Friday, August 1, 2008

Innovation at General Motors? The Volt.

General Motors (GM) has been pursued for decades by competing automakers but in recent years, the news has turned exceptionally bad. Just today, they reported a 3 month loss of $15.5 billion USD, a staggering amount even considering that many of the charges are one-time charges relating to their ongoing restructuring efforts.

Losing money, stock value plummeting, their public perception poor and their product mix unsuited to the world conditions, in 2006 GM Vice-Chairman Bob Lutz began work on an uber-ambitious project to take on the sector of the automotive market which the other market leaders were not attacking and which they said was not possible. The 'plug-in' car, today called the 'Chevrolet Volt' had no competitors because other companies, notably hybrid leader Toyota, said it wasn't possible, and especially not possible in the 2010 model year as announced by GM.

This article discusses in very interesting detail the various ways which necessity has forced GM to change in order to allow the development of the Volt in such a short time span and the myriad innovations necessary to bring it to today's point in its development. In short order, most other leading automakers announced their own plans for plug-in cars, following GMs lead shortly after poo-pooing the idea.

I find the parallels between GM (with the Volt), Apple (with the iPod and OS X) and the grassroots innovators we work with interesting, each innovating when faced with difficult situations. It will be interesting to see if GM'ss push with a 'game-changing' product (if such cliche is permitted) will be the harbinger of a turn-around and perhaps they will return to their glory days, using innovation to maintain their automotive leadership.


Hellraizr said...

Have you seen India's Electric car called REVA.......its been around much before than the idea occurring to GM and their newer models are quite promising.....How ironic to see the world racing to develop a battery powered car when we indians have already began manufacturing it.

Arun Sharma said...

I have seen the REVA on the streets and I think it's a very cool car, and great to see an Indian company on the road much before any of the other (older and bigger guys) could do it. GM has the advantage of huge distribution networks and global reach - how do you think the REVA can expand its reach beyond the niche market it is currently serving?