Francois Bancon, VP of product strategy at Infiniti Motor, believes that carmakers have to transform themselves into “mobility partners within the mobility ecosystem”, which includes retail, systems, software, platforms, services and vehicles.
Speaking at the Infiniti Lab in Hong Kong as part of the startup accelerator’s speaker series, Bancon said that like many carmakers, Infiniti is at risk in the mobility world. He described a shift happening to the business models of carmakers due to tech companies and platforms entering the mobility space.
Although the “battle” won’t be won or lost overnight, Bancon said that companies like Apple and Google could, for example, provide a plan to the mayor of a city saying that they will manage all its data systems, make the city “smart”, and connect car to city and city to car.
“If I was Apple I would then say I will synchronise the entire city’s data flow, including water levels, whatever you want," Bancopn said. "And on top of this I could say I’m going to provide the hardware solution, which is a car—the stupid part of the equation.”
“At that point, car manufacturing will be subcontracted to carmakers. These people don’t want to make cars because it’s an oily, unprofitable and heavy industry,” he said. “Imagine if Infiniti was a subcontractor. When that happens, we’re dead.”
Some carmakers are ahead of the curve however, and Bancon suggested that emerging companies like Tesla that started later were able to “shortcut” their business models and get a lot closer to the direction mobility is heading in.
“We are not exactly the best, but we are there with some of these emerging players,” said Bancon. “I must admit Elon Musk has done a good job and we should respect our competitors. It is positive because he has helped create new markets and potential for the carmaking industry as a whole.”
Why Infiniti is working with startups
Bancon’s view of the future is that Infiniti’s target customer might change in a world where cities become the “operating system”.
"Today we make marketing and communication plans for individual customers," he said. "Tomorrow, we might have to promote our ideas to cities."
To be prepared, he believes that startups, which are supposed to be “quick, agile, frugal and creative”, will be able to help Infiniti tap into “micro-trends and creative ideas” that would otherwise be overlooked or tossed aside due to more “important and urgent matters”.
“The fact is that we will always be big, and even if we are not slow, we will always be ‘not fast enough’,” he said.
For example, according to Bancon, the time-to-market in the car industry is five years when things are good. On the other hand, the time-to-market for mobile phones is about three to six months. In fashion, it's anywhere from two weeks to two months.
“People might understand that to build a building it takes some time, but they won’t understand why it takes so long to build a car,” said Bancon. “And by the way, we agree with that.”
Beyond just the cosmetic appeal of working with startups, Bancon sees the integration as a fundamental step forward for Infiniti's business.
He described the Infiniti Lab startup accelerator program as a starting point. “I think we’re going to increase and improve this initiative," he said. "And not just because we like the startups or want to have fun. This is a condition for surviving in the future.”
Infiniti's four frontiers of mobility: