Quite by chance, as the Chevrolet Volt battery-fire reports surged this month, I attended a brainstorming session on automotive innovation.
The meeting, sponsored by T Systems and Automotive News, gathered a couple of dozen automotive executives charged with fostering innovation. Two statements from the discussion relate directly to the Volt:
-- Automakers generally shy away from being the first mover with technology.
-- To get more innovative, the auto industry needs to raise what one participant called its "failure tolerance level."
Where GM has been in the past couple of weeks pretty much defines the term "bleeding edge." Even though no one has been hurt by fires in Volt batteries, the Volt's image has been tarnished.
But that's part of the deal: New technology is inherently risky. And for a well-timed, well-executed move, the rewards can be great -- witness Toyota's success with the Prius.
We undoubtedly will see more problems as the industry tries to meet tighter fuel economy and emissions limits. It shouldn't be surprising if projects like the Volt -- and the Tesla Roadster, Coda Sedan, Nissan Leaf and Fisker Karma -- hit the occasional rough patch.
It's unclear whether electrified vehicles will achieve the utility and pricing to attract mass-market customers. But we need to find out, which means we must have risk-takers. Failures will be part of the process.