Issue: Nov 2012


Why do we bother?



Industry outsiders must often wonder just why such obviously talented high-energy people choose to remain in a sector which seems to be under a constant state of siege.

by Ed Richardson

Truth be told, seldom does one find a relaxed-looking auto executive. In good times, we can’t make enough cars, and in bad we can’t move them out of the stockyards fast enough. Either way there’s stress. And, if one is running a traditional Western company, there’s the added strain of pressure building from low-cost producers in the East. Not only do they make cars for less, but their quality is improving exponentially.
But, as the infomercials say, “there’s more”. Consumers (wouldn’t business life be wonderful without the demands of customers) are becoming more demanding, and governments want engines to burn cleaner and use less fuel. Both have tremendous power – consumers in the form of their discretionary spending, and government through legislation.
I could go on, but you get the picture. Perhaps you will now be asking yourself the same questions. But, before you dust off your resume and apply for a job in an ice cream factory, ask yourself what other industry is as rewarding and – frankly – as much fun?
Let’s start with the product. For most, a car is an emotional purchase. People are making a personal statement and lifestyle choice when they buy a car. Our challenge in the industry is to reward that choice every time the motorist gets behind the wheel. The technology we are using to achieve that is becoming ever more sophisticated as industry-wide quality standards ensure that every new vehicle on the road is fully functional. In short, they work. Some are faster than others, some use hybrid power systems, and some drive through all four wheels. But, they all get the motorist from A to B.
Buyers are, therefore, looking at design and style in order to make a statement. As we see in Automotive Industries, Tier 1 suppliers have developed paints, glass systems and plastics materials which have given designers unprecedented freedom that is only constrained by the physical forces of drag and minimum ground clearance. So, there’s a car and color for you, whether you want to look funky, sexy, macho or standard issue business. And, if all you want is a cheap and reliable people mover, you’ll find that too.
The next generation of differentiators are, therefore, not found in the traditional physical appearance of the vehicle, power plant under the hood, or in the suspension and safety systems. Those are all a given. A nice parallel is the personal computer. When they first came onto the market, one spent hours poring over the specs, calculating whether they would be able to run the programs one was using. Now, we choose what looks best, weighs the least, and falls within our budget. Every new computer will have the power to do the job.
That same computing power is now helping OEMs to differentiate their models. Computer chips control the ambient lighting, adjust the seat, set the air conditioning, and manage complex multi-media systems which also connect vehicle and driver to “the cloud”.
So, to come back to the original question, we have to ask why anyone with an ounce of creativity and ambition chooses any other industry. No other sector provides equal opportunities to be at the leading edge of such a variety of disciplines – from the art of design to the science of creating new chemical compounds.
Next time you’re having a bad day, go out and kick a tire – and marvel at the machine you helped create.


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