GM CEO and Chairman Mary Barra paints an inspiring picture for the future of the automotive industry and GM, while refusing to acknowledge how far behind GM is in key metrics like safety and autonomous driving.
Barra took to LinkedIn to issue her manifesto for the automotive conglomerate, waxing poetic about the benefits of automatic braking and blind spot detection and how many lives have been saved by these legacy technologies. Yes, they were great, but the world is no longer looking to relive the glory of the past. Instead, it is moving towards the inevitable convergence of Connected, Autonomous, Shared, and Electric (CASE) vehicles.
GM is active in all of these fields, but considering its size, its immense brand strength, and its R&D chops, we, the citizens of the world, expect more.
“The good news is that our generation has the ambition, the talent and the technology to realize the safer, better and more sustainable world we want. General Motors has committed itself to leading the way toward this future, guided by our vision of zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.” — Mary Barra
GM is not leading in safety (that’s Tesla), “sustainability” (Tesla again), or moving us towards a “better” world. Better is subjective, so we’ll just let that one die on the vine, but please. Broadcasting soft metrics that evoke emotions but have little to no tie to tangible, positive actions is no more than a feeble attempt at marketing. Let’s move beyond talking about being more sustainable and just do it. Announce a fully electric truck and a few SUVs to leverage the strength of GM’s brands and base to make a meaningful impact on emissions.
We expected you to truly lead and not just talk about leading. The Bolt is an amazing car, if it would have been produced at meaningful volumes and been followed by a host of supporting vehicles. Instead, it aimed to beat the Tesla Model 3 to market, with more electric range — and it did — but that was the end of it. In August, we presume approximately 17,000 Model 3 deliveries versus approximately 1,000 Bolt deliveries.
Zero emissions is more than just a single, stagnant vehicle. It must evolve. It’s a journey that’s going to take the world several decades to achieve, but one that we cannot miss. The climate is warming and until your vehicles are part of the solution, you are a part of the problem. Fuel efficiency is not a banner we can afford to rally under as the federal government, supported by automakers, pushes to roll back the meager standards we had in place.
While we’re at it, let’s work on that manufacturing footprint, because the commercial and industrial sectors need to start cleaning up proactively, before change must be mandated by the government. We need companies and automakers that are mature enough to realize when change is needed — and to lead that change from the front, not just talk about it while looking for ways to sell more trucks.
I’m looking at you, #2 selling Chevrolet Silverado and your 585,864 units sold just last year. The world needs work trucks and there’s no reason for them not to be electric. In fact, that’s a great project to start off with.
Zero Crashes & Congestion
Let’s deploy a Cruise-powered fleet of Chevrolet Bolts — a real, meaningful fleet of thousands of them — into cities as fast as possible. Pretend the proverbial house is on fire and the company depends on it (because it does). The competition is coming one way or the other, so it’s not so much a matter of listening to my rambling, but of seeing the writing on the wall — the future is Connected, Autonomous, Shared, and Electric. Let’s start acting like it.
Fully autonomous vehicles are definitely the target, but nobody is expecting them to come in a flood as the world flips a switch from dumb cars to full autonomy overnight. We need the incremental, intelligent, data-driven vehicles that see what’s happening around us and actively, intuitively move out of harm’s way. The technology is out there and the competition is coming. That much is certain.
The Sound of Inevitability
The people have spoken and are buying up this next generation of technology-enabled electric cars as fast as they can be produced. I’m not just talking about Tesla here, as there is a wave of electric vehicles sweeping the globe, with BYD leading in China and Tesla ramping up to new heights in the United States, surpassing incumbents like BMW, Porsche, Mercedes, and Audi within months of successfully stabilizing production.
These new automotive technologies and companies represent a step-change in private vehicle ownership that hints at the fully autonomous future we all see just around the corner. I’m longing for the ability to “set it and forget it” while driving, after having tasted the possibility that is present in Tesla’s Autopilot solution. It’s not perfect, but it’s a giant leap forward from everything else that’s out there.
Cadillac’s Super Cruise is also competitive, but with safety on the line (and as one of your key metrics), there is no reason to isolate life-saving technology in only the upper echelons of GM’s vehicles. Safety and the technology that truly delivers safer driving experiences should be foundational — in the sense that it should be a core requirement in every vehicle built (if customer safety really is a priority).
The challenge for a company that, as you noted, brings 180,000 engineers and vehicle builders to bear on its problems, is speed. The automotive industry has been injected with energy from Silicon Valley and its tech fever. This has permeated the automotive industry to the extent that most major automotive manufacturers now have tech centers filled with thought leaders, developers, and technologists in the Valley to maintain a foot in the door on the evolution of automotive technology. That alone does not guarantee a spot at the table, it’s just the price of entry to the party.
A Once in a Lifetime Opportunity
Pivoting a company the size of GM into connected cars takes time and energy. The amount of resources that must be brought to bear to transition from service center–oriented diagnostics and maintenance to solutions that can be deployed through over-the-air updates is immense. By itself, it is the equivalent of spinning up an entirely new company within a company and then trying to integrate the two in a way that makes sense to both.
Autonomous vehicle technology, electric cars, and the sharing economy are all similarly disruptive and have the potential to not only disrupt the market, but to cannibalistically consume market share as millennials transition from vehicle ownership to shared vehicles — as Uber gives way to the fully autonomous driverless taxi of the future; as the drastically simplified electric vehicle powertrain replaces the armies of engineers and technicians that were required to build transmissions, gearboxes, motors, and exhaust systems. The sheer volume of disruption in the automotive industry is mind numbing, but must be met face on.
GM has the potential to truly lead the space, but let’s not dance around the fact that it is not leading today. The decisions you make, whether expressed through intentional direct action or through inaction and hollow top line statements will not only define your future success, but they will determine if hundreds of thousands of workers around the globe will continue to have jobs. This is not a career-ending or -beginning transition that you are faced with. It is a world-changing moment that the entire industry is faced with and the only question left is: when the dust settles and the world has made the transition to Connected, Autonomous, Shared, and Electric vehicles, will GM still be in business?
As you noted, GM has the potential to be a big player in the space, but let’s be clear: GM is not on track to lead in Zero Emissions, Zero Crashes, or Zero Congestion. Bragging about the fact that GM can produce 9 million cars per year does not change the fact that none of them are the safest vehicles on the road today. None of them have best-in-class active safety or autonomous vehicle technology in them, let alone the sensors required to perform these functions in the future.
Bold action is required if you are to achieve your goal of a safer, better, more sustainable world for us all.