Weekly Brief: Goodbye to a Decade Unlike Any Other

Talk about a decade to remember.

As 2019 draws to a close, it concludes one of the most transformative 10 years in the history of the automotive industry. It was a decade that witnessed the rise of self-driving cars, the birth of ride-hailing and car-sharing services and a growing conviction among carmakers that everything that had defined them in the past had to be reconsidered in this new smartphone-driven, hyper-personalized and environmentally conscious era.

The automotive industry has a reputation for being loath to change. Given the cost and time frames involved in manufacturing automobiles, this isn’t an industry that prides itself on being fast on its feet. Instead it prides itself on quality, controlling pipelines and managing partnerships and maintaining brand excellence no matter how fickle the world around it. Yet, in the past decade, the forces of change have been so great that most carmakers are branding themselves as “mobility companies”. That alone tells you how transformative the twenty teens have been.

With change has come immense opportunity and tremendous uncertainty. Ten years ago saw the birth of Waymo (formerly the Google Self-driving Car Project) and Uber (formerly UberCab), both of which are now valued at tens of billions of dollars and are positioned to revolutionize the world, even though neither has ever come within sniffing distance of a profit. The start of this decade also witnessed the birth of Daimler’s Car2Go, which has grown into the largest car-sharing service in the world. Earlier this year it merged with BMW’s DriveNow and became ShareNow and promised even greater expansion. Then last week it abruptly changed course and announced that it would shut down all operations in North America and Great Britain as of February 2020.

Nothing as we enter this new decade is certain. To learn more about the ShareNow shocker, see Paul Myles’ excellent coverage here, which includes some helpful insights into why this wasn’t such a shocker after all. To be clear, the apparent downfall of an industry leader doesn’t foretell the end of an industry. A host of companies are poised to step into ShareNow’s place, including more tech savvy, customer friendly car-sharing companies like Turo and BlueLA. The real question is not whether self-driving cars, car-sharing and ride-hailing have a place in the future; the question is what role automakers have in their success, if any beyond the basics of manufacturing automobiles?

The decade thus ends with the same question that it began with. Given that the rate of change is greater today than at any other point in human history, and that that rate of change is accelerating year over year, the one thing we do know is that the 2020s will be as transformative as the 2010s were. How so? We’re about to find out.

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