Open source cars

wilder-young-frankensteinIn the immortal words of Dr. Frankenstein, played by Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein, “It… could… work!!!!”

In my Free Advice for GM series, I suggested an “open source” model of organization as a radical way to remake SATURN into a viable brand.  Well, last week I was at a conference where Bob Johansen of the Institute for the Future presented their Ten Year Forecast.  One of his examples of the future (in action today) is a company called Local Motors. Check it out, they are already running a car company along the lines I suggested for SATURN.

It’s a small scale, regionally focused car company that uses a growing base of active participants to design, build, and sell cars.  Their first model, called the Rally Fighter, was designed by a student! The Rally Fighter

Does anyone know a SATURN dealer?  Send them my way so we can create another example of building cars in a more sustainable, interesting, and profitable way.

What to do with Saturn

With the news today about Penske breaking off talks with GM on their deal to buy Saturn, I thought it would be fun to revisit my post on this topic from back in July.  Given the over abundance of car brands, and the lack of differentiation in the market, take a look at this idea and see if you want to invest.  I really think it could work!

Free advice for GM… er Penske #4

Free advice for GM…er Penske #4

We’re moving downstream of the GM break-up so this post is obviously not going to help GM explicitly, so listen up folks at Penske!  This is about how to imagine SATURN as a (really) different kind of car company.  The brand heritage points us in this direction, but the operations history never quite got there.  While establishing itself as a new car brand, the most significant difference in their approach to running the company was the creation of a new dealer network from scratch, and calling it a retail network to indicate a stronger belief in customer service as a competitive advantage.

Using the organization ecosystem model from the first post in this series, I would place Saturn in the “independent” corner and really push the envelope on how to design, build, and market a car using an open source model, borrowed from the software industry.  As you know this model has produced some amazing products like the browser Firefox from Mozilla.

In fact, some of these ideas are already in rough formation.  From Wikipedia I’ve learned that Penske will not be buying the GM factories and will eventually have other car companies build cars sold as Saturns. At this point, GM will build the Aura, Vue, and Outlook for Penske for two years. To replace GM as the brand’s manufacturer, Penske is in discussions with several global automakers, including Renault Samsung Motors of Korea.

Pit Crews have focus and pride

Pit Crews have focus and pride

What if they really push for something different and create an open source project for each model?  With the Penske passion for cars and the SATURN commitment to customer service, it’s not hard to imagine a really cool hometown facility that attracts car nuts with prototype vehicles, computer workshops, and a heavy dose of car culture.  Rather than staffing these “stores” with sales people, SATURN could staff them with car designers and engineers that help guide the process and manage the inputs via the open source process.  Interested players could be organized in “pit crews” who develop relationships with each other over time and work on specific elements of the car prototype.  Perhaps stores could work in regional “car craft” networks that involve small scale manufacturing and parts suppliers in the creation of regionally specific models.

Once the prototypes are in final form and are on the road being tested, contracts with larger manufacturing companies could be established to put the vehicles into limited production.  The viral connection to each model would be a grassroots sales force that would bring back the days of localized automotive pride, only it would be distributed throughout the country instead of centered on Detroit.