Alain Visser (Lynk & Co): ‘Autonomous car is not a game changer’
Alain Visser is a Belgian who tries to reshape the automotive world. We heard him already about his Lynk & Co project with Volvo Cars Gent building them for Europe, the fact of using a car and not owning it. In an interview with Belgian newspaper De Tijd Visser focuses on other automotive issues. He for instance isn’t that sure that the autonomous car will be a game changer.
After working at Ford and General Motors, Belgian Alain Visser is now putting his ideas into reality at Volvo and its parent company Geely. That’s why he created Lynk & Co as a mobility company and not only a car seller/manufacturer. But he tries to think further.
Autonomous or not
Apparently the technological revolution in the car industry is not so easy or obvious as some may pretend. Lately the so-called autonomous or self-driving car has had some setbacks, for example the Uber accident, in which a woman crossing the road was killed.
Alain Visser has a clear vision on this: “The so-called autonomous revolution will be much less profound than many people think. The autonomous car is no game changer. Did you drive already in Shanghai? I have an enormous faith in engineers but I didn’t find one yet who can guide me safely through this chaos.”
“What’s more, I don’t believe this is going to happen. The expectations about the autonomous car are too high. Once again, it’s the industry showing off its technological know-how instead of asking itself what the consumer really wants.”
“I truly think that the average client likes to drive a car. Not to be stuck in a traffic jam, of course, or to drive a steady 120 km/h for hours, those things should be automated, but people who will still have a car at their disposal will like to drive it.”
Silicon Valley or China?
Will Silicon Valley be the big disruptor in the car industry? Alain Visser has his doubts: “The Googles and Apples of this world thought it would be easy to build a car, now they’ve seen it’s not so obvious. The car business also works with far smaller benefit margins. I think the Silicon Valley people maybe already have lost interest. Two years ago Apple let all its car engineers go.”
Is the automotive sector’s future situated in China then? “The Chinese car market is only 20 years old. They don’t have the arrogance nor the history of the European car industry. Most Chinese still buy their first car, they are far more open for new concepts. In Europe we are still thinking the Chinese are catching up on us. No, they are overtaking us, and fast!”
Alain Visser lives in Sweden, but passes one week every month in China. What can we learn from the Chinese?
“Speed. It’s hard to believe how quickly important decisions are taken in China. On all levels, products, processes, quality issues, marketing, etc. I travel to Shanghai every month. When I leave, the 10th floor of a huge building has just been built, when I come back the next month, they’re at the 50th floor.”
But speed can be treacherous, especially when you go too fast. “One can be too early with renewal. That’s why we put up a quick responding fail-and-correct system. If something doesn’t work, we correct immediately. We have to fail fast.”
“From the beginning I’ve said to the Geely people that the risk to keep on working in the same manner as the competitors is much more risky than to start something completely new. So that’s what we are doing.”