If You Know The Future Of The Auto Industry, These Guys Would Like To See You
Predicting the future is tricky business. It’s hard to predict the future of an industry, especially the automobile industry. 10 years ago many industry exec’s thought that mainstream vehicles achieving close to 100mpg would be commonplace. Jurgen Hubbert, once Chief of the passenger car division for Mercedes-Benz AG said in a 1996 interview with Automobile Magazine we will have “innovative new combustion engines. We will have fuel economy between 56 and 95mpg”. He thought this would happen by 2006. Well, it’s February 2006 and I’m still waiting.
One of the more famous predictions came from a legend in the North American auto industry. Lee Iacocca was speaking to Carroll Shelby (another legendary figure) in 1971 about the future of Toyota in North America. Shelby had just been offered a Toyota dealership in California and wanted to know why Iacocca thought it would be a bad idea. Iacocca went on to say “because we’re going to kick their asses back into the Pacific Ocean”. Iacocca was wrong and Toyota has grown to become the richest car company in the world.
But not all predictions are wrong. 10 years ago many automobile executives predicted that hybrids would become more popular by 2006. Clearly they were right. Others placed their bet on electric vehicles. Needless to say, they were wrong. Everyone has an opinion about the automobile industry, but few can predict with any certainty what’ll happen next year, let alone in the next decade.
Over the last 10 years we’ve seen a new love affair with rear wheel drive cars, more fuel efficient engines, and safer vehicles. Hybrids are gaining popularity and the SUV is making way for the crossover utility vehicle. 10 years ago Chrysler was a purely American company and BMW just bought Rover. Since then, Daimler-Benz “merged” (read bought) Chrysler Corp. to form DaimlerChrysler and BMW admits buying Rover was a huge mistake (they have since sold it). Nissan is now largely owned by Renault, Porsche owns 20% of Volkswagen and General Motors and Ford are shedding tens of thousands of jobs in hopes of being around for the next 10 years.
10 years from now we’ll almost certainly have far more fuel efficient drivetrains, widely used GPS systems, and more niche vehicles. It’ll be a different decade than the one gone by, but as Yogi Berra once said, “The future ain’t what it use to be”.