BARCELONA -- Tech companies may have an advantage as innovators in the battle for leadership of the future market for mobility but only automakers have the industrial scale to make new developments a reality for the masses, Seat President Luca de Meo said.
Some industry watchers predict that automakers could in future be just suppliers of cars as hardware, ceding market dominance to companies such as Google and Apple.
However, automakers can take comfort that predictions from forecasters and pundits rarely have been proven correct, de Meo said in the Automotive News Europe Congress keynote speech at Barcelona soccer club's Nou Camp stadium on Wednesday.
Analysts long predicted the demise of Seat or that budget cars would dominate the European market, he said. But Seat is now back in profit after a decade of losses and high-margin SUVs are now the hot-sellers.
De Meo praised Tesla for its success, which created a strong motivation in the whole industry to focus on electromobility. But new technologies only will prove a success if they can deliver a substantial benefit to the customer, he said. Consequently, carmakers will have many years to prepare themselves to compete in electromobility against newcomers like Tesla.
"Although we had to wait for outsiders to create sexy electric cars or self-driving cars, the current players have the chance to make it real for the majority as has happened in the past again and again," he said.
Seat is working to develop its own EV using parent Volkswagen Group's modular MEB architecture for electric vehicles. The brand would not have been able to afford the cost of development on its own, de Meo said.
The tipping point at which electric drivetrains will overtake internal combustion engines is still a long way off, since their use remains limited by range and the high price tag and shaky residual values scares customers off. "There are more people paying a season ticket to Barcelona football club than people buying an electric car in Europe," he said.
De Meo was optimistic that the industry will thrive despite disruptive changes and new entrants, which automakers could partner with to be "co-petitors" not competitors.
"As an industry, historically we seldom came first in new technologies but our ability has always been to democratize it, make it reliable and accessible to the masses."
Over the past 20 years, automakers have proven more adaptable to new megatrends such as globalization than many other sectors. "Let's not underestimate the resilience of our industry," de Meo said.