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20152/16

Upsetting the Apple Cart

Dear All,

My friend John Sahs, a project lead designer at Nissan Design America, posted this article on Facebook last week.

It is by Jay Yarow on the Business Insider website and part of the recent flood of rumours about Apple building an “iCar”. Towards the end Jay Yarow says, “It would be surprising if Apple made a car since Apple makes its money selling personal computers like the iPhone, the iPad, and the Mac. It will be selling the Apple Watch, its most personal computer ever, as the company calls it.

A car is not a computer. And unlike those other gadgets, a car has a longer upgrade cycle, and crappier margins.”

After reading that, I made this comment on John’s post: “A car is not a computer. And unlike those other gadgets, a car has… …crappier margins.” …like mobile phones before the iPhone…? I’m assuming you’ve already sent off your CV, John.

John is an Apple fan…

His reply: “No CV’s. Love the people at Nissan Design America too much. I’m posting this story because now I can feel that we are now entering a paradigm shift and car manufacturers need to pay attention, because these tech companies have the resources to change how we develop a car.”

…that set off a private FB conversation between us which, after getting John’s permission, I think is worth posting – the gist of – here, because it makes pretty clear what I think of the possible futures for car design:
John: Thanks for the comments on my post. When you have a feeling that innovation is going to be in abundance in the next decade, you get kind of excited.

Me: I agree we are in for another decade of huge changes driven by AI, communications and materials technology. The main drag on innovation in the auto industry until now has been the long lead times and huge investment necessary compared to other industries, not to mention the tight margins which discourage risk-taking.

If players like Apple and Google get involved on the product side, some of that will become irrelevant. Tesla has already caused some waves but their main impact so far is on the distribution side. At some point in the next decade there could well be a quantum change in the nature of personal transport.

My only worry is that wealth derived from the auto industry will become even more concentrated (Apple is already the most valuable corporation in the history of mankind, Google and Microsoft are not far behind – only Exxon splits them). Things could get nasty, and probably some very unexpected victims.

On the positive side, innovation has been outstripping people’s ability to predict the future at least since the start of the 21st Century. Anyone who says they know what the world will be like in 5 years’ time is a charlatan or a fool and there is every chance we will find ourselves living at the start of a sort of science fiction fantasy during our lifetimes.

After some social niceties and me telling John Envision should have some interesting announcements during this year and beyond, I finished with this:

BTW, completely pumped about the Nissan LM car. Even if it can’t win (Le Mans needs a lot more than just the fastest car), if it is competitive it will really set the cat amongst the pigeons in motorsport.

Just sayin’.

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