A car isn’t a thing anymore – it’s a process. And that’s changing everything. Again.

“People can have it any color they like – so long as it’s black,” said Henry Ford of his revolutionary Model T. At least, that’s the legend. No one really knows if he really did say it. But, the quote is often used as a symbol of mass-production based on standardization. The car company designed a product, made a lot of them, and sold them to consumers at the best price possible. And, for much of the history of a car manufacturer, that’s where the dealer and the local garage took over.

The automobile revolutionized the entire world, and it’s happening again through the rapid development of digital technology across the entire automotive sector.

At Fujitsu, we’ve been at the heart of changing manufacturing methods for our entire history, and we’ve been enabling automotive brands to stay ahead of change since the early 1960s, especially in Japan. Taking advantage of change is in our DNA. We’re working with automotive brands of all kinds to ensure that they can make the most of the transformation of manufacturing that’s taking place right now. In fact, it’s going from 0-to-60 faster than ever before.

Henry Ford’s giant, vertically integrated approach to manufacturing based on the moving production line was a revolution that had widespread effects across the entire manufacturing sector. But, the history books show that his initial success blinded him to the need to change. As a recent history of manufacturing puts it, ‘Extreme standardization allowed [competitors] to win over consumers on the basis of style and change.’ Ford’s Model T made cars affordable for an ordinary citizen. That broadened the market rapidly. But the limited design features (and colors – there were others as well as black!) encouraged forms like General Motors to go beyond standardization to offer more frills, colors, and design features. Ford’s sales plummeted, and he had to close his factories down to re-tool.

Automotive manufacturers learned the lesson.

Soon, an array of marques became available in all shapes, sizes, and colors with thousands of optional features and technologies. But, they were still, essentially, objects for sale. Over the last few decades, manufacturers and dealers made more of an effort to create a relationship with drivers, and they began to offer more and more electronics within the car – for entertainment, navigation, safety, and efficiency. Those electronics were fixed items. They shipped with the car and, mostly, were only checked or modified by service personnel at a dealership or garage.

The digital automobile is different. It’s not just an object. It’s a process and a relationship that extends end-to-end to, ultimately, the driver. And that means it needs an entirely different approach to its manufacture, sale, and aftercare. Digital technology thrives on data. And that data is enabling manufacturers to make the right cars at the right times with the right configurations – serving both a mass audience and a market of one. Drivers want a relationship with the marque they choose that extends beyond the sale and even the regular service. They want the car to be updated and augmented just as their smartphones or computers are.

That means reframing the way a manufacturer sees the product and the customer. It means using data to make more finely-grained decisions right across the supply-chain, throughout the factory, and the distribution network beyond. It means, first and foremost, focusing on the ultimate customer who, increasingly, might not even want to own the car! Enabling that new, data-driven relationship is what we’re all about at Fujitsu, and our new Spotlight looks at some key issues, from Over-the-Air Updates to dealing with increasing amounts of video data within vehicles, to ultimately deploying AI to get closer to the mythical ‘autonomous vehicle’. I recommend you have a read.

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