WAYNE, Mich. -- Is consolidation or expansion the future of the car industry?
It's an interesting debate. One one hand, Saab is flirting between life and death at the moment.
On other other hand, in the last five years a proliferation of brands – Tesla, Fisker, Aptera, Coda – have emerged and some Chinese manufacturers are trying to go global with their low-cost cars. Moreover, customers seem excited: Think has 2,300 people on a waiting list for its electric town car. New brands are a definite possibility.
Bill Ford Jr., Chairrman of Ford (still confirming any family relationship), was asked that question at a briefing last week. He recalled a project he worked on 25 years ago at the company in which strategists tried to paint a picture of the auto industry.
"We concluded that there would be six auto manufacturers: two in North America, two in Europe and Two in Asia," he said. "That wasn't exactly right. There are more companies today than there were then."
Then again, producing cars is a big company, industrial sort of activity. Ben Rosen, one of the most successful VCs in the early days of tech, tried to break into the car business with Rosen Motors in the 80s. Didn't work out.
One big stumbling block looming for start-ups is crash and safety testing, predicted Gunnar Herrmann, director of the Global C Platform.
"When this happens in 2012 and 2013, we could see a clearing rain," Herrmann said.
So stay tuned.