Ten years ago, industry consultant James Womack preached lean production. The auto industry responded, spending billions of dollars to implement many of his ideas.
Now Womack, co-author of Lean Thinking and The Machine That Changed The World, is proposing another bold step forward.
Womack told the Automotive News World Congress that consumers are moving away from the concept of vehicle ownership and, in the future, may not want the hassle of constantly buying or leasing vehicles. Instead, he proposes that a single entity will strike deals with individual consumers to provide them with the vehicle of their choice whenever they need it.
'Indeed, you might think of my driveway as a place to put the vehicle I need at the moment,' he said. 'But I want them available when I need them to do the things I need done.'
Womack, founder and president of the Lean Enterprise Institute in Brookline, Mass., calls the proposed entity 'a mobility provider.'
It is unlikely that the automakers or the traditional auto dealer could provide this hassle-free service, he said. The mobility provider has to be free of bias on what it offers in the way of products, Womack said.
People could order different vehicles at different times for different purposes, he said.
For an automaker to provide this service, it would have to buy enough badges 'so he's sort of got one of everything - a performance car, a rugged car, a safety car, a good-value car, maybe a sport-utility,' Womack said. 'If that's the case, that's fine.'
In 1990, Womack told automakers that Toyota was so far ahead of them that they should just copy Toyota's production system. But Toyota has not had a new idea since 1950, he said. It is a wonderful company and a fantastic implementer, but Toyota isn't going to be breaking any new ground, he said.
'They're not going to lead this,' Womack said. 'So who else? That's the issue. I honestly don't know who that is.'
These mobility providers may do things differently. There is no reason that each has to provide this service exactly the same way, he said.
'There's an awful lot of smart people from outside the industry who, to me, are the most likely people to come in and do something really dramatic,' Womack said. 'It's very hard for the traditional players to break free.'
Womack said there is a tremendous amount of frothing, a tremendous amount of not very well thought through experimentation, and nobody to copy.
Said Womack: 'So that means you have to do it yourself. Somebody has to do some invention.'
Womack also said that the auto industry is feeling good about itself today.
'There's this overwhelming feeling in this town, at the auto show, that the war has been won,' Womack said. 'Been there, done that, made the lean leap.'
But from an outsider's perspective, he said, the automakers and their Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers are still getting the same 3 percent or 4 percent return on sales that they were getting before they restructured.
'What you have is record dollar profits, but also record dollar sales,' Womack said. 'What that means, car stocks have totally missed the boom of the '90s. This is not the place anyone wanted to put their money.'