More on booster seats

November , 2011

A recent article explains the change to California law, which now requires kids to be in a booster seat until they are 8 years old or 4’9″ tall, whichever comes first.  Previously, the cutoff was 6 years old or 60 lbs, whichever came first.

Making the criterion be height rather than weight makes a lot of sense, because how the seat belt hits a child depends more on height than on weight. For a seat belt to work properly, restrain the passenger, and prevent injuries, the shoulder belt should go across the chest, and the lap belt go across the pelvic bones.  If the shoulder belt goes across the neck, or if the lap belt hits the soft tissue of the abdomen, the belt itself can cause injuries.  And while safety and crash engineers have put a lot of thought and work into making all the safety features in a vehicle work for many sizes of people, it’s a tough challenge to make something work for children as well as, for example, a beefy football player.

I expect this to be another in the series of changes that have been reducing death and injury in automobiles.

The Mercury News has had two interesting articles recently on the topic of electric cars.  This one, from Sept 17th, is a pretty good summary of electric cars that are coming soon, many made by big boys like Volkswagen, GM, Hyundai, and BMW.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find an online copy of the second article, but in some ways it’s even more interesting.  The title:  “Nissan to make electric cars hum”.

It turns out that electric vehicles are naturally very quiet.  And since people working on cars have been struggling to make engines quieter for decades, it wasn’t intuitively obvious that there was such a thing as too quiet.  But there is.  Pedestrians tend to expect cars to make some noise, and especially kids, the elderly, blind people, or those listening to iPods may not notice a very quiet vehicle.

So the Nissan engineers started thinking about sound, and what kind of sound to add.

“We decided that if we’re going to do this, if we have to make sound, then we’re going to make it beautiful and futuristic,” Toshiyuki Tabata, a Nissan engineer, said.  Then he and his team went out to consult Japanese composers of film scores.

Now that’s thinking about things in a new way!  I’m so happy they didn’t just make a recording of a throaty gasoline engine.  What they decided to do instead solves the problem in a much more interesting way.

I finally read The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen, which originally came out in 1997 (with a revised edition in 2000).  See my review.  I clearly should have read it a long time ago.

When reading it, I kept thinking how much it explains so many things about the GM EV1 project.  It explains how the crack EV1 marketing team still had trouble defining a market (Christensen’s Principle #3:  Markets that Don’t Exist Can’t be Analyzed).  It explains why Tesla, which has sold something like 700 vehicles, is considered a success, while the GM EV1, which put out a lot more, is considered a failure (Principle #2:  Small Markets Don’t Solve the Growth Needs of Large Companies).

It even explains how a big company like GM might have been able to do more with a disruptive technology.  It’s in Chapter Six — Match the Size of the Organization to the Size of the Market.

It makes me wonder.  What if GM had spun off the EV into its own small company, and put that company into its own markets, its own value network, and most of all, its own culture.  I had noticed right away, in moving from California to Michigan in 1991 how much the culture was different.  But they wouldn’t have had to move the project all the way to California.  Nope, Ann Arbor, which physically is practically next door, is culturally way different.  I think spinning it off, even if kept as a fully owned subsidiary, and moving it to Ann Arbor, would have resulted in a far different organization, one that could get excited about small markets, and could grow and nurture the small markets.

The EV1 that actually was built was a great car.  The small market that loved it, really, really loved it.  But imagine if it had been allowed to mature, to improve every couple of years with a new version.  Imagine where we would be today!

Then again, hindsight is 20/20 as they say.  A lot of very smart people tried very hard, but the innovator’s dilemma got them.  Let’s try and stay awake and not let it get us the next time.

So now it appears that VW has purchased Porsche.  How many global automotive companies can we get down to, do you think?   This should mean some cost savings in the scaling.  But the trick, as usual, is to get the cost benefits while still managing to keep the unique characteristics of each brand.  I hope it works.