David fights Goliath VIA the Detroit Automotive Show – a lesson in Contrarianism and Synergy

The Detroit International Automobile Show 2012.   Among the hundred thousand square feet vendor booths, and the multimillion dollar backdrops complete with state of the art multimedia, and eye candy models . . . both male and beautifully coiffed women;  sits the center of attention.

It is all about the cars.  There are cars.  Each collection is often changed out each day for maximum exposure.  Audi might have a new metallic paint the invites you to touch it’s too-strange-too-be-true finish.  That is OK because some t-shirted youth, armed with polishing rags and dust wands wander incessantly to make sure nary a fingerprint survives for seconds.

There in the middle of everything sits VIA