• Jan 31st 2009 at 10:09AM
  • 24
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.

[Source: BusinessWeek]

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      Cars and Computers Revisited

      Ok, I know this has been around forever, but a friend of mine just sent it to me today again, and I was reminded of how funny it is. It's from some very clever anonymous cyberspace author.

      Later this week I’ll write a few thoughts about what makes something funny. Here it is:

      At a recent computer expo (Ha! Urban legend warning!... ), Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated, "If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25.00 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon."

      In response to Bill's comments, General Motors issued a press release stating: If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:

      1. For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash.....Twice a day.

      2. Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car.

      3. Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. (My dear MG!) You would have to pull to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason you would simply accept this.

      4. Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down, refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.

      5. Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast and twice as easy to drive - but would run on only 5% of the roads.

      6. The oil, water temperature and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single "This Car Has Performed An Illegal Operation" warning light.

      7. The airbag system would ask "Are you sure?" before deploying.

      8. Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.

      9. Every time a new car was introduced car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.

      10. You'd have to press the "Start" button to turn the engine off.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I don't want geeks making my cars. Most computer geeks I kno have 0% interest in cars and treat them as a large waste of money and time. Google may have a great business model but a company which makes browsers and websites is not the same as one which makes millions of vehicles which have millions of parts and are capable of operating flawlessly.
        • 6 Years Ago
        "10. You'd have to press the "Start" button to turn the engine off."

        this has come true, by the way.
      • 6 Years Ago
      To be fair to Software Developers. An EULA for the auto industry would be "If you drive through a brick wall in our car, your safety can't be guaranteed."

      Also Software and Auto companies alike do make adjustments to their products if something is affecting lots of people. (Ford Tempo Fuel Tanks, and Windows Service Pack's come to mind) They even both have names for these things, Patches/Updates and Recalls/Advisories.

      The only way a beta car market would work is if the people who take the plunge and get them; get free upgrades when improvements come out until a final product is made...which already happens. Auto makers just try really really hard to make sure they don't forget anything so they don't have to upgrade (read: recall) every car they sell.

        • 6 Years Ago
        Thanx for voicing the voice of reason.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I like it.

      My only problem with the Prius are those rims....too small. If i had those would be the first thing to go and replaced with some bigger better looking one with a nice tire package.
      • 6 Years Ago
      The great flaw in Mr. Jarvis' "thinking" is that the Googles of the software world offer their beta-ish products for FREE. I'm certain that huge numbers of people would be willing to drive a betamobile if all it cost them was gas and insurance to do so... they'd be willing to put up with lots of imperfections for cutting out the car payment. I don't think very many car manufacturers would like the model, however... they can't seem to make money when they're SELLING the cars.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Sam, Your response and attitude towards this is exactly what is wrong with Detroit.
        • 6 Years Ago
        O RLY? Care to explain why?
      • 6 Years Ago
      Well yes you can release a beta car, Honda FCX Clarity, EV1 and others.

      These cars have to meet basic safety standards, emissions and crash testing and company should give them to a SELECT clientele. Be it a Hollywood celebrity or a local speed junkie. What car companies are missing is that people who buy cars, people who live in the real world can give a better input than a guy who drives a car on proving grounds.

      As far as automakers taking an input from users, that is NOT taking place at all, because it that was the case Automatic tranny would he a free option, AC would be a free option.

      Sam, my man, you need to think like its 2009, costumer is ALWAYS right, give him this, that, more and make others who do not have it green with envy. Dan, look at Apple, Apple never made a single phone, out of no where with their first phone they captured a huge chunk of Smart Phone business. Applle product is so good they came in and pushed Moto, Blackberry, Nokia out of the way, that is unpresidented.

        • 6 Years Ago
        "Well yes you can release a beta car, Honda FCX Clarity, EV1 and others."

        On an an extremely small scale. With media or regulatory benefits that may have outweighed the risk.

        And, my guess would be each owner on those small programs signed away a measure of liability to for the pleasure and I wouldn't be surprised if they received a level of education as well to go along with those.
        • 6 Years Ago
        "Jeff Jarvis suggests Detroit should build a beta Google-mobile"

        • 6 Years Ago
        Just when I was starting to think Sea Urchin was starting to say things that made some sense.

        For the record my "costumer" is always right. I am always dressed just right.

        As for no cost options there is no such thing. Nothing is free in this world. I hate being forced to pay for an Automatic Transmission.

