Is there a future for the auto industry? Re-engineer the whole scene.

The auto industry can not survive in its present form, that’s clear. Wanna torture yourself with the recollection of its main features: the quality (poor), effectiveness (low), competitiveness (weak), brand preception (no comment), or frugality (don’t even mention it)? Rather not.

Aggravated with the chronic disease called deteriorating dependency ratio, and you have a deadly cocktail. When taxpayers’ money is about to pour in, it is high time to have a look, what is that value that should be safeguarded, and what features can be cut down under the terms of cost control. We don’t have to look for dissillusioned voices with headlight, economics pundits overwhelmingly say: it’s been screwed for good, stop building cars. To come up with history and pride? Come on, this movie is screened in another theatre. Forget about all those “oh, but we have so many more ideas about how to fix this” – profits will not come back. There is one single value that is worth keeping: the jobs. But keeping up a loss-making industry to keep jobs is the habit of the communist systems, you will not want to go this way. And in mass production, the U.S. will not be in the black ever again. Period.

Not until workers actually work in the factories, and are not substituted in 100% by robots. Then again, what about the jobs?

So, is there a way to keep a big part of the jobs in or around this industry AND not making massive losses?

How do you like this: re-engineer the whole scene. Forget the old wisdoms of car making, and build an ecosystem open for innovation that is worthy to the 21st century, and try to keep jobs in a flexible, competitive industry.

And here is a step-by-step guide how this can happen:

 

Act fast

 

1.) Don’t do bailout. Invest in the future.

 

How much is it worth to keep 1+ million workplaces AND build a cleaner future (you know, less health expenses, …) AND diminish dependence on foreign oil? Put THAT money together, and consider as an investment into the future. You don’t do this to give kool-aid to a hopless industry. It doesn’t deserve it.

(Nor the financial institutions deserve the bailout – but it was the theme of an older post about bringing radical openness into the financial sector.)

 

2.) Win some time

 

Bail-out for keeping jobs in the short run and get enough time for thorough reorganisation.

 

3.) Cut losses

 

Skip the majority of car production, keep only the best performing few. Don’t make cars that do not bring profit instantly. Do not produce to feed the assembly lines, it just adds to the losses.

 

4.) Cut dead-end R&D

 

Skip all running development, except some directed at electric engines, safety and the like. Do not plan any single new car in the old system. Consider keeping Chevy Volt? The Chinese are already there. With half the price-tag.

 

 

Build the future …

 

5.) Empower innovators – create a module system for plug-and-play car making [EMPOWERING 1]

 

Use the free laboratories and factories for developing a standard system of interchangeable car parts. The system should be as simple to use as the cooperation of plug-and-play devices in the computer industry.

Do not lock-in any research team or institution: announce a true competition, time-share research facilities and workforce among the winners (there is workforce in tons – jobs kept temporarily with the bailout, yet not much else to do). 

Use facilities in a 24/7 base, apply agile development methods, since there is not much time: the transitory situation can not be upheld for long.

 

6.) Outsource mass production

 

When standards are set up, outsource ALL mass production. Mass production of parts, not whole cars: chassis, suspension, drivetrain, electric motors, batteries, etc. (I am serious here, so no engines, gas-fuel tanks, and other ridiculous ideas about running cars on the juice of dead animals, please.)

 

7.) “The 10.000 DELLs of auto industry”

[EMPOWERING 2]

 

Give small teams and entrepreneurs a go: Let them purchase the parts and put custom tailored cars together. Since parts are really unexpensive now, those few hours of manpower dedicated to putting together these huge LEGO vehicles keeps the whole business in the black.

Let them hire the facilities remaining from the big 3 and from the major parts makers, if they wish, or help them set up boutique manufacturies. How to deal the rest infrastructure? Goto point 8.

What about the car body, side panels, the roof? Model it from paper or plastic. Sans blague. Use 3D printers, or whatever. Just look around for flexible solutions.

That these cars are going to be less safe than today’s cars?

Maybe they are going to have less strong bodies, but accidents and injuries are going to be substantially fewer than today:

– The majority of the passive protection will be provided by pre-fabricated parts. A soft outer skin can hide strong door-beams, etc, so these car are not going to be considerably weaker than the present ones.

– Putting together the already existing active safety technologies, we can build crashless cars. If you are smart, you don’t have to be so strong. (A primary lesson of evolution.)

– Build in electronic speed limit. Not convinced? Read point 9.

 

8.) “The Amazons of the auto industry”

 

The remains of the big companies could act as retailers (like the Amazon for … everything else), and R&D facilities.

What about the remaining facilities, and the bigger part of factories themselves? Just sell them to the highest bidder. You get a small percentage of your investment back.

 

 

… and live in it

 

When everything is done, you will need to take some measures outside the auto industry.

 

9.) Regulate maximum speed at 80 miles electronically.

 

These cars may be not so well built together in terms of passanger safety as today’s models. But technology is quite advanced to secure fair safety, if the speed limits are held. Limit speed electronically, just a little bit above the legal limit as default. Lower limits can be set through wireless tools locally.

