They were busy making so much money from the physical camera rolls and the paper that pictures were printed on to think about the future. That attitude did not work out so well for Kodak.

The question is, will car companies innovate or go down the path of Kodak. The car companies business model is getting attacked on multiple fronts from various startups and technology:

  • ride sharing apps – why own a car, when you can share a ride with someone who is going in the same direction as you. With an app, the idea of carpooling with someone is made much easier and simpler.
  • taxi hailing apps – why own a car, when you can use an app to summon a car to take you to a particular destination
  • electric cars – why own a fossil fuel burning car that is horrible for the environment when you can have an electric car. (Granted the electricity still might come from a coal burning plant but over time solar energy might be the source.)
  • self driving cars – why own a car when you can summon a self driving car to pick you up and drop you to your destination. Apartment buildings might buy these for their residents and allow everyone to share.
  • 3D printed parts – Why go to a local dealer or repair shop when you can 3D print the plastic switch that needs to be fixed.

I’m a hugh car fan, but I know that most people just don’t give a damn about their car. For 99% of the the population a car is used to get from point A to point B and for 95% of the time is just a hunk of steel that sits idle. The rise in these new business models that are attacking the car industry are to address the 99% of the population.

The car companies have the money and distribution to change things around. But, it all depends if their management teams have the ability to break-free from their past and get past the innovators dilemma.

 

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