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Monday, March 30, 2009

Reinventing the American Auto Industry

So today we see that the Obama administration is essentially reading the riot act to GM and Chrysler, forcing out a CEO and imposing tough conditions on any further federal assistance.

If GM and/or Chrysler end up merging, folding, or becoming much smaller versions of their former selves, what opportunities might that present for entrepreneurs here in the U.S. to create an entirely new and vibrant auto industry, centered on new technologies and alternative fuels?

For a century, the auto industry that we know today has been basically riding the coattails of the vision of one entrepreneurial innovator named Henry Ford. Although enhanced by a legion of add-ons like computer-controlled ignition, fuel systems, and transmissions, emission control equipment, better safety features, and other refinements, the autos of today are still, at the core, based on the same old internal-combustion engine technology as the Model T.

Hello? Aren’t we just slightly overdue for something new?

What would an exciting, innovative reincarnation of the American automobile — a Purple Cow Car, to borrow the terminology of Seth Godin, one of my favorite business gurus — look like? Perhaps, with an outfit like Tesla Motors, we are already seeing a hint of what a new auto industry could look like. Meanwhile, here is my own wish list for a Purple Cow car:

--Should run on an inexpensive alternative fuel
--Should sell for a reasonable price — low enough for someone of average income to save enough cash in a reasonable amount of time to purchase outright, or at least to pay off in a short period, two years tops; this, in turn, would create an accessible used market for folks of below-average incomes
--Should require little routine maintenance

I have one additional wish that, since I’m not an engineer, I’m not sure is realistic. But leaving aside the atrocious gas mileage and arguably inferior safety profile, I really miss the cars of the 1960s and 1970s, mostly because it was feasible, and not very expensive, to perform do-it-yourself maintenance and repairs. Maybe with the right technology that could be a moot point, with 10 years and/or 100,000 miles of virtually maintenance free service life being a realistic target today.

I encourage you to comment on this post to add wishes of your own.

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