From Design Maestros to connected mobility, and back.
Tales from the next automotive futures.
Before the concept of connected mobility existed, in 1968, the young but already celebrated “Maestro” of car design, Giorgio “Giorgetto” Giugiaro, left Bertone to start up his boutique firm, ItalDesign, located near Turin, Italy. By 1990, the company had hundreds of specialized workers, with subsidiary companies from model making to industrial design, from management to highly skilled blue collars, capable to service the best brands in the automobile industry worldwide, having literally invented formats like the Volkswagen Golf Mark I, the FIAT Panda, the Lancia Thema and having presented a string of historical breakthrough concepts at shows and fairs. Nowadays, ItalDesign Giugiaro is still a strong creative and technical team, however under the solid umbrella of the VW group, that acquired it from its founder and his son.
From design masters….
For the whole second half of the XX Century, Turin and its region were the Italian car design paradise valley, with firms like PininFarina, IDEA Institute, Ghia and aforementioned Bertone and ItalDesign. In the transition of the car from top luxury exclusive item to popular product and consumable standard, the Italians managed to combine their family company small firm governance with their historical mastery of design and craftsmanship, acquiring a worldwide status of leadership in the invention and realization of exterior, interior and technical solutions to enjoy driving. Fast forward to 2017, and you will find that Pininfarina has been acquired by Mahindra of India, Bertone went bankrupt and even their historical collection of prototypes is at stake, and the City of Turin has reconverted from fast cars to a variety of economic sectors, from slow food and charming tourism as its core DNA. The automotive industry rapidly changed in just about two decades, with international brands like Chrysler or Volvo that were acquired within much larger groups (FCA and Geely, respectively), and mass luxury brands like Rover of the UK or Lancia of Italy de facto disappearing, or coming to a sad end. What is the “big picture” for the next decade? The automotive industry 4.0, or connected mobility sector, might look much more like the mobile communication sector of the last two decades, than the car sector of the past.
… to connected mobility….
Recently, the authors had the privilege to engage in an informal dialog with the managing director of an industrial design affiliation to a luxury automotive leader. Off the line of any formal probing, this creative veteran articulated his impression on how the automotive sector might be collectively following a curve similar to Blackberry and the smartphone ecosystem. BlackBerry were the ones who invented the ecosystem, they therefore assumed never to be challenged and therefore they chose engineering value over social value of their offering. The tale of Blackberry and Apple, of engineering versus connectivity, of first entrant versus challenger are known. But, more pertinent to the automotive industry, is the clash between an innovation platform with a 3 year horizon to market, and a software development process made of frequent releases within the same year.
And while OEMs are pushing hard against the development of a car operating system – because they fear the commoditization of the hardware in the software lead revolution of MS DOS and MS Windows – they are the one who don’t realize that the only think that counts is what consumers want. And consumers want seamless connected experience. Those experiences are phone centric today, but will not necessarily be phone centric in the near future, as proven by the heavily investments that the big tech companies are making beyond the smartphone.
At the level of mass mobility solution, there is only one path for OEM pass through the consumers, and while it is also digital as that is part of the experience, OEMs need to understand that consumers come first and digital comes second in the equation. The most compelling error would be to move their own focus from the mechanical engineering vision, to a digital vision, which is not by default consumer based.
…. to connected mobility craftsmanship
For the great craftsmen and the “genius pencils” of the Turin automobile boutiques, there is still a different path to success: that if very limited editions of collections of luxury models, wholly Made in Italy and by hand. This because one can expect a “backlash trend” in the automotive sector, with more and more digital / electric Tesla’s of this world on the roads, soon autonomously driven by terabytes of AI on board, while the most affluent and distinguished collectors will seek the historical excellence, just like Quartz mechanisms in the 1970’s and smart watches in the 2010’s have only strengthened the appeal of the most sophisticated complications, that will continue to retail at thousands of dollars each.