Jeff Jarvis may be a really smart guy on a lot of subjects, but the auto industry apparently isn't one of them. In an excerpt from his new book. What Would Google Do?, Jarvis suggests that Detroit follow the Google model, releasing cars in beta and then letting users contribute to design and functionality. The first suggestion is ridiculous on its face, while the second already happens in the marketplace. Unlike software companies, automakers simply cannot release half-baked cars. The auto industry is among the most regulated in history, and unless governments and lawyers across the land are willing to give Detroit a free pass, they cannot legally release a "beta" product.
Software companies just slap a ridiculous and wordy EULA on a product and say, "we're not responsible for anything that might happen with this software." Of course, Gmail isn't likely to kill anyone if it crashes. When carmakers let out a beta, like the original Cadillac V8-6-4, they quickly get sued into submission.
As for customers contributing to design, they do that with the dollars they spend on cars. There's a good reason why most mainstream cars tend to converge on a particular design ethos (read: bland) or function set: because that's what most people buy. Google's products are really cool, but aside from search, maps and AdSense, most others, including Gmail, actually trail far behind their competitors in market share. Being in perpetual beta may get the attention of us bleeding-edge geeks, but most regular people don't buy it.