Automotive Leadership’s Vision on the Digital Transformation: A comparative overview.

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2020)


Despite the fact that the transformation of the automotive industry as a direct result of the digital revolution is an indisputable fact, the lack of clarity and hesitation expressed by the global automotive leadership is striking for the tremendous challenges that will determine the path to the future.

In this paper in progress we contrast the opinion, visions and strategies by the automotive captains of industry as voiced in both automotive and mainstream media. We have identified several major industry stakeholders representing the established geographical automotive industry (Japan, USA, Europe), the emerging automotive geographical powers (China, India, Korea), complemented by the renewed interest by the electronics industry and the software industry.

More specifically we compare and juxtapose the personal views of the current CEOs of these the industry stakeholders and prospective stakeholders. We recently, have seen some unusual volatility and changes at the top of these corporations and it would not be surprising that this moving target of leadership continues.

Established Automotive Industry stakeholders
German 3: Ole Kallenius (Daimler-Benz), Herbert Diess (VW), Oliver Zipse (BMW)
Big 2.5: Mary Barra (GM), Jim Hackett (Ford), Mike Manley (FCA)
Japan 3: Akio Toyoda (Toyota), Takihiro Hachigo (Honda), Makoto Uchida (Nissan)
Others: Carlos Tavares (PSA), Clotilde Delbos (Renault), Han Wo Park (Hyundai/KIA)
Newer Emerging Automotive Industry Stakeholders
Automotive: Elon Musk (Tesla)
Electronics: Kenichiro Yoshida (Sony), Toshiaki Higashihara (Hitachi),
Computer/Software: Tim Cook (Apple), Sundar Pichai(Google), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)

We are refraining from defining “Going Digital”, however, in the resources we consulted it represents an enormous umbrella parallel to what is stated in the call for papers, namely, “digitalization, autonomy, electrification, shared mobility, industry 4.0, trade wars, global value chain dynamics” but also sustainability and artificial intelligence in various domains.
Historical data and information derived from interviews in the general business press and well as the specific automotive media served as the basis for our comparative analysis. From the outset we grouped together the US Big Three, The Japanese Big Three and the EU Big Five and the outsiders including new kid on the block Tesla and the electronic giant Hitachi and Sony. Our analysis includes the digital revolution first movers and shakers who tiptoed into the automotive industry with concept cars such as Google and Apple. The reason is that they are the main reason for the traditional car manufacturers to consider major paradigm shifting strategies based on the digitalization of society at large. We realized in reading through the many interviews and articles that a tremendous pressure is also coming from the Tier 1 suppliers which are much further ahead in the acceptance, accommodation and application of going digital. We have not included the opinions of the leaders of these Tier 1 suppliers, however, these opinions are equally important.

In concluding, every single of the automotive leaders, without exception, agrees that the digital revolution is to be pursued by their corporations and that there is no choice not to be involved. Basically, many feel it is a choice forced upon the industry because of developments in other industries in particular the computer/software/ electronics industry.
Major differences are found not only geographically but also whether the leader is an automotive industry insider (career in automotive) versus outsider (career in another industry prior to taking the helm of the automotive company). Differences pertain to the speed of adaptation, the amount of collaborative effort with both automotive competitors but also with non-automotive corporations. Another differences pertains to sharing the cost and burden of R&D developments as in many cases the leaders of the established automotive companies admit not having the necessary knowledge in-house to pursue the many challenges of going digital. Reading between the lines, we notice some amount of frustration stemming from the lack of control that the automotive OEMs are experiencing over the size and pace of this movement. This is understandable, as it requires making difficult choices in terms of resource allocations and not only financial.

Finally, we are the first to acknowledge that “going digital” is a complex matter, however, we are somewhat stunned by the “all over the map” opinions and visions by the captains of this industry, which in se is not a negative, if at one point in the near future convergence occurs.

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