While we wait for the big three bailout vote in Congress today or tomorrow, I thought I would pass along this amusing thought exercise from Robert Cringely:
“That’s where Steve Jobs’ second strength comes into play — identifying important new technologies. He’d look at the car market and conclude a number of things: 1) it’s a no-brainer to embrace dramatic design (no boring cars); 2) performance sells, and; 3) safety and fuel economy are co-equal secondary goals. So Steve’s goal for his car company would be to make a limited line of vehicles that were dramatically styled with visibly different technologies from the competitors and were uniformly 20+ percent safer and 20+ percent more fuel-efficient.
But embracing these ideas requires the companies do something else that Jobs came to embrace with Apple’s products – stop building most of their own cars.
There are two aspects to this possible outsourcing issue. First is the whole concept of car companies as manufacturing their own products. There is plenty of outsourcing of car components. Most companies don’t make their own brakes, for example. Yamaha makes whole engines for Ford. Entire model lines are bought and rebadged from one maker to another. But nobody does it for everything, yet that’s what Steve Jobs would do.
All the U.S. car companies are closing plants, for example, and all are doing so because of overcapacity. But what would happen if just one of those companies — say Chrysler — decided that two years from now it would no longer actually assemble ANY of its own vehicles? Instead they’d put out an RFQ to every company in the world for 300,000 Chrysler Town & Country minivans as an example. Now THAT would be a dramatic move.
And a good one, frankly, because with a single pen stroke most of the overcapacity would be removed from the U.S. car market…
If a US automaker became like Apple — designing, marketing and selling the cars, rather than building them — what would that look like?
So Chrysler reaches out to contract manufacturers in this scenario and you know those manufacturers would fight for the work and probably give Chrysler a heck of a deal. For current models, for example, Chrysler could probably sell the tooling and maybe even the entire assembly plant for a lot more than they’d get from the real estate alone. But that particular advantage, I’d say, would be unique to the first big player to throw in the production towel.
In this scenario, Chrysler becomes a design, marketing, sales, and service organization. What’s wrong with that? They can change products more often and more completely because of their dramatically lower investment in production capital. They can pit their various suppliers against each other more effectively than could a surviving car manufacturer. It’s what Steve would do.”
Fascinating concept . . .
What if Steve Jobs ran one of the Big Three auto companies?
Robert X. Cringely
PBS, DECEMBER 7, 2008