Ed’s let­ter

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents - Ed­i­tor’s let­ter GLENN BUT­LER

Au­ton­omy has a lot of hur­dles to clear be­fore it dom­i­nates the mar­ket­place. But while the de­bate rages about the true time­line to au­ton­omy, all par­ties agree it is the fu­ture.

This driver­less fu­ture presents an ob­vi­ous ex­is­ten­tial chal­lenge for brands like Porsche, AMG, BMW M, Fer­rari, Maserati…

And it’s not just a prob­lem for the top end of town. Any brand that dif­fer­en­ti­ates it­self wholly or even partly on dy­namic prow­ess and driver in­volve­ment is at risk. Oh what a feel­ing… Zoom­zoom… Ro­bots won’t give a shit.

All brands, whether they like it or not, are star­ing down an evo­lu­tion­ary tsunami with mas­sive po­ten­tial to de­stroy or at the least sig­nif­i­cantly al­ter the land­scape.

For cor­po­rate ex­am­ples of once-dom­i­nant brands who failed to keep pace with tech­no­log­i­cal evo­lu­tion, look no fur­ther than Nokia and Ko­dak. And Com­modore In­ter­na­tional, whose Com­modore 64 was the world’s best-sell­ing PC in the 1980s.

“[This is] the re­ally in­ter­est­ing de­bate at the mo­ment,” says Michael Bartsch, Volk­swa­gen Aus­tralia’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor. Bartsch landed the top VW job in Oz a year ago, right in the mid­dle of the Diesel­gate scan­dal. He still be­lieves VW did noth­ing il­le­gal – in Aus­tralia – and, while we can ar­gue the ethics of a cheat de­vice, tech­ni­cally he’s right. There is no leg­is­la­tion out­law­ing two-mode emis­sion con­trol pro­grams in this coun­try.

Bartsch, who was mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor for Porsche in Aus­tralia be­fore step­ping up to run Porsche Cars North Amer­ica, has some well-formed opin­ions on the chal­lenge fac­ing all brands that trade on driver in­volve­ment. And he knows VW will not be im­mune.

“The unique sell­ing propo­si­tion [USP] for brands has his­tor­i­cally been driveline,” Bartsch says, “and then it’s the chas­sis dy­nam­ics and stuff like that.”

In an elec­tric, au­ton­o­mous world, nei­ther of those el­e­ments ex­ist. So how will own­ers en­gage with a brand? “That’s ex­actly the crit­i­cal is­sue … That’s why right now the mis­sion of es­tab­lish­ing au­then­tic­ity in a brand is so crit­i­cal.”

Bartsch be­lieves brand val­ues will be­come a more po­tent sales force than a prod­uct’s ac­tual per­for­mance, no mat­ter how that last part is ‘mea­sured’ (see side­bar).

“You don’t want to end up hav­ing a brand that is a com­mod­ity be­cause, as you move fur­ther down the [road to au­ton­omy], if you are a com­mod­ity you will in­creas­ingly be a Kelv­ina­tor fridge. If you are go­ing to be a fridge, you want to be a Miele or some­thing like that.

“You have to have very clear USPS. And the USPS as you’re mov­ing into the fu­ture will be a whole lot of things. It will be your his­tory, your au­then­tic­ity, your qual­ity. There will still be uniqueness in de­sign. There will al­ways be a de­sign lan­guage that you own and that’s why brands like VW, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Fer­rari are re­ally well placed.”

It’s an in­ter­est­ing per­spec­tive on the re­tail levers of the fu­ture, and ev­ery car­maker want­ing to play in that fu­ture will have peo­ple defin­ing, de­sign­ing and de­vel­op­ing those metaphor­i­cal levers right now.

Or they risk go­ing the way of the Com­modore...

Brands like Porsche, AMG and Fer­rari face an ex­is­ten­tial chal­lenge with a driver­less fu­ture

Steer­ing Wheel ( Pre­his­tori­cus Au­tono­mus)

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