How the electric transformation in automotive reached hyperspeed

I guess I should not be surprised. But the last few weeks in the automotive industry have been mind boggling.

Volvo and Ericsson concept car

In my post from March 4, 2016, I elaborated on the transformation of the car industry, but only on one of the fundamentals that will drive the transformation – automation. There are two more to mention: electrification and connectivity.

Let’s start with electrification.

There is no proof that Mahatma Gandhi ever said “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. And then you win”. But nonetheless:

”First they ignore you”

Back in August 2006, Tesla and Elon Musk posted their secret master plan online. It included building electrical cars, sustainable production of electricity, and battery production with as little environmental impact as possible. Many people had a good laugh at Tesla’s expense, not believing their vision of clean, battery powered cars for the masses. Especially the global car manufacturers. They were concentrating on getting less emissions from gasoline, pushing out ethanol as an alternative, and introducing ”clean diesel” in their marketing. They thought electrical cars were no threat and didn’t do much about it.

”Then they laugh at you”

Then came the Tesla Model S. A four-door sedan with enough power to run for hundreds of miles before needing to recharge. This opened some people’s eyes but many of the premium automakers stated officially that there was no future for electrical cars.

In business blogs from 2013 we can learn that investing in an electric car is a big waste of money and that if you care about the environment, you should buy organic food.

”Then they fight you”

But the infamous ”Dieselgate” scandal and findings that car’s emissions are far higher on the road than in the lab, have dramatically changed the scene. In the last month, most of the major car manufacturers including Volvo, BMW, Jaguar, Hyundai, GM, and the PSA group, have released plans to put a certain number of pure electrical, hybrids and plug-in hybrids on the streets before 2020.

But it was the news from China on September 10, that sent a shock wave through the world and started everyone talking about a complete ban on fossil fuel engines. And then Volkswagen announced it will invest a stunning $84 billion in electrical cars and batteries. It’s obvious that the shift to electrical cars is happening. The race of the industry to get on par with Tesla has finally started.

”And then you win”

Considering Tesla has approximately half a million reservations for their Model 3, and many will not be able to get their car before 2019, there is a slim chance that the big players will be there to meet the competition soon enough to get a piece of the electrical cake of the future. However, Volkswagen has clearly stated they want to continue to be the biggest car manufacturer in the future and are investing heavily.

But where is the win? Tesla has said again and again that their goal is not to be the biggest manufacturer of electrical cars in the world – they only want to speed up the transformation. So while it might look like they are winning, it’s not a prize for them to take.

The winners are you and me. When cities become cleaner and fossil fuels are something for vintage cars only, we have won.

By the way. The quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi is very similar to something that the trade unionist Nicholas Klein gave in a 1918 address to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America in Baltimore: “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you”.

To read more of my posts, please check out the archives or check out how we’re making the technology that is driving the automotive industry

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At the Ericsson Blog, we provide insight to make complex ideas on technology, innovation and business simple.