This week, there were two big conferences in the Detroit area focusing on new technology and opportunities in the auto industry -- TU-Automotive and ITS America.
There seems to be a new conference every other week tackling this same subject. Heck, we here at Automotive News are hosting one next week in Columbus, Ohio. (Click here if you want to attend.)
Part of the reason there are so many conferences is because change is hard. And the automotive industry has a long-standing reputation of resisting change. But as new transportation models take shape, that reputation may finally be evolving.
Automakers plan for the next generation of vehicles when the current generation is being launched, which has created a "burdensome, decision-oriented" culture, said Carla Bailo, CEO of the Center for Automotive Research.
"Every automaker is under attack today to change. That's why so many of them are talking about it," she said. "We can't run the business the same as always."
Because of the time it takes to develop vehicles and heavy regulation in the auto industry, "It's become very difficult to have a nimble, agile, no-fear-of-failure type of organization," she said.
Safety has become critical to automakers' brand identity and customer retention, Bailo added. So, the industry has become very cautious.
But even if automakers can't innovate vehicles as fast as they'd like, there are opportunities to innovate elsewhere in the company, said Rohit Bhargava, author and founder of Non-Obvious Company, which trains businesses on innovation and strategy.
"There are a lot of things in the sector that aren't necessarily about designing the car itself," he said. "How do we sell cars? How do we move them out the door? How do we engage with our customers to drive our loyalty programs?"
Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Co., said at a TED conference in 2011 that in the three decades he had worked for the company, "I worried about, how am I going to sell more cars and trucks? But today, I worry about, what if all we do is sell more cars and trucks? What happens when the number of vehicles on the road doubles, triples or even quadruples?"
He outlined fears of global gridlocks that could stifle economic growth and hinder the ability to distribute food and health care. "Our quality of life is going to be severely compromised," he said. "So, what's going to solve this? The answer isn't going to be more of the same."
So even though it may feel redundant to keep going to more and more conferences on technology and the automotive industry, monitoring the change is vital. These events keep people talking about the future and help them shift their focus to a new way of thinking.
-- Hannah Lutz