And now for my very favorite quote of the year, offered by Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn. In reference to the Nissan Leaf, a zero emission vehicle, Ghosn said “this is the future, and everything else is going to look obsolete, like sending messages with pigeons”[i].
As Gnosh put it in an interview in Fast Company, “if you already have an emissions problem with 700 Million cars, what problems are you going to have with 2 Billion?”. In the case of Nissan, Ghosn is looking beyond the defined needs of customers and is anticipating the needs of the global market in a decade or more. It is not good enough to solve problems we can see, the strategist must seek to solve problems that are not readily apparent. To consider such scenarios, strategists must consider Social, Technological, Economic, Ecological and Political trends and consider how various combinations may change the landscape of an industry.
In my book and blog“ Intended Consequences”, I predicted remarkably volatile prices for fuel and the potential for oil to reach prices of far north of $100 a barrel. The predication which became an eventuality was based on an evaluation of “converging factors”, independent trends that combine to create a tipping point. The automobile industry is on the cusp of such a fundamental shift. Toyota has been selling the Prius since, 1997 but the initial curve for adoption was remarkably slow. What we see in evidence today are converging trends that will provide the impetus to create disruptive change in the form of rapid adoption of alternative vehicles:
Political: The U.S. government’s recent announcement of an agreement with thirteen automakers that will reset the Café fuel economy standards to require an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.[ii] The willingness of OEM’s (original equipment manufacturers), to work with the government in a race to dramatically improve fuel efficiency illustrates their understanding of radical changes in their operating environment.
Social: Shifting sensibilities towards sustainability will drive adoption. Electric cars are somewhat impractical for working people who may not have time to charge them (up to 8 hours) providing a leg up to hybrids.
Technology: The new Prius plug in will offer up to 87 miles to the gallon illustrating explosive improvement in battery technology. Many of the world’s top scientists are working on batteries that could expediently improve performance, size and cost.
Ecological: In Nissan’s case, the rapid growth of highly polluted Asian markets is viewed as a driver for future demand. Recent disasters in the gulf and elsewhere have heightened awareness of the risks of oil exploration.
Economic: Americans are still fearful of OPEC’s influence and the ability of the cartel to manage worldwide oil prices. As battery prices decline, the value proposition of hybrids will only continue to improve, and the total cost of ownership for such vehicles will be drastically reduced.
Businesses are well advised to review such variables as to develop scenarios about their industry. It may not be possible to look into a magical crystal ball to predict the future, but careful study of trends provides us context on what products and services to develop in order to create disruption.
[i] Fast Company The 50 Most Innovative Companies March 2011