Monday, January 26, 2009

What if Cars were made like PCs?

The failure of the big 3 automakers has kind of dropped off the radar lately, what with the government handing out billion dollar bailouts right and left.   But I want to make my proposal for how to fix our ailing auto industry.

There's an old viral email joke about "What if your car was made like your PC?".    But I want to discuss this as a real possibility.  

Currently, when you buy a Chrysler, you get a Chrysler engine, a Chrysler chassis, a Chrysler transmission, a Chrysler cabin, and a Chrysler body and styling.   This is at best a mixed blessing.  (e.g. we love our Chrysler 300C hemi engine, but despise other aspects of the car)

But when you a  buy a PC (e.g. a DELL), you don't a computer designed from the ground up by DELL.   You get:
  • a CPU (designed by Intel or AMD)
  • a motherboard designed for the CPU, but manufactured by a 3rd party (e.g. ASUS)
  • a GPU (designed by ATI or NVidia)
  • a graphics card, designed for the GPU, but manufactured by a 3rd party (e.g. BFG)
  • a power supply, manufactured by a 3rd party
  • memory chips, manufactured by a 3rd party
  • lots of off-the-shelf connectors and components
The only thing you get designed by DELL is the case, keyboard, mouse, and manuals.   The biggest service a PC manufacturer does is to select all the above components for you, and make sure they all work together.

What if cars were made this way?   As a thought experiment, imagine splitting the automakers up into smaller companies, so that there are several companies that make engines, several who make chassis, several who make transimssions, etc.   And then there are companies which function as Styling houses,  which design a final product (body, interior) from the available parts, and assemble the whole thing.

I think such a division would produce better, cheaper cars than the current situation.

Update: I guess I'm not the first person to come up with this idea.   A more in-depth exploration of this idea can be found here.

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