Published on December 20th, 2016 | by Nicolas Zart0
The Disconnect Between CEO, Marketing & Engineering
December 20th, 2016 by Nicolas Zart
This year has been a gigantic marketing hyperbole of planned electric vehicles from mainstream carmakers. It’s not always easy separating cars of tomorrow, cars that are being built today, and those that probably won’t make it into production.
What makes it even worse is the disconnect between CEOs, marketing teams, and engineering teams, especially in light of actual deliverables.
VW Says No German EV Demand, Period
Mathias Muller stepped into one of the toughest jobs — how to bring back a media and consumer darling carmaker from a slam to its public image. It’s not easy, we’ll grant you that. But Muller has already said the oddest things, highlighting yet again the disconnect between management, engineering, and market demand. Case in point was a statement that there is no EV demand in Germany. Oops, he did it again. Another case of CEO, marketing, and engineering reality differences.
EV demand in Germany is … normal. It’s not wild, but it’s also not inexistent. Perhaps German buyers are a little more conservative when it comes to buying cars, but Germany — as well as Canada, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, Sweden, and the United Kingdom — all rank well for their high growth prospects between now and 2020, despite a low EV market size currently, according to Which-50.com. Acting now (beyond words and vaporware) is crucial, and 2022 to 2035 will be a different landscape altogether where startups will have surpassed mainstream carmakers.
Ford CEO Says No Demand Growth In The US, Justifies Stalling Focus Electric Development
Hours after the latest EV sales numbers came out (putting Ford in a relatively good position), Ford CEO Mark Fields announced that there is no market growth for electric cars. But then again, the company’s most profitable vehicles are the F-Series and Super Duty pickup trucks it has heavily promoted the past 5 years. Oops, he did it again. Yet another case of CEO, marketing, and engineering reality differences.
Yet, the Ford Focus Electric is a great EV. I have test driven almost all of them, including the Magna Steyr prototype in 2008, which already showed a lot of potential. The understandable letdown for many of us with the latest Focus Electric is that it just got a slight facelift for next season and a bit more range — disappointing, at best.
What Engineering Can Do
If we could have the cars all engineers have thought of and even worked on within the hidden labs of carmakers, we’d have a blast. Rimac certainly proved an EV can hold its own against the very best of hypercars. Heck, even Koenigsegg said he prefers driving his Model S over other sedans. Back in 2008, a small company called AFS Trinity had already installed in a Saturn Vue Hybrid an extra lithium battery pack with ultracapacitors to load balance the draw on the pack. And it let you choose between gas only, hybrid, and electric only. And yes, that was in 2008, when the Los Angeles Auto Show refused to let AFS Trinity in. The economy has been on the side of EVs, considering how lithium battery energy density has grown while its price has steadily come down.
What Do Consumers Really Want Anyway?
In general, we love stability and continuity, but we are also attracted to newer technologies. Perhaps Raymond Loewry coined it best in this article from The Atlantic: “He believed that consumers are torn between two opposing forces: neophilia, a curiosity about new things; and neophobia, a fear of anything too new. As a result, they gravitate to products that are bold, but instantly comprehensible. Loewy called his grand theory ‘Most Advanced Yet Acceptable’—MAYA.”
It would be difficult to produce the car people want and need today. A car under $20,000 with at least 500 miles of range that doesn’t pollute. It would have to be good looking, elegant, and luxurious also. Heck, make it a Giugiaro design while you’re at it. And it must have all the creature amenities we’ve come to expect: airbags everywhere, state-of-the-art infotainment and completely connected, preferably with free Internet 4G access. While technically possible, it is highly impossible to make such a car unless all parts are open sourced. That is another can of worms traditional carmakers stay clear off.
Who Gets It Right?
Straight off the bat, Nissan gets it right. It might not do it with the elegance Tesla has, nor with the punch Rimac Concept_One did, but the LEAF still is the overall best-selling EV globally. That is a good case for CEO, marketing, and engineering working fairly well together. Tesla also gets it, as well as the newer kids on the block. But the latter haven’t delivered anything yet. BMW sorta, kinda gets it right, but it doesn’t have the unlimited funds its local competition has. After dumping a lot of money on diesel technology, it smelled something fishy and decided to put the rest of its funds on carbon fiber technology and the electric drive. It just doesn’t have the deep pockets Mercedes/Daimler has, which can sit through any storm and weather it. GM gets it right by first introducing a compelling plug-in hybrid, and a second-generation version that ups the ante, while working on a solid EV with its now-selling Bolt.
And then there are the etceterini — those little car makers that try to get on board with seriously limited funds and whole lot of passion. They fight an even more arduous uphill battle trying to sway public opinion of what an EV should be like and should look like. Check out Ecovelectric.com as a perfect example of great ideas, engineering, and little resources.
Ultimately, I cringe when I hear CEOs and marketing say. I cringe because I talk to engineers and I know how frustrated they are being insulted by their management. I’m in talks with VCs and other capital groups to fund intelligent technologies, such as docked-vessel emission scrubbers. The engineering is already available and provides elegant solutions at a fraction of the price and cost than conventional, heavier companies can. And the returns on those new green technologies are enough to make the most-veteran Wall Street trader blush.