The Automotive Revolution

On the 4th of December, Bocconi Students for Innovation were delighted to host a panel discussion on the automotive revolution in collaboration with B.lab. The esteemed guests from innovative players in the automotive industry and an automotive consulting firm, provided the audience with a terrific stimulating discussion which was met with enthusiasm.

Part of the BSI Team who organised the event

Following introductions by Pietro Tansini President of BSI, and the moderator Matteo di Castelnuovo, Bocconi professor and director of the MaGER programme, the discussion quickly turned to the key issues in the automotive industry and the future of mobility. Andrea Marinoni, a Senior Partner at Roland Berger, outlined the key issues of the status quo in the automotive industry regarding the negative externalities that are caused by cars, such as air pollution and congestion. He questioned the conceptualisation of innovative developments in the automotive sector as following a linear curve and maintained that present developments are exponential, not linear. This poses a range of issues, given that innovations, particularly in the electric mobility arena, are very capital-intensive and only bring returns in an uncertain future. However, developments in the automotive sector are currently moving faster than predicted, thereby demonstrating the exponential nature of automotive innovations and showcasing the likeliness that the future will behold revolutionary innovations for us. A key role in these developments can be played by smart cities, where resources and expertise in areas like Artificial Intelligence are clustered.

Antonio De Bellis, a Sales Country Manager at the robotics and innovation behemoth ABB, was equally generous in sharing his expertise with the audience. Highlighting the salience of new and disruptive players in the market who create new rules for the game, he argued that the concept of partnerships is pivotal to understanding the future of the automotive industry, given that no player can win the market for itself. Therefore, the development of a comprehensive ecosystem where individual companies have their own abilities and work together to build an innovative future is crucial to future success. Noteworthy in these developments is the role that Italy plays, given that it is home to leading producer of fast-chargers for electric vehicles. Whilst there is undoubtedly still room for growth and improvement, Italy need not consider itself a perennial laggard in this regard.

As the discussion opened to questions from the captivated audience, the focus of the discussion was turned towards some very current issues in the mobility sector. In discussing the impacts of the Dieselgate scandal, the panellists, Diesel-drivers themselves, argued that the trust issues resulting from the scandal constituted another nail in the coffin of the carbon era and a potential accelerator for innovative developments. Turning towards the importance of new battery production methods, that are superior to those that are currently used, a light was shone on to how these loss-yielding investments are being cross-subsidised from profits on conventional cars. Whilst petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles are undoubtedly exerting negative externalities on society, they are paradoxically also generating the cash that is being used to develop their eventual replacements.

Whilst current issues like Dieselgate and a lack of competitively priced electric vehicles might make it seem like progress is lagging, it equally became clear that further progress is inevitable and occurring at exponential speeds. As the panellists faded into the dullness of a brisk Milanese winter night following the end of the discussion, the audience was therefore left with a feeling that the future certainly holds many greater things that are still to come.

David Metcalf

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