Earlier today, a press release went out confirming my next professional role to lead the Mobility Services and Customer Journeys efforts for NEVS. A super exciting step in a world that is undergoing massive change and an industry that is on the brink of the biggest transformation since the T-Ford came to market. The way people are getting around is changing forever and being able to contribute to that change from a new desk at Saabvägen 5 in Trollhättan, Sweden feels incredible.
The times are changing
The first Consumer Electronics Show (CES) event was held in 1967 in New York. CES has grown into the leading event globally since and quite some products debuted at CES in the years that followed: the VCR (1970), the DVD (1996) and 3D Printers (2014) to name just a few. So why is this important to us here at Saabblog? Well, besides it being a huge event with lots of cool gadgets on display, CES actually is a big indicator as to what it happening in the technology world at large. This years’ CES event in January in Las Vegas hosted was attended by more than 170,000 people from all over the world and had a record number of exhibitors in its automotive section. Automotive section? Yes, many of the major car manufacturers and their suppliers were present, including Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Daimler, Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Toyota and even Volkswagen. Newcomer Faraday Future turned the event into a launch party for their new concept car (with a quite interesting approach to modular design) and there was a centre stage position for the CEO of General Motors. GM put a huge stake in the ground with the launch of their new Chevrolet Bolt. So what are all these automotive players doing at a consumer IT tradeshow?
The car as a platform
One of the key reasons why I believe one of my former employers Microsoft has become so successful is that they have consistently been treating pretty much all their products as a platform. Take Windows, take Office, take Dynamics, take even the Xbox. All of them can be used as individual products, but they have published interfaces that allow others to develop applications, services and peripherals on top of them. This encourages a huge ecosystem around the platform and drives innovation and greater choice that is benefiting everyone, not the least the end consumers. Since the PC, we’ve seen many other successful examples, such as the Android smartphone platform.
Let’s now take a car. Back in the 1900’s this was initially a proprietary product, with an end-to-end supply chain that was owned and controlled by the car manufacturer. Now, many years later, we see quite some collaboration within the supply chain, with parts that have been standardized and can be found in many different cars, even from totally different manufacturers.
The role of software
However, that’s the story on the hardware side. As Tom wrote in his “from hardware to software” earlier post, the car industry is changing fast into one where the hardware (the car) is still key, but where software is going to be playing a primary role. I am not just referring to the cars getting more intelligent with things like GPS, adaptive cruise control and side collision warning systems. Of course, you need software to control these functions too, but in relative terms, these are still pretty basic.
One of the keynote speakers at CES actually noted that the centre of gravity for the US car industry is gradually shifting from Detroit to Silicon Valley, where many of the IT companies are headquartered. Soon all new cars will be connected. That may sound pretty futuristic to some people, but it is just a given and its happening today. Many manufacturers have been offering connected cars for quite some time (as an example, GM’s OnStar system has been around for more than 20 years), but the functionality is dramatically expanding from things like automated crash response, vehicle diagnostics, door unlock, etc. to much more advanced functions like autonomous driving. But that’s not the end of it. I believe that the car will be a part of a larger ecosystem of software and business services that will be providing complete mobility solutions.
Relatively soon as it may not be obvious any longer that we own -or even drive- a car ourselves. Owning probably will still be important moving forward, but alternative usage models are being developed quickly to allow consumers to use a car when and where they want to. Think playing only the songs you want from a streaming service on subscription basis on any device you choose, versus buying the whole CD (or LP…) and being bound to your own equipment to listen to the music.
Car sharing programs are already available in more than a thousand cities around the world (e.g. Greenwheels, Zipcar and GoCar, but also manufacturer-driven services like Daimler’s Car2Go and BMW’s DriveNow), but this market is still in flux. Uber-competitor “Lyft” for example has now a partnership with GM to create a network of on-demand autonomous electric vehicles, a similar thought to what Panda New Energy is set out to do with NEVS in China.
There is also another important angle to this: cars are considered one of the world’s most underutilized resources. According a recent report by Morgan Stanley “Why Google and Apple may want to make your car”, an average private car is being used less than 5% of its capacity. Imagine a world where most of us transport ourselves in pooled vehicles that also (mostly) drive autonomously. That would mean that we could replace 10 to 15 of today’s cars. Add to this the transition from combustion engines to electric powertrains, things are getting pretty interesting indeed! But there will be more mobility services needed in order to serve the time-pressed, demanding consumers in an increasingly congested and polluted world. We’ll need to be shaping a more sustainable future of mobility -the NEVS vision-, a direction I very much believe in.
It feels somewhat unreal to be able to join the company. As many of you know, I’ve been a big SAAB-fan since I was in primary school. Over the years I’ve been able to collect some incredibly nice SAABs (among others a 9-5NG SportCombi), and every time when someone passing by our driveway admiring one of the cars was asking “hey Michèl, do you happen to work at SAAB?”, my wife or any of my children would be answering “not yet!”. But now I will be! While I obviously will be on the NEVS payroll and not on SAAB’s, being offered a key role in a place that has such a proud heritage around design, safety, quality and innovation is a huge privilege and simply the ultimate dream job.
It’s going to be a big change in many respects. First the commute between Stockholm and Trollhättan plus the odd trips to Beijing, Tianjin and other key locations around the world. Second: I suppose that working at a Swedish-Chinese car manufacturer will be quite different from running a team at a San Francisco-headquartered software company. But it’s going to be great fun and I am really looking forward to starting in a few weeks from now!
Moving on from Saabblog
This new beginning sadly also means an end to something else. In fact, the end to my role as an author on Saabblog.net. Ever since my first post in October 2014, I have greatly enjoyed the opportunity provided by Tom and Mark and the enormous engagement from all of you, the SAAB community. As I hope you will understand, for integrity reasons my new role at NEVS cannot be combined with contributing to an independent blog. I won’t be going far though… I’m aiming to remain a very frequent visitor of Saabblog.net! For anyone wanting to stay in touch with me directly, I can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org.