Friday, April 3, 2009

The U.S. is Going to Miss the Biggest Opportunity of the 21st Century

Electric vehicles are the wave of the future. Bio-diesel (algae, bacteria), and electric, and combinations of the two are where the future lies. But the U.S. is going to blow it.

For most of the 20th century, the U.S. was the world leader in car manufacturing. This is no longer the case and it looks like the mammoth dinosaurs that are called "Detroit" are so hidebound as to be unable to cope with the coming changes. Now it's looking like the whole thing is going to go bankrupt in the U.S.

But cars are not dead. In fact, there will be more car sales in the 21st century than in the 20th century as the billion people in China, and the billion people in India reach a level of income that enables them to have cars. The U.S. car industry could be there, ready for the market, but it won't be.

In order to change this, just about everything from the past must be dropped and new procedures put in place, from corporate governance down to the lowest position in the company. Design cycles must be vastly accelerated. It's no longer possible to spend five years taking a car from concept to production. In five years, all of the technology changes, and any product that passes through the standard Detroit design cycle will be obsolete before it hits the streets. Consider the Chevy Volt. How long have we been hearing about it? Years. And it's still years from introduction. That's ridiculous.

Will it get fixed? I doubt it. But there's a tremendous opportunity sitting there. The U.S. could again become the leading car maker in the world with the latest technology and best value. But I fear it will not happen. By the time things change in the U.S., if they change, market leadership will have already moved to Asia where the problem is understood and companies move much more quickly to adapt to technology and changing markets.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/02/business/global/02electric.html?th&emc=th

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