What if Steve Jobs ran one of the Big-3 auto companies?

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You know who Steve Jobs is. He returned to Apple as their CEO in 1997 when the company was in deep trouble–even worse trouble than some of today’s car companies. They were losing money and had a very low market share. Today, Apple has no debt, they routinely introduce new game-changing products, and they have $22 billion in the bank. Jobs gets the credit for this very impressive turnaround.

Robert X. Cringely allowed himself to imagine what one of the Big 3 car companies would look like if Jobs was their CEO. Here are some excerpts:

Back in 1997 Apple had a huge list of products it made or sold, many of them not for a profit. Here is a partial list of Apple products from 1997 courtesy of my friend Orrin, who brought this idea to my attention:

Power Macintosh
Workgroup and network servers LaserWriter laser printers
StyleWriter inkjet printers
Newton PDAs
External disk drives
Lots of software

And don’t forget the Mac clones. Jobs killed the clones, dropped the Newton, and streamlined the Mac product line into what today are four ranges of computers — personal and professional, desktop and portable. Yes, there are the Mac Mini and the xServe, I know, but nearly all Apple computer sales lie with the MacBooks, MacBook Pros, iMacs and Mac Pros.


The first lesson Jobs learned was that he couldn’t build a successful company selling products at a loss. While we can argue that Apple prices are higher than they might be, nobody can argue with Apple’s quality or its success at selling those products. So the first thing Jobs would do as head of a U.S. car company would be to eliminate the lines that are showing — and have long shown — little or no profit, which today generally means the biggest and the smallest cars. Goodbye Hummer.


That’s where Steve Jobs’ second strength comes into play — identifying important new technologies. He’d look at the car market and conclude a number of things: 1) it’s a no-brainer to embrace dramatic design (no boring cars); 2) performance sells, and; 3) safety and fuel economy are co-equal secondary goals. So Steve’s goal for his car company would be to make a limited line of vehicles that were dramatically styled with visibly different technologies from the competitors and were uniformly 20+ percent safer and 20+ percent more fuel-efficient.


And Steve would also embrace one dramatic new technology, whether it is electric, hydrogen, natural gas, whatever, but he’d do it in a very Steveian fashion, which is to say exactly the way he did the iPod and iTunes. That is, he’d sell you the car and then sell you whatever is required to fill up the car. This has always been a barrier for the car companies because they couldn’t imagine themselves in the business of running electric/hydrogen/LPG stations, while Steve would imagine his company MAKING A PROFIT running just those stations.

Steve would take an existing operation that already had an ideal geographic distribution like McDonald’s restaurants. He would buy McDonald’s or seduce the company into a deal. Then he’d embrace a propulsion technology like advanced electric capacitors — batteries that could be recharged in less than a minute — and put charging stations on the drive-through lanes. By the time the electric models were ready for sale he’d have 12,000 charging stations in place to serve them. Would you like fries with that charge?

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