As cars evolve into smartphones on wheels, and ride-sharing takes the place of vehicle ownership, the balance of power in the auto industry is undergoing a fundamental shift at the expense of the likes of GM, Ford, Honda and BMW — and in favour of the once unfashionable parts suppliers.
Judging by recent developments, many of the world’s biggest carmakers are lurching from one setback to another. The big three in Germany — Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW — face accusations that they held secret meetings over a number of years to collude on technology. In the US, Tesla has won blanket free advertising in the media for its new electric car, the Model 3.
Yet the established companies face an even deeper dilemma that goes to the core of their business model. There is a growing fear that carmakers will be shut out from selling vehicles to individual buyers, as ride-hailing apps — soon to feature self-driving vehicles — displace car ownership. Their new buyers will instead be fleet services that can purchase in bulk at lower prices, robbing carmakers of their brand value.