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Robert Scoble on Geeky CEO’s: Right Idea, but It’s Data not Gadgetry that Matters

December 12th, 2010 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Robert Scoble’s most recent post about technology and cars is thought-provoking but IMHO lacks what geeks are supposed to like most — and that is data. With that in mind, let me provide some documentation into why people buy cars, fully reinforced with supporting data backed by large sample sets and geeky things like regression analysis.

At it’s essence, Robert’s post claims that smart car company CEOs should put geeky features like iPod holders at the top of the product differentiator list, and those who fail to do so will suffer badly:

“Fact: every other car company CEO knows that what differentiates cars today is GEEKY FEATURES +not+ engine, transmission, etc.”

Why do People Buy the Cars they Do?
Needless to say, robust research exists in the arena of what drives people to buy what they do. These data sets include people outside of California. A good synopsis of recent data regarding automotive purchases is here.

“In their 2007 survey, based on 2,600 consumers across five countries (United States China, France, Germany, and United Kingdom), Capgemini documented the following factors as being very important to consumers in their vehicle purchase decisions. Ranked in order of stated importance: reliability of brand, safety, price of vehicle, fuel economy, quality of interior/style, after-sales service, brand name of vehicle, products and services, extra options at no extra cost, vehicle availability, sales/delivery date, trade-in value, environmental factors, product/feature options, ability to research information on Internet, 0% or low financing, additional warranty coverage/service credit, and cash-back incentives.”

I’m not seeing “geekiness” as a priority here. One could argue that it fits under the heading “product/feature options”, but even granted that, it’s 13th(!) on the priority list. Hardly the prime directive for a CEO. In fact, I would argue a reasonable shareholder in an auto manufacturer would ask for the ouster of a leader who puts it first.

Outside the bubble of Bay Area California, it seems more likely that it’s non-geeky things (like how much you can haul) that really matters. Data from Google Insights comparing quantity of search requests bears this out:

Far more Americans perform searches about big pickups than they do about gas-sipping hybrids:

Sales data backs this up. Sales of pickup trucks run almost ten to one over Prius cars.

Profits per car? No comparison. The Prius contributes only one third of what a pickup does for every vehicle sold.

It is true that interest in Prius cars is strong in geeky areas like Silicon Valley:

As an aside — Robert stresses the safety features of his Prius. Indeed, the car ranks extremely high according to the IIHS. Regrettably, this does not seem to be reflected in recent search data.

More data. China is the largest auto market in the world. What’s the number one brand there? GM’s Buick. I’ve been there, and I can tell you that practical real-world cars dominate. Drive around for a few days on the streets of Beijing and see how many Prius you come across. To say sales of geeky hybrids there are “dismal would be an understatement.”

I agree with Robert that I want the CEO of the company I own stock in to get geeky. Geeky with data though. CEO’s should prioritize based on relevant information at hand and pursue the opportunities that really matter.

Disclaimers: I own a 1964 Chevy Corvette and a 1974 Pontiac Firebird. GM is a supporter of my Tweet House gatherings. My wife drives a Highlander. I bought a gadget-laden BMW X5 that spent much of its time in the repair shop at great expense getting said gadgets repaired. I bought a lot of Toyota stock (down 40% now) after reading an article in MIT Technology review about how awesome the Prius was.


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