How GM shifts from cars to mobility (and other media analogies)

No industry wants to go the way of Kodak and how it clung to the film business long past its useful life.

When visiting Silicon Valley last month, INMA heard a similar refrain from Frankie James, general manager of advanced technologies for General Motors. 

General Motors is no longer in the “car business,” she says. It is in the “mobility” business. 

While the specifics of General Motors’ challenge are difficult to sync with news media companies, the similarities are staggering:

  • Re-imagining their value proposition. 
  • Fighting an old product culture. 
  • Technological disruption everywhere.
  • How to pump out product that pays the bills while reinventing for the emerging ecosystem. 
  • Commitment to excellence. 

The challenge is to move the General Motors culture from where the car is the end-all, be-all product to a space focused on urban mobility, car-sharing, ride-sharing, the self-driving car, and other concepts that are disrupting the transportation business. 

How does General Motors become more of a utility company than a manufacturer? GM doesn’t want to become a white-label manufacturer of Apple cars. 

Now, this is a fairly concise analogical look at the car business vs. the news business. Yet if you want a fuller baptism into how we can look into the future and still do the work that pays the bills (or if you’re just a car geek), read on.

Peering only 15 years into the future, 37% of the world’s population will be under the age of 25 – with a significantly lower percentage of 16- to 30-year-olds holding driver’s licenses than 30 years ago, according to the GM Global Trends Network. Whereas in 1950 two-thirds of the world’s population lived in rural areas, by 2030 almost two-thirds will live in cities.

Today’s consumer expects cars to be green-friendly and digitally connected to their mobile lives, James says, citing GM research. Electrification of cars is happening now, and will rise in importance during the next five years. 

GM sees the merger of vehicle intelligence and connectivity: cars that don’t crash, vehicles that drive themselves.

The “road map” to autonomous driving goes from today’s driver information and alerts and emergency intervention to a “super cruise” concept with limited on-demand automation (monitored control).

Eventually, we will see complex on-demand automation and autonomous driving. James didn’t put dates on these, yet I saw Mercedes Benz suggest at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January 2015 they will have an autonomous-driving car by 2020 – no doubt a genesis car with no real mass-market. 

Short-term, Cadillac will introduce “super cruise” that watches the road ahead and adjusts steering to keep the car in the middle of its lane – along with collision avoidance. In 2017, Cadillac will unveil V2X technology that allows cars to communicate with each other, the infrastructure, and pedestrians.

Meanwhile, GM is staring at a range of alternatives to car ownership that look overwhelming – all part of the global mega-trend of “access” over “ownership” that INMA has discussed this year.

Forget rental cars, taxis, and carpooling of yesteryear. Uber and Lyft are so 2014-2015. Rising in importance is shared e-hailing where multiple riders can match with one driver. Look for other fast-rising trends such as on-demand short-term car rentals, person-to-person sharing of vehicles (“Airbnb for cars”), and carpooling with non-professional drivers. These are in the infant changes in San Francisco now – all app- and mobile-optimised. 

You can imagine that GM and other carmakers want to be in these spaces – fast.

Heaven forbid we jump ahead to 2025 to automated highway driving, partial/full urban driving, intelligent infrastructure, integrated connectivity, electrification, and shared mobility. 

What I was struck by: 

  • The internal-to-GM culture change is a work in progress. Like media, it’s a lot of change to push through a culture. As I’ve heard for years at Google: Success is not guaranteed (especially when it comes to culture). 
  • GM has an infinitely more complex vision of where “mobility” is going in the next 10 years than media companies – despite more data points around news consumption and advertising experiences. 
  • GM’s story is an annual story. This is its goal for 2016. This is its goal for 2017. This is what 2025 looks like, and this is how we’re moving in that direction. The media story is a murky month-to-month story. 
  • Media companies need time horizons for visioning and planning as well as a better storyline that simply connects the dots of what is happening. I thought GM was fantastic. 

The INMA Silicon Valley Study Tour did not stay “inside the box” of media. We want to push the edges, and an hour with Frankie James was a truckload of inspiration. So many lessons for media companies!

About Earl J. Wilkinson

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