        The whole idea of beta cars shows complete ignorance of the industry. People are annoyed at seeing so many Camaro concepts a few years before they hit the streets. Imagine if they saw "Beta" versions driving around. By the time the average buyer could buy one they would be completely bored. The first model year a car is released tends to be the car industry's nearest thing to a beta. Smart shoppers wait until the 2nd or 3rd model year. By then the feedback is in and they have fixed any problems or suggestions fixed and you end up with a much better car.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Actually, Nokia still sells phones like gangbusters in Europe, Sony Ericsson's phones sell well in Japan, Blackberries sell as well as iPhones here, and Motorolas are popular everywhere else in the world.

        In America, they did well, considering our idea of a smartphone is a BlackBerry or Treo.

        In the rest of the world, not so much.

        Granted, the good phones they sell like the N95 and the C905 cost $400-600 here, and are $0-100 with a contract in their respective countries...
        • 6 Years Ago
        Well put, Logan. It took some doing to find my 5speed no-air car. Those are 2 of the most problem-prone (not to mention expensive) systems on the car, and I don't need either of them. Sea Urchin sometimes has a hard time remembering that his point of view is perfect for him, but it isn't the best for everyone. Or maybe I'm just mis-reading what he wrote - what is a 'free option', anyhoo?
      • 6 Years Ago
      >>Just another guy writing down his opinions in a book to get paid and avoid getting a real job. The reviews of the book are not flattering, I have never heard of him off the top of my head and don't think I am missing anything.
      • 6 Years Ago
      If the Auto industry i does not retrofit their current unsold Inventory with a fuel delivery system that get's 40 miles per gallon city it is going to join Custer PDQ_
      • 6 Years Ago
      If the beta models are only there to gather information on design and functionality from potential buyers, then focus groups would do I suppose.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Its fairly naive to put the business practices on the software industry on hardware. I mean, does Intel or AMD release "Beta" chips for Dell? Who exactly would buy an asus or logitech product if it wasn't completely ready for public consumption?

      However I find the design aspect infuriating. The classic Simpson's episode where Homer designs a car is my case-in-point: Consumers are not experts at making anything. The reason why design and engineering exist as specialized branches of education is because you need training to fully understand the task at hand.

      For a talented designer who works diligently to make something special that serves the needs of the project and user, nothing is more galling than being told what to change from the POV of "I don't know what I like, but I know good design when I see it." How exactly is a man on the street qualified to judge design? They are certainly able to share their OPINION of a design, but that doesn't qualify them to explain it in such a way that shortcomings can be rectified.

      User input on design is extremely useful when vetting the function of ideas. Honda clearly has a grasp on this when they designed the folding seats in the Ridgeline and Fit.

      While I'm sure Mr Jarvis has the best intentions when suggesting this idea of beta testing automobile, it demonstrates he has very little understanding of manufacturing and hardware engineering best practices.
        • 6 Years Ago
        "I don't think people should design cars, but people shoul have an input. In terms of yeah we want speed, but we also want MPGs, as i said above yeah we also want AC to be standard, power windows and mirrors standard. Right now certain car companies are not listening, the keep pushing their corporate world view and as you can see it is not working out for some of the."

        they already *do* have input. The automakers all have HUGE marketing departments; and marketing is not just about advertising. A large part of marketing is going out there and finding out what appeals to enough people to offer.

        Giving random people direct input into what goes into a car will give us things like The Homer.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I don't think people should design cars, but people shoul have an input. In terms of yeah we want speed, but we also want MPGs, as i said above yeah we also want AC to be standard, power windows and mirrors standard. Right now certain car companies are not listening, the keep pushing their corporate world view and as you can see it is not working out for some of the.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Jeff Jarvis can get these balls.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Yet another example of why software companies are full of themselves. They have been in business 20 years and have already gone through 2-3 business cycles.

      I respect Google...I use Gmail/Reader/Search/Maps on a daily...heck...hourly basis. But the car industry is entirely different. Consumers don't know what they want in a vehicle. Most don't even know what a transmission does. And obtaining too much input on what they want leads to the company Honda has become today...popular but pathetic.

      Auto sales aren't down because there is a lack of choice. Auto sales are down because 1)no one is getting credit to buy any cars 2) automakers have made too many cars that overlap other cars.

      All the industry needs is "thinning of the herd". Instead of having 5 SUVS, have 2. Instead of 5 division, have two. And consumer need to learn to buy according to their need. Want a family car? Buy a wagon. Want a fun to drive but economical car? Buy a hot hatch.

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