Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"Decision of the Week" - Building a 21st Century Car Company

OK, here goes...we're going to see if we can create some interaction on the site. This question is open to everyone, and all comments are welcome. I'm thinking this one relates to everyone (we almost all drive cars) and it relates to class, as we're taking a mix of Marketing, Operations, Technology and Accounting classes.

We've all been watching as the Big-3 US Auto companies fly to Washington DC and ask for money (bailout, bridge loans, etc.). I believe the total is somewhere between $25-$34B at this point. While these companies all have their share of HUGE challenges (retirement costs, union costs, inefficient operations, poor brand images, etc.), they also have a number of valuable assets (engineering knowledge, production facilities, etc.).  

So here's the question... 
What if the US Gov't (Congress, TARP, Treasury..whoever) decided that instead of giving the existing companies the $25-$34B, they were going to give it to you and asked you to create an automotive start-up. You'd be allowed to pick and choose from existing US Auto expertise, personal, facilities, suppliers, etc., because they all went under. How would you build a 21st century automotive company?  

Some initial thoughts...
My initial thought was to see if I could envision an automotive company being setup and run like a Silicon Valley company that sells hardware and software.  So this new company might look something like this:
  • Design - This would be a combination of world-class engineering talent (in-house) and the use of crowdsourcing efforts to continue to stimulate innovative ideas and leverage "proudly found elsewhere" mentality for global ideas.  Build communities of potential consumers to give you real-time feedback on potential designs and demands.
  • Production - Why do the automotive companies need to own their own plants?  I wouldn't advocate outsourcing all the production, especially since the funding came from US Taxpayers.  But I would advocate using some of the funding to kick-start a few production facilities that would be spun-off and allowed to compete against each other for the business.  
  • Sales and Distribution - We buy books and media from Amazon or iTunes.  We buy groceries and homegoods from Target.  But we have to go to a brand-specific dealer for a car?  No way does that model continue.  And I'm not even sure the Auto Superstores are the right answer either.  
  • Messaging & Vision - Maybe this is really advertising, but the American automotive companies really need to start making ads that create a desire to be in their cars. Knowing that I get the employee discount does nothing to give me that awesome feeling you get in a new car and the adventures it could bring.  
OK, that's a few starting points.  I'm interesting in other areas of innovation, or other aspects to consider for change.  Ideas are welcome....