Automakers are facing a "decade of disruption," Nissan Europe Chairman Paul Willcox said last month, adding his voice to the chorus of car executives who are explaining how they will not only adapt to a digital future but thrive in the new environment.
"We're on the cusp of a mobility revolution," Ford CEO Mark Fields told the massive Barcelona Mobile World Congress tech event in February.
The topic ranks so high on the list of priorities at global automakers that Volkswagen Group CEO Matthias Mueller told senior managers last month that becoming a "mobility provider" is key to the automaker's efforts to move past its emission-cheating scandal. "We want to lead Volkswagen out of the company's most difficult situation ever and shape it into a mobility provider," Reuters quoted Mueller as saying.
In addition, BMW Group CEO Harald Krueger used the automaker's centennial celebration and its annual press conference, both in March, to explain how the world's No.1 global premium automaker by unit sales will transform into the leading provider of premium mobility and services.
There is a reason why automakers now habitually refer to themselves as mobility providers: The industry has entered an era when ride-sharing service Uber is routinely valued higher than an established automaker such as General Motors. That has forced most automakers to increase their efforts to head off future challenges from aggressive digital rivals while also satisfying the demands of a tech-savvy customer base.
"We are seeing a revolution in customer behavior and expectations," Nissan’s Willcox told journalists last month. "It’s going to have a big impact on the way we produce products and services, and the people we hire."
Ford of Europe Chief Operating Officer Barb Samardzich compared the dangers faced by car companies with those of Kodak and Polaroid. "They didn’t see digital cameras coming. We don't want to be left behind like that," she told Automotive News Europe.