Being first can be a benefit and a drawback
“New” always has an exciting future vision of the world ahead. It paints innovators as wizards. The degree of excitement and wizardry is confirmed by a company’s skyrocketing stock price. However, none of that hoopla conveys permanence because “new” also means unforeseen bumps, potholes and detours will be encountered on the road ahead. The proof is in the previous “new” roads that are littered with crashed former leaders.
As an investor, remember this wise observation: “A company doesn’t have to be first out of the gate to win.” Being first does mean successfully innovating and blazing a trail. However, that gives followers a route to follow. For less time, expense and effort, the followers can see what worked and what didn’t. Then they can leapfrog the leaders with their own proprietary advances.
Real success comes when demand expands
As market demand grows and broadens, product differentiation (engineering, design, features, operation, delivery, service and price) becomes a key success determinant. Companies then get sorted out by their strengths, strategies, results and expectations.
Will Tesla and BYD still be the leaders in the electric vehicle marketplace? Probably not. The transportation industry’s long-time leaders (the “majors”) are now expanding into the Tesla-BYD space. There are substantial reasons why they will overtake and overwhelm Tesla and BYD (along with all the other electric vehicle newbies).
First, the majors possess experienced human resources in all areas of vehicle creation, production, pricing, marketing, and servicing. Moreover, they understand and work with government agencies that oversee different aspects of the transportation business (think safety and recalls)
Second, the shift to all electric vehicles will take years. (As a reference point, California Governor Newsome has approved a rule that all new cars sold in California must have zero emissions beginning in 2035 – 12 years from now.) In the meantime, gasoline, diesel and hybrid vehicle sales will continue to provide financial resources to the majors for a buildout of their electric vehicle strategies.
Third, fuel (gas and diesel) stations for non-electric vehicles are numerous, whereas electric recharging stations are not. Yes, they will be some day in the future, but until then “road trip” worries will continue to keep many drivers in their non-electric vehicles. (See this NPR article about the US Energy Secretary’s recent caravan road trip to promote electric vehicles.)
Fourth, today’s roadways are not designed for hands-off drivers who want to snooze or watch a video. Doing so puts them and others at risk from any incident not anticipated by the “autopilot” software programmers.
Fifth, the future need for uninterrupted electricity flow to recharge the millions of electric vehicles will be a financially and environmentally challenging task. Additionally, outages (the loss of recharging capability) caused by blackouts, brownouts, storms, wildfires, landslides, earthquakes, extreme temperatures, accidents, sabotage, or utility system hacking could cause widespread issues – ranging from frustration to hardship to danger.
Sixth, innovation will continue. Today’s state of the art will become another stepping stone to new and better. Naturally, consumers will want the latest fresh products – not yesterday’s stale offerings.
Seventh, longer-term report cards will start coming in. Data about batteries, mileage, electronic controls, crash results, construction integrity, and maintenance issues will both educate consumers and differentiate among manufacturers.
The bottom line: The true value of a “good idea” is in the details
The guru saith: “An electric vehicle emits no pollution, so everyone should drive one.”
We respond: “Good idea!”
Bad response. We should have said, “So, how does that happen?”
Naturally, the guru isn’t going to bite at that request. Claiming a need for rest after his brilliant brainwork, he leaves the details to us.
And that’s where this saying comes in: “The devil is in the details.” As defined by the Macmillan Dictionary: “Something may seem simple, but in fact the details are complicated and likely to cause problems.”
Beyond the electric vehicle industry’s details for getting from here to there, add in the details (complications) of multiple country governments, umpteen competing companies, large resource needs, heavy financial flows, and potentially noteworthy economy effects.
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