May 22, 2009

Detroit needs open innovation

An article posted today from the June Wired magazine talks about how the Detroit automakers could use some open innovation. It includes quotes from Henry Chesbrough, author of Open Innovation, Open Business Models and director of Berkeley’s Center for Open Innovation.

The article starts with Brian Ahlborn, president of Transonic Combustion, which is designing more efficient fuel injectors for automobile engines.

Here is a relevant snippet from the article by Charles Mann:
Transonic believes that its products could help drivers get as much as 100 miles per gallon out of otherwise standard internal combustion engines. "If you double gas mileage, that ultimately cuts consumption by about half," Transonic president Brian Ahlborn says. "We're in business to make money, but we're aware of what that kind of dramatic drop could imply." He hopes that in the next few years Transonic fuel injectors will be in millions of vehicles, saving millions of gallons of gas a year.
Not long ago, Ahlborn's dream would have seemed quixotic. Detroit's Big Three automakers have for decades been notoriously hostile to outside innovation; Flash of Genius and Tucker, films that decry the industry's insularity, are both based on true stories. No small US company has grown into a big carmaker in the past 50 years—one of the reasons that the automobile itself hasn't changed more fundamentally during that time. "It's as if the computer industry were still dominated by Wang and Data General and DEC, and they were still selling minicomputers," says Henry Chesbrough, executive director at UC Berkeley's Center for Open Innovation.

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