How would you like the challenge of having to invest in a completely new type of motor vehicle?
I have always admired Hal Sperlich, the ex-Ford and -Chrysler executive who was one of the best product guys that ever came down the pike. He conceived the minivan. He thought it up. He couldn't sell it to his bosses at Ford. But when he moved to Chrysler, he launched the minivan and probably saved the company. Even after 15 years, Chrysler's share of the minivan market is astounding, and the company's minivan is still considered best in class.
Have we invented all the new concepts that will ever happen? No. In fact, we're going to see a couple new ones in the next few months. Chrysler is putting into production a retro-looking vehicle that the government is going to call a truck. I don't know what consumers will call it. The PT Cruiser may just be a new niche. I predict it will be a smash success with younger folks, and Chrysler will be able to sell all it can build.
Ford is about to unleash another category. The Lincoln Blackwood is a brand-new vehicle. Whether it's a sport-utility or a pickup truck is moot; it's going to sell like hot cakes to a bunch of upscale folks who want a truck but need four doors and creature comforts. Ford Division will follow shortly with its less expensive version of the same type of vehicle.
In Europe, Renault broke the mold. The Megane Scenic is still the hottest model in a brand-new category of mini-minivan. Now, just about everybody there is introducing a version of that vehicle, including General Motors' hot Zafira.
There is no limit to the creativity of the automobile companies. There's a constant stream of completely new products that defy definition. Whether it's the minivan or the sport-utility, the auto industry has been throwing new products at the consumer ever since the business was born more than 100 years ago. And consumers constantly want the latest and greatest.
It's great to improve an existing product. But when you create another minivan or whatever category, that's a touch of genius. And it doesn't happen often. Plus, it usually requires a leap of faith of many hundreds of millions of dollars.
At every automobile show in the world, it's always possible to see the next brand-new category of vehicle. That's why this industry is always exciting, and that's why it's always interesting.