January 20, 2009

A Lack Of Imagination

2008 Scion tC Release Series 4.0

Trivia question for you.  Is the car on the left a Honda, Toyota, Subaru, Suzuki, Chevy, Ford or VW?  Answer, it’s none of those, it’s a Scion.  Don’t feel bad if you didn’t get the right answer either, like you, almost every new car looks the same to me too.

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend the 2009 Utah International Auto Expo and boy was I disappointed.  With the exception of the hood ornament, just about every car looked like the other. Seriously, how many shades of silver can an industry turn out?

When the Detroit automakers went to congress with their hat in hand, I for one was not surprised.  Did you know that the Big 3 average less than $2,000 profit per vehicle?  That represents less than a 5% margin and I don’t know a lot of companies that can operate long-term on those kinds of margins.  Bloated overhead, a history of producing inferior products and (for me) a lack of imagination are obvious warning signs that the Big 3 have been running over and over for the last 25 years.  Is all lost for Detroit?  I don’t think so, but a return to earlier roots would certainly be appropriate.

The best part of this years car show was the “classic car corral.”  Mustangs, Corvettes, GTO’s and other trophies from Detroit’s glory years were on display.  Looking at these “classics” I found myself wondering what happened to those innovative car designers and what their thoughts would be on the this years Ford Fiesta? How these brilliant minds became replaced by todays cookie cutter designers is a mystery to me that I doubt I will ever understand.

The problem with Detroit and other established businesses is that you can’t fool the public for long.  New Flash: When you belong to a company that prides itself on mediocrity, it shows!  It shows in the design, the packaging and the imagination (or lack thereof.)  We “know” when you don’t care. Don’t believe me?  Take a seat at your local DMV for a heaping bowl of stale mediocrity. Yeah, the DMV really has your best intentions at heart…Now serving number two-four-nine at station twelve…”

The best of the best are always looking for ways to define and then re-design themselves.  Nike, Apple, Coke and McDonalds spend millions of dollars each year refining, designing and expanding their brand.  If you don’t have millions of dollars to spend, try spending just a few minutes of time imagining the possibilities and then make it happen.  At Funding Universe we challenge you to dream, to scheme and to use your imagination to grow and innovate.  For those of you who find that task too daunting, may I suggest taking a test ride in a 2009 Chevy Cobalt. For guys like you, it comes in 17 shades of silver.

Joel Nielsen is a Venture Consultant at Funding Universe.  He can be reached at jnielsen@fundinguniverse.com