Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer is a Professor at the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Duisberg-Essen, in Germany.
Around here, he’s known simply as The Dude and he’s not always popular, but when The Dude speaks, we usually listen.
Today, The Dude is being quoted by the perpetually concerned-looking Neil Winton, from the Detroit News. The Dude is placing himself squarely at odds with Fiat’s Sergio Marchionne, who recently prophesied that in the near future, there will only be around 5 car companies worldwide and that a company will need to produce around 6 million units a year to keep going.
Dudenhoeffer thinks any moves manufacturers make to seek safety by getting bigger are doomed to failure.
“The report about Opel and Mercedes makes no sense at all. There will no big mergers in the future. If you want to make companies like Opel with annual sales of only about 1.6 million (European market leader VW sold more than 6 million vehicles worldwide in 2008) long term sustainable you need platform sharing agreements rather than corporate mergers.
Opel could share say, a BMW 3-series platform for its larger cars. That would also allow BMW to compete better with (VW’s) Audi. And why not put Ford Europe’s Focus and Opel’s Astra on the same platform? This would allow Europeans to be more competitive against VW and Toyota, and the Chinese who will arrive tomorrow,” Dudenhoeffer said.
“We need to achieve scale economies by cooperation for success in the future,” he said.
I’m not sure how BMW agreeing to water down the exclusivity of its 3-series platform allows it to compete better with Audi, but that’s why The Dude is The Dude. Because he knows these things.
The thing that does make sense, especially for Saab’s future, is the idea of co-operation and specialisation. Lotus are probably the niche car company of the future? Building low volume, white-hot cars themselves and supporting that with engineering work for others.
The Saab of the future could very well end up looking like this. A company that takes a base from one manufacturer, engineers it to its needs and produces a car made in accord with Swedish ideas and Saab philosophies. Meanwhile, they build up and then outsource their safety, turbocharging, hybrid (they’re working on it) and engine management expertise to others in support of their car-building activities.
There’s a lot of exciting potential vehicle combinations out there using this scenario. The possibilities are endless.