The history of the automotive industry is chock full of innovative thinkers from its very first days, yet – for most of that history – innovation of anything beyond the conceptual drawing board remained generally only within the reach of the titans of industry, and their large-scale design and industrial manufacturing capabilities.
While this economy-of-scale-based paradigm has nearly always been true – innovation has flourished in spite of it, mainly within the aftermarket sector, that has created myriad opportunities for modifiers, hot-rodders, tuners, accessorizers, and physical "hackers" of every kind – which, in turn, indirectly increased the values of the vehicles themselves. Just look at the annual SEMA show to see how much real-world innovation is done outside the walls of the OEMs, and how much desire there is to contribute to overall industry innovation and improve the enjoyment of the consumer experience. The best “platforms” are actually more valuable because of the vast range of accessories and modifications available. What would an F150 be worth without the vast availability of caps, covers, storage bins, trailers, campers, tents, and other various accessories?
In addition, within the last 20 years, we’ve seen an acceleration of even broader industry innovation. As industrial design and manufacturing has become more democratized, electrification has become mainstream, software innovation has exploded, and piles of new investment money has entered the space – we’ve seen some exciting new manufacturers emerge and become viable niche companies. The latest of which, of course, is Tesla – which is well on its way to becoming the first new-era established mass-market automotive brand.
At the same time, we’ve seen an explosion in the democratization of software development – with Apple leading the way in the creation and blossoming of its open developer ecosystem. The likes of Google, Amazon, Samsung, Salesforce and others have taken different approaches to building their own open developer ecosystems in Apple’s shadow, but with no less benefit to their top and bottom lines, and to the richness of contribution to their products.
These smartphones, tablets, and other smart devices and open developer platforms they’ve each created offer a useful analogy here – take a look at how many of the applications on your smartphone were developed by someone other than Apple, Google, or Amazon – and realize that this open, external contribution concept has not only driven massive unit sales for nearly all of them over that timeframe, but also fueled their transformations, in large part, from hardware unit-sales-based giants into subscription-and-services-based software behemoths. The creativity that has made these ecosystems so productive and highly successful can also be applied to OEMs, vehicles, and fleets.