New means of getting from A to B are disrupting carmaking

IN THE DECADES after the second world war carmakers were the undisputed champions of the personal-transport economy. Competition and economies of scale made cars affordable to millions of motorists in industrialised countries. In the 1980s and 1990s the likes of General Motors (GM) and Toyota boasted some of the world’s richest market capitalisations. When it came to getting around town, nothing beat the automobile.
Today the picture looks different. Of the five most valuable firms in the moving-people-around business only two, Toyota of Japan and Volkswagen of Germany, are established carmakers. Ahead of everyone by a country mile is Tesla, an American company that has disrupted the car industry by turning electric vehicles from an unsightly curiosity (remember the G-wiz?) into a serious challenger to the internal combustion engine. Rounding off the top five are not carmakers at all but Uber, an American ride-hailing giant worth over $100bn, and Didi Chuxing, a Chinese one that on April 10th was reported to have filed confidentially to go public in New York and hopes for a similar valuation.

After being slow to react to the threat from Tesla, legacy carmakers are—just about—getting to grips with electrification. Now another disruption lurks around the corner. Changing habits and technology are forcing car…
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