A participant of a delegation from a German premium car maker asks me how Silicon Valley sees the German automotive industry. A good question. When I moved to Silicon valley in 2001 I was surprised how many German brands were driven here. The density of Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, or Volkswagen on the roads was similar to German streets. Those who could afford – and in Silicon Valley many people can – drove a German car. No surprise, given that German engineering is the benchmark for quality and design. Steve Jobs for instance drove for years only Mercedes.
The predominant feeling for German makers in 2001 was admiration. In 2017 admiration is still here for the quality of the craft, but succumbed to melancholy. The same feeling that you have, when you look at a formerly great brand, nation, or person and watch the decline. But it’s not that people in Silicon Valley warned German carmakers. Every Silicon Valley industry expert that I had worked with raised the flags with German delegations, pointed to the ongoing changes and urged them to react and change their setups. But four years after Tesla delivered its Model S, German OEMs neither have a competitive offer nor something in development. Given all the announcements the efforts seem unmotivated and far too short reaching.
In Silicon Valley, the Tesla Models S and X are signs that ‘you made it’ and that you belong to the ‘in-group’. Event the most ardent fans of German brands start doubting their loyalty. Driving a German brand becomes a sign that you belong to an old industry and turn into a dinosaur. Something that people in Silicon Valley – the innovation capital of the world – feel very sensitive about. The claim for technology leadership goes through all industries.
The wish to help slowly is pushed aside by the understanding that you can only help someone who wants to be helped. Recent announcements of German car makers to invest billions into old engine technologies shows one thing: you didn’t get the sign of the times and don’t want to be helped.
An German automotive executive talked about his own frustration. His years that he spent in the American automotive capital Detroit made him wonder the whole time, whether this is the future of Stuttgart or Wolfsburg as well. He hasn’t found his answer yer, but there is less and less time left not to become melancholic.