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My Own Personal Automotive Disruption

Feb. 5, 2019
It’s impossible to ignore the profound changes shaking up the automotive industry. It’s equally impossible not to get excited about them.

I’m not a car person. Give me a relatively comfortable ride that gets me from here to there without trouble and I’m happy. Dependability trumps all. I typically hang onto my cars until they fall apart under my fingertips.

I’m also not a technology person when it comes to cars. I still remember when I struggled over whether I wanted to purchase a vehicle with electronic locks and windows. In my mind you couldn’t beat the dependability of manual operations for these two processes. Moreover, each year I built up a nice muscle in my left arm once the weather was warm enough to roll my driver’s side window open. That said, I now thoroughly embrace electronics for these functions. I can’t deny the speed and efficiency gains.

But even as recently as two weeks ago, I rented a car that introduced me to something new: the push-button start. No need for a key. I’m still debating the overall benefit of that, but I’m not against it.

I give you that short romp through my car-owning history because it serves as prelude to what I previously would have thought was impossible: I may be becoming a car person. Even a tech person when it comes to cars.

It sort of snuck up on me as I was doing research for an article. It’s hard not to pay attention when you read comments like this one from Toyota Motor Co. President Akio Toyoda: “The automotive industry is now hurtling into an era of profound transformation, the likes of which come only once every 100 years.” He likened the scope of the transformation to that which occurred 80 years when his grandfather, Kiichiro Toyoda, set about “redesigning” Toyota from a corporate group that made looms to one that made automobiles. It’s heady stuff that can’t be ignored.

Of course, it’s not just Toyota, or even primarily Toyota. It’s Elon Musk, who, whether you are a fan of him or not, has raised the awareness of how exciting manufacturing can be, both inside and outside of the automotive industry. I’d be curious if there is a measure to gauge the degree to which he has reinvigorated the interest of youth in manufacturing as a career.

It’s the idea of fully autonomous vehicles for broad consumption, today more real than ever before—no longer sneaking up on us but racing toward a visible starting line. That appeals to me on multiple fronts, but primarily because of the mobility and independence it will return to populations for whom traditional transportation does not suffice.

It’s the challenge of electrification. How can we increase the distance between charges without ever bigger batteries? How can we bring down the costs? The speed of technology transformation in this area is lagging our automotive dreams. But it is a fascinating area for research.

It is even the idea that people will no longer want to own cars, that our whole relationship with transportation is being turned on its head.

It’s all that and more. How can you not be a car person, even a tech person when it comes to cars, in the face of this disruption?

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