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Thought Leadership

January 29, 2021

Conversations: Rethinking Automotive

We had a conversation with Peter Wriebe of Audi, where we talked about the changing future, about collaboration compared to competition, about growth coming from concepts and not only products, and about what all of this means for him and for Audi right now.

Audi and the definition of performance

How much horsepower do I need to get across town on a busy city street?

It is not new that our world is changing. More people are moving into cities, and this urbanization is creating new transportation needs which are very different than the needs passenger cars have historically been built to address.

How much horsepower do I need to get across town on a busy city street?

What people are looking for today, especially in an urban environment, are on-demand solutions for different types of transportation and mobility needs. The car is, and will continue to be, an expression of personality and identity. This is especially relevant for premium brands like Audi. Trends such as sustainability and urbanization trigger changes in values, leading people to add new values to existing value sets. As with many trends, the choice is rarely either/or.

Driving is still an exciting experience of performance. Except that now we can add additional attributes to traditional definitions of performance. “CO2 neutrality” and “surf mode in cities” can join “speed and acceleration on highways” to give new meaning to the term “performance”. In order to stay relevant, Audi is closely following up on these trends and launching new products like the A3 e-tron.

“There is no box anymore, so it’s time to stop trying to think outside of it.”

It makes sense to start thinking about mobility in a totally new way

Will there even be a traditional automotive industry for much longer?

What if consumers start using personal pods for all of their transportation needs? Their pod docks outside their skyscraper apartment, and when they want to go somewhere, they step into their pod, which glides down the outside of the building, merges into the citywide network of raised tracks, enters the high-speed track to the airport and joins the security clearance queue before being loaded onto the airplane.

For the time being, that picture still seems a long way away. Even if it never actually happens exactly like that, if you think about Elon Musk’s Hyperloop concept, we really have to say that it makes sense to start thinking about mobility in a totally new way.

The idea of “the automobile industry” as a defined box simply doesn’t exist anymore, if it ever did exist. It’s a mental construction that gives the impression of tidy organizations and borders. But if we continue to use it as a model for action, it will paralyze us with consequences that need no further explanation.

Actually, I can foresee a similar danger with the term “mobility industry”. All of the interconnections being made possible by the internet of things, big data, etc. are already radically changing the options and opportunities that we have available to us. Instead, “the connected life” is a term I like. Everything is connected to everything else, and for us to continue to be relevant, we will also need to be intertwined and connected.

So what does that mean for us as a traditional car manufacturer? What will be the value of Audi as a premium brand? How can we translate this into solutions which Audi will offer to its customers?

The world is changing, but so far, cars still have four wheels. We aren’t flying en masse yet, other than with conventional air travel, and most likely that will remain the case for quite a while. So, in the meantime, what kinds of problems can we solve for our clients? If we can identify that, we will know how to answer the question “Why Audi?”.

rethinking automotive body image

Interdisciplinary cooperation to find new solutions

I recently had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine who works at Schindler Group. He suggested creating a network of interconnected moving sidewalks, bridges, escalators, tunnels, elevators. Why not moving streets instead of moving vehicles? Either way, our joint expertise could be used to establish feasibility, as well as to map out the most suitable and cost-efficient solutions for the long term.

An idea like this intrigues me. For example, it is generally a challenge to get from meeting to meeting at the Audi campus in Ingolstadt, because that normally means getting from building to building, and we have a lot of them.

When I hear an idea like the one suggested by my friend at Schindler, I wonder how it could be applied and tested. Why not transform the Audi campus into a real life “mobility test lab”? There is no means of transportation that is not already at Audi, including helicopters and auto-piloted vehicles. It would allow us to test small and scale big. All this combined with an app which tells you how long and what means of transportation you need in order to arrive on time at your meeting. It goes without saying that predicted and actual travel times will be automatically added to your diary.

Convergence means completely new opportunities as well as completely new competitors

Who are our competitors?

Is Schindler a partner to us or a competitor? If Schindler finds a partner somewhere to build that kind of interconnected campus, how should we view them if we are not that partner? If Schindler can do that for a corporate campus or within a city, can they also connect cities with each other?

How fast could a moving sidewalk go? Could a pod or a Google car hop onto that kind of high-speed escalator/sidewalk and then just sit there as it gets accelerated to another city?

I think sometimes we underestimate what the Googles and Apples of this world can achieve when it comes to mobility, and just how far they are extending their reach, even as we speak. There is no reason why either of them couldn’t buy a conventional car manufacturer if they wanted to. Money will not be an issue.

So the question “Who are our competitors?” is a valid one, and one that needs to be broadened to include non-generic producers.

Innovation — the combination of things existing

Especially in the developing markets, the speed of innovation is accelerating

That is a quote from Fredrik Härén, a Swedish thinker on creativity and innovation. Härén states that, especially in the developing markets, the speed of innovation is accelerating because people living in those countries have the ability to combine the best from different worlds, while people living in developed markets very much try to protect the status quo.

What’s true for countries is also true for companies.