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Horace Dediu: Beware the siren song of the Apple car

February 24, 2015, 3:57 PM UTC

Ten commandments and a chart.

That’s what Asymco’s Horace Dediu delivered Monday in The Entrant’s Guide to the Automobile Industry, his take on the latest Apple product rumor.

Dediu looks at industries through the lens of disruptive innovation, and he’s been asking for some time — before the Apple car reports started piling up — what it would take for a new entrant to displace the U.S., European and Asian incumbents.

The chart, shortened above to fit Fortune’s procrustean format, shows the number of new players in the U.S. auto industry peaking 100 years ago — in 1914 — when production accelerated, economies of scale kicked in and barriers of entry, in his word, exploded. According to Dediu, 1,556 firms entered the U.S. auto market before consolidation wiped out all but a handful.

“In the last half-century 14 tried and all failed,” he writes. “The first analytical task for the entrant today is to ask why there have been so few others succeeding in the last century.”

As for the 10 commandments, they include: (I quote)

  • It’s easier to design and build a Ferrari than a Ford. At its logical extrapolation of this rule one can observe that a Formula One team is a trifling hobby compared to the effort needed to build the shabbiest of hatchbacks.
  • Almost all meaningful innovation occurs in the production system (not the vehicle). If you want to find the next “big thing” in automobiles, look for a new production system.
  • To understand how cars will or won’t change, study roads. Walmart, McDonalds and Amazon and the entire retail, food and agriculture sectors owe their existence to the roads that car adoption paid for. If you want to change the car you have to also understand how the roads need to change.


For his other seven commandments, click here.

Dediu sometimes sounds like former GM CEO Dan Akerson, who recently said of Apple:

They’d better think carefully if they want to get into the hard-core manufacturing. We take steel, raw steel, and turn it into car. They have no idea what they’re getting into if they get into that.” (link)

The difference between Dediu and Akerson is that one thinks disruption is impossible. The other thinks it’s inevitable.

Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter at @philiped. Read his Apple AAPL coverage at or subscribe via his RSS feed.