"Our new car, the Super-Duper Electric 101, with 300 miles of range, is $39,999 and is shipping TODAY." -- Said no auto executive at a launch event, ever.
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- No, the auto industry is not Steve Jobs introducing the next iPhone. Typically, a car company (1) shows a prototype two years before the car hits the showroom and then (2) shows the final production car in the form of a "formal introduction" one year before the showroom date.
In other words, the standard operating procedure in the car world is to be two years ahead in terms of communicating with the consumer. Occasionally, they skip the first stage and it's down to one year. But that's it in most cases -- one year, normally two.
In contrast, in the smartphone/computer business, companies such as Google (GOOG) and Apple (AAPL) nowadays either have zero lag, or no more than two weeks, from announcement to the product shipping. In fact, the entire product development cycle fits inside the last automotive launch stage of one year!
In other words, the differences couldn't be more stark. We will never see the automotive industry do what Steve Jobs pioneered at Apple: "Our new product, .... shipping today!"
Or will we?
I think the industry is about to see some path-breaking surprises, and they're in the area of electric cars. Let me first describe a little bit of history so you can see the contrast.
Let's start with the Chevrolet Volt. This car started development as a concept car in 2006, which was shown in January 2007. The plan got green-lighted right thereafter, yielding the "final production version" being shown in September 2008.
General Motors (GM - Get Report) promised the Volt would enter production in November 2010, and it did. In this case, the lead time to production was unusual -- almost four years. It was almost as if the public had a transparent view into the development from start to finish.
Why did GM announce the Volt so dramatically far in advance? Some would say it needed a bailout, and the Volt as "halo project" would help. That doesn't explain the January 2007 prototype or all the work leading up to the September 2008 "final production version," however.