Reflections on the 2013 PVMI Researchers Meeting and Fall Conference

Dan Whitney participates in discussion at the 2013 Mack Institute Fall Conference..
Dan Whitney participates in discussion at the 2013 Mack Institute Fall Conference.

In addition to hosting the 2013 Fall Conference with the Program on Vehicle and Mobility Innovation (PVMI), the Mack Institute also held a PVMI Researchers Meeting on November 21, 2013. Both events focused on the theme of disruptive technologies and value migration. In this guest blog post, PVMI veteran Dan Whitney of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reflects on current and ongoing PVMI research that was presented during the meeting and the conference, focusing on the topics of electric vehicles and alternative fuel technologies.

This year’s first PVMI researchers’ meeting was combined with a meeting of the Mack Institute, to which the former IMVP is now allied. PVMI research spans a wide area including electric vehicles, product development, supplier-OEM relations, and international and emerging market activities. As a dual major in engineering and history, I was particularly interested in papers that revealed the history of companies and vehicle architectures, such as the adoption of front and rear wheel drives and the evolution of the minivan at Chrysler, Ford and GM in the 1970s and 80s as well as the look at the adoption of, and later retreat from, heavyweight product managers.

I was also struck by the number of papers dealing with electric vehicles. I admit to being somewhat skeptical of a consumer product that requires a subsidy, however, and wonder if a mass market electric vehicle will be successful. In a different venue I had a discussion with others about the Tesla whose Model S seems more popular than most mass market EVs. The Tesla gets no subsidy and is eagerly bought by people who don’t need one. Maybe there is a message here.

In that vein, the second day of the conference, offered views of other alternate fuel technologies for vehicles, including compressed natural gas. I rode in a CNG taxi in Tokyo in 1974 so this idea is not new. (Yes there was room for my big suitcase in the trunk along with the CNG tank.) It would be interesting to see some PVMI research comparing EVs with CNGs or other alternate fuel vehicles.

Finally, I had great fun listening to the real J.D. Power talk about how he started his signature company. I wish we’d had more time for questions.

Dan Whitney