Cars Are Cool Again!

The 2009 North American International Auto Show in Detroit had one key message to the innovators and entrepreneurs among us: cars are cool again! Before, the only cars I thought were cool were cars with costs that exceeded my yearly salary. I liked to look at them, but they did not affect my life.

However, our automotive industry is now living through one of the most exciting transitions during my lifetime, and we are lucky to see it right here in Michigan. We are developing technology for the industry surrounding the car 2.0!

I have worked on pretty cool projects. I have built space instruments that are on pathways through the solar system. I have also designed spacecraft with the potential of revolutionizing entire industry sectors. But, nothing I have ever worked on has been even close to the potential impact and the excitement of what’s going on right now in the automotive sector. In fact, we are in the process of witnessing the rebirth of the world’s automotive industry which was initially invented here in the entrepreneurial hotbed of the early twentieth century – Southeast Michigan. And, every father and mother can testify to the fact that births really, really hurt. It’s easier to learn that lesson as a father…

The revolution we are talking about right now is redefining cars from the inside-out. Instead of having a combustion engine at their center, the next generation car has an electric motor; instead of a gas-tank feeding that engine, we have a battery holding electric charge.

There are elements of this revolution that are less obvious and equally important: The transformation of the cars heart leads to the transformation of all elements of the car, its body and its brains!

Air conditioning units, for example, are very power-hungry. Next to a powerful combustion engine, that’s just fine. However, nobody wants to drive an electric car for which the range is cut in half just because the driver turns the AC on. Similarly, it’s very nice to have a ton of electric systems in the car: power-steering, power-seats, a large radio-CD-system or even video-systems: But, what happens if the battery is not big enough to power all these things, and still get to the 40 miles projected? Cars should be a lot lighter, but they cannot be because they crash. So, we need cars that don’t crash – a car 2.0. The transformation of the car’s power-system therefore has to be considered in the context of the transformation of everything cars are about. Transitions like that are where entrepreneurs are really needed – in small and in big companies! It’s about the re-defining, re-inventing, and re-building of a new industry. That is exciting!

Decades of experience with regular cars and trucks don’t matter quite as much. The next generation system that will take over – the Model-T 2.0, or the VW Beetle 2.0 – will take advantage of this transition the most effective way. It’s not the Tesla sports car that matters. It’s the next generation Ford Taurus, the next generation Chevy Impala that matter – the  cars driven by millions of drivers change the world, not the ones driven by 100.

Because of the close vicinity of the University of Michigan to the Big-3 (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler), we are in a unique position to affect these changes and – yes – to participate in a new entrepreneurial collaboration to change the world. There is a lot of up-side potential for this collaboration. The University of Michigan has recently announced a partnership with GM in the development of batteries. That is wonderful – it is one step in the right direction!

The ability to invent and integrate car 2.0 technologies here in Michigan will determine how we go through this difficult transition period we are currently witnessing. It’s not just about the first step; it’s about learning to walk a path together with industry.

Further, it is important to recognize the importance and time-sensitivity of this transition. We cannot start in five years to take this seriously. We need to start firing from all cylinders – now! We have to do so as a public-private partnership that transcends what we have done in the past fifty years. It’s not that we did something wrong, we had great successes. But, it’s because things have become unglued now and there has never been a bigger potential to win big and to fail miserably. I hope we choose the former!

Comments (4)
  • Brett Barnes

    February 11, 2009

    I am really happy to read this article, as I have been researching and publishing on electric cars for over a decade… waiting for people to “catch on” to the fact that hybrid and electric cars weren’t just a geeky novelty.. they are a very cool and very conscious kind of technology that the world needs to embrace sooner rather than later – for a myriad of reasons.

    So glad to hear that even space scientists are getting “turned on” to the infinite potential of next-gen, terrestrial transport technology.

  • Thomas

    February 12, 2009

    Check this out:

  • Chris

    February 15, 2011

    Hope it keeps going up in future

  • Porsche Sales

    July 11, 2011

    This really is the future this or hydro cars

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