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GM, Human Horizons and a tolerance for solitude

I was in Shanghai earlier this week for two events: GM China’s annual Tech Day and Human Horizons’ launch of its luxury smart EV brand HiPhi and first model HiPhi 1 (see GM China shows local R&D prowess at Tech Day as ATC celebrates 10 year and SPOTLIGHT).

The two companies cannot be any more different from each other.

One is a century-old automaker and an American icon facing some major headwinds in the Chinese market, while the other is the newest Chinese smart EV startup yet to turn two as it tries to persevere and navigate its way to SOP in 2021.

But they also share some similar things.

One common thread that links the two companies together is that Human Horizons’ senior leadership is composed of executives who had previously worked at GM China or its joint ventures – the likes of Ding Lei (former president of SAIC-GM), Phil Murtaugh (former president of GM China), Kevin Chen (former head of sales & marketing for Cadillac at SAIC-GM), etc. I call them the “GM Gang.”

The other common thread that links them together is that they both need to tolerate solitude: patience for developing technologies or products before achieving fruitful results. In other words, there is a certain development process that they both need to go through that require a set amount of time, measured by years, not weeks or months.

Case in point is GM China’s Advanced Technical Center (ATC), which researches and develops advanced technologies that are 5-15 years out, which might not make it to market. The battery lab within GM China’s Science Lab, for example, develops and tests batteries that take on average 3-5 years before they actually are put to commercial use. How many Chinese smart EV startups have turned 5 years old? The ATC is like a technology “war chest” for GM China and globally, but cutting technologies that come out of it take years of development. There is a certain conservative nature of the development process that the traditional automakers follow that is “slow” compared to how fast Chinese smart EV startups iterate their products nowadays.

For Human Horizons, it’s still nearly two years out before the HiPhi 1 actually makes it to market. As other leading Chinese smart EV startups that have launched their products to market for some time now start to face growing pains over quality problems and customer treatment, will time be a friend or foe for Human Horizons? Can Ding and company turn many of the “fluffy” stuff announced at the brand launch into reality in two years?

In this day and age of rapid industry change, it’ll involve some extra efforts to remain patient and persevere while everyone races toward an electrified, connected, shared and autonomous future.

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