More than 50 years ago the Jetson family first jetpacked their way into American homes.
Back then, watching George head off to work in his flying car or Rosie press a button on the fridge and have food materialize in front of them seemed about as realistic as sending a rocket to Mars – but equally as awesome. The show lasted just one season (24 episodes) after its debut in 1962, but hardly a day goes by that someone isn’t using “The Jetsons” as a way to talk about the fantastic technological advancements we’re seeing today. The automotive industry is no exception.
For most of the 20th century and into the early 21st, automakers were seen as slow, lumbering companies that evolved at a snail’s pace to innovations and technologies. Enter Tesla. Named for Nikolas Tesla, an electrical engineer and phycsist in the 1800s, this cutting edge company emerged as a shining example of what an automaker of the 21st century should look like. The Tesla Roadster was the first automobile to use lithium-ion battery cells and the first EV that could take you from New York City to Washington DC on a single charge.
Electric cars are just the beginning. With the influx of the digital age, automakers are scrambling to capitalize on markets that have spawned from Silicon Valley. The revolution is being driven by the convergence of connectivity, electrification and changing customer needs. Software innovation is setting a new standard for what we not only expect, but actually demand in our cars. With the average person spending more than 200 hours annually commuting to work, consumers are buying cars as much for their infotainment systems as they are for their horsepower.
The revolution has been a long time coming, but seemingly slow to arrive. According to a blog post by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, “New technology in any field takes a few versions to optimize before reaching the mass market, and in this case it is competing with 150 years and trillions of dollars spent on gasoline cars”.
Many companies today use a “clone and copy” model of optimization to achieve this optimization – make a copy of the first product and modify it. As product improvements are made to one variant, they must be reproduced in the second variant. As more variants become necessary, this process is less and less efficient. Product development cycles slow down and costs go up.
It is no wonder that automakers are working fervently on changing their business models away from this process. No longer are they just building cars and trucks for consumers. They have to be all-encompassing technology software companies to survive and thrive in the age of digitalization.
So “Where’s my flying car?”, you ask? With variant management it might be here sooner than you think.