If you would like to go for a fast ride to closed race tracks, you can buy traditionals cars that go faster than this, but you have to pay a bigger price. (A sort of tax that may eventually go into rescue team and post-accident rehabilitation funds.) And you have a black box pre-installed in your car to curb arguments.

 

10.) Gas stations: refurbished to charging up electric cars. And to do much more else. [EMPOWERING 3]

 

We seem to forget about the gas stations. Around 100.000 of them in the US they employ roughly the same number of people as the auto industry itself. What happens to them in a future with less need for gas?

The majority of car owners will recharge their cars at home, but in some cases, they go to the electric stations, whenever they need a fast charge, a cheaper charge, or just small adjustments and maintenance or cleaning.

And – most important of all – some of them can become boutique factories describen in point 7. They are in a good spot, they are close to the customers, and they can become an universal car service point known once as garage.

 

Familiy legend has it, that my grandfather – a co-owner of the family-run garage – used to travel with his brother to Budapest from the small town in the south of Hungary, where he lived, to pick up the freshly delivered Renault or Mercedes truck under-body complete with engine, drivetrain, suspension, wheels and brakes. That was all. No seats, no bonnet, no doors, nothing at all. They would fasten a wooden plank to the under-body to be able to sit down, and off they went. They strode the 200 km on the naked skeleton of a truck, freezing even in summer at the neck-breaking 35 miles / hour speed.

At home, they started work. They have built one such skeleton into a delivery vehicle for the post office. Another one into a butcher’s wagon, with a smart cooling system using the exhaustion gas as energy source. And many others have been built to serve as buses for the local public transport, travelling until the 1950’s, when the new models of the centralized heavy industry of the communist state have finally substituted them.

manufactured bus from 1926

manufactured bus from 1926

 

But that was not all they did. They functioned also as a dealership for a range of brands, they acted as a regular service and maintenance point, and they stored many cars for the night. Once there, they also filled them up with gas.

Returning from the benign family memory, this model is makes sense today again. We see everywhere a distancing from old-school mass production, and the coming of a personally tailored manufacture. This is also possible in the auto industry, especially if we want it to be possible. Most of the counter-arguments about the superiority of mass production has been washed away by the going down of the big 3, while we can see only advantages on the other side: healthier competition, better geographical spread of employment (you can set up a station/garage in any part of the country, you don’t have to move to the Rust Belt), customers better served.

 

11.) Building blocks to a greener future

 

The idea of having a lot of electric cars is fine, but the positive impact on the environment can be multiplied when the whole scene is re-engineered.

 

: Charging up at stations can help to build a new set of electricity providers with less cost.

How could charging be cheaper at stations than at home? It is easier to build some special wires with uneven electric loads to some 100.000 spots than to build them to every single house. Why cheaper? Because car stations/garages will convert current into charge whenever they get cheap current in big loads. And electricity is cheaper in windy times, isn’t it? I repeat: electricity is cheaper in windy times, and when the sun shines, and when there is an ebb-flow change in the oceans, right? (You think its utopia? Read the Scientific American feature article on the issue.)

The biggest hurdle in devising a renewable energy source system is more and more the storing, and not the producing of electricity. If periodically uneven output is not a problem, the whole system can be set up with lower costs. If stations/garages convert energy into battery charge at peak output times, they make the load of the system more even.

One more important thing: charging up should be fast. As fast as filling with fuel. Say: you have 2 minutes.

No way to do it? Then consider these possibilities:

Replaceable batteries

– Filling in charged liquid

 

: Sharing cars

Time-sharing ownership and micro-rent are growing opportunities. They have not really taken off yet, but imagine: what would happen, if we had some 100.000 small entrepreneurs liberated from the business captivity of the major oil companies, thinking wildly about new and innovative ways to serve their motorist clients?

Auto type change – using a two-seater during the week, and taking a van for the weekend?

Vehicle type change – arriving by car, hopping on a scooter?

Taking a car just once a week for a 4 hours shopping rush?

Let a whole range of independent entrepreneurs / business innovators try out things, and watch carefully, what stucks. Anything is good that diminishes the number of per capita owned cars.

 

: Change of attitude towards the means of transport

The new way to produce them, the new materials brought in with 3D printing change our physical perception of cars. The more ephemeral relationship of using them, rather than owning, change our emotional liaison towards them.

Cars become more a suitable tool for changing place, and less an oversized, and expensive visit card (or, as many put it, a penis enlargement – and in some cases, replacement – tool) they tend to be today.

Maybe some day public transport takes off again. (And we know, that the GM was – at least – not fully innocent in its demise.)


 

Fix auto industry – EMPOWERING factor: 3

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One Response

  1. […] it depends on me, the auto industry is saved. How? Read this one: https://koppanyvarga.wordpress.com/2008/12/10/re-engineer-auto-industry/ « előző | koppanyvarga — 2008. 12. 17. […]

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