A Road Map to the Future for the Auto Industry

McKinsey Quarterly (October 2014)

Automakers took center stage at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. General Motors exhibited the Firebird IV concept car, which, as the company explained, “anticipates the day when the family will drive to the super-highway, turn over the car’s controls to an automatic, programmed guidance system and travel in comfort and absolute safety at more than twice the speed possible on today’s expressways.” Ford, by contrast, introduced a vehicle for the more immediate future: the Mustang. With an eye toward the segment that would later be named the baby boomers, the Ford Division’s general manager (a not-yet-40-year-old engineer named Lee Iacocca) explained that the car brought “total performance” to a “young America out to have a good time.” Ford estimated it would sell 100,000 Mustangs during that first year; in fact, it would sell more than 400,000.

The marriage of an exciting car to an exuberant generation was clearly the right idea for Ford. And over the past 50 years, automobiles have continued to be our “freedom machines,” a means of both transportation and personal expression. Even so, as the industry recognized, the automobile is but one element of a mobility system—an element governed by extensive regulations, constrained by a need for fuel, and dependent on a network of roadways and parking spaces. Automobiles are also a force for change. Over the past half century, their very success has generated pollution and congestion while straining the supply of global resources. The rapid surge of emerging markets, particularly China, has heightened these dynamics.

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