I’ve spent the past couple days participating in the Reuters Automotive USA Conference here in Detroit, a gathering of industry decision makers, managers, and key media. A dominant theme that has emerged is the central role people play in the entire automotive value chain – from innovation to engineering, production to adoption.
The need to be human centered, which has for long been a cornerstone of Rob Ferrone's and Quick Release_'s PDM philosophy, rang through in several conference sessions and conversations. On a midday panel that I participated in with Gail Robertson, Leonel Leal and Robert A. Walus for instance, I was given the opportunity to speak about the Quick Release_ approach to Product Data Management. As technically thorough as Quick Release_ PDM is, it entirely hinges on people.
While a company works to improve the source, flow, availability, speed, and effectiveness of data, truly effective PDM implementations come down to how well you take the organisation on a shared journey to better engineering outcomes vs. simply doing something to the organisation.
I made seven brief observations that also show how industry transformation is a people-centric process.
1) EV vs hybrid
Electric vehicles and hybrid-electric vehicles have been making inroads in global markets for several years. While penetration is still relatively low in the U.S. market, it’s clear that momentum has been sparked by the availability of new models and other factors. But which technology will win out? And when?
This is clearly a discussion the industry is embroiled in. Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Farley recently projected big gains for hybrids while many also see a tipping point on the horizon for the market share of pure EVs. Ultimately, it seems, customers will decide. One key question, in light of the current state of the demand curve and the fate of past infrastructure-scaling efforts like Electrify America, is whether to adjust timing of massive battery investments to better match demand.
2) Value creation for customers
The traditional dealership upsell model is poised to change. There is a shift underway toward a more Tesla-like framework where cars are sold at cost and then additional options are monetized through software. Given the growing comfort among consumers with subscription services and over-the-air purchases, it’s easy to see this evolution taking place. But the industry’s evolution won’t happen overnight.
Steps could include the battery-as-a-service model pitched by Nio. This raises the potential need to design vehicles for rapid battery removal. And, if that happens, it could change the way a warranty is implemented.
3) Charging strategies
Is the charging model going to rely more heavily on a network of sites or will it be largely a home-based activity? That question will take time to solve, but in the meantime the industry needs to ensure infrastructure is both in place and reliably working.
OEM collaborations / partnerships such as the one Tesla has announced with several rival manufacturers will be key to hit the required growth and scalability in an economic way. Public utilities also have a pivotal role to play. After all, there is a huge benefit to home charging in that it avoids the need for early morning or late-night trips to a charging facility.
4) Customer adoption rate
Much like the proliferation of smartphones more than a decade ago, the job of exposing people to a major technology shift is critical for the automotive business. Roughly 15 million new vehicles are sold annually in the U.S., and hundreds of millions more are in operation on the road. Nearly all those vehicles are powered by internal combustion engines.
Therefore, there is a curve by which people will need to adapt to new ways of living with EV’s. Consider the issue of range anxiety vs charging anxiety – this issue reflects the inherent concern EV drivers have when it comes to their level of battery power and ability to find a charger. Companies need to bring the whole community on the journey. One key way to make immediate strides is ensuring charger grid connectivity is solifidied and driving greater awareness of what’s available where.
5) Cross industry inspiration
There are clearly related ecosystems for the automotive industry to model after or collaborate with. Buying habits, ownership models, distribution systems, and value chains are also evolving in several other industries, including gaming, retail, and entertainment.
There is, of course, ample opportunity on the horizon for these ecosystems to collaborate as vehicles become more like smartphones on wheels – interacting with the world around it and the needs of drivers. Automakers can help open new marketplaces and be a key beneficiary as they develop.
6) Harnessing tech advancements
The entire supply chain is ripe for tech advancement. But this can’t be done in silos. Industry collaboration required to drive innovation at pace. No one has limitless resources.
Business model will be king. The old way of doing things has been proven to be insufficient as geopolitics, the pandemic, parts shortages, and inflation disrupted supply chains. Amid increasing focus on decarbonization across all sources of emissions, including vehicles, facilities, and suppliers; and a more acute focus on materials, including batteries, steel, aluminum, and plastics. There will be a higher demand from these materials, such as higher utilization of batteries.
7) Workforce re-tooling and re-skilling
Last but certainly not least, there is an urgent need to focus on education and re-education to ensure people are prepared for the future world. Not only is there a need for different skills, but there are also needs for entirely new jobs vs. what’s been done in the past.
While there has been in certain industries an increased emphasis on the well-being of workforces, particularly following the pandemic, there needs to be for more attention paid to the readiness of workers to compete and thrive in an entirely new economy.