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A Vision of the Car-Buying Future

The problem with cars is the leadtime for product design, engineering, and manufacturing. From the time a designer gets an idea for a shape of a car to that carís hitting the showroom is practically forever from todayís standards. If I want to slip an idea to one of my designer buddies, it might see the light of day in a few years. Years? We live by the millisecond these days. I canít wait years! So, were I king of the world with a magic wand, how should it work?

My first thought is that we are in an age of wealth and customization. While some folks want relatively cheap cars turned out through mass production, why does it have to be that way? Do we need a designer to tell us we can have only this set of cars? Computerized design software has become very sophisticated, and will likely continue to get better. What if we could have a high-end design computer in the showroom? What if we could design any shape of car, within reason? Want a sharkís dorsal fin on top? Why not?

Of course, if you design the shape of the car, youíll need certain information in return, like given other specifications, the likely gas mileage, the human and cargo capacity, performance specifications. It should give you back the information necessary to see if you might want to make it more aerodynamic, put in a larger or smaller engine, or a larger or smaller chassis. The engine and chassis and such might come from a limited number of options, just as you either have air-conditioning or not. But the body shape and interiors might be much more customizable. And, once you have the design that looks like you want and meets the numbers you need and can afford, perhaps a holographic projection could show you what it would look like and how it might seem to be in it.

Once youíve come up with an acceptable design, what should happen? Maybe the showroom has a highly versatile and automated assembly plant attached? You press the confirm button on the screen, your financing is checked, and then the car is built as you wait. Maybe you have to wait a couple of hours, or even come back the next day? But since I have my magic wand, Iím of the opinion that you should be able to drive out of the showroom within a couple of hours.

Is this practical with todayís technology? Probably not. But the faster and closer that car manufacturers come to providing this sort of experience the more that manufacturer will come to dominate the market. This is the breakaway future for the car companies. It isnít in transforming the development cycle from years to fewer years, but from years to hours. They cannot reach the goal unless they see their business as being a very different concept than it is today.

This was originally posted as a blog on 08 JUL 2007 on another site.

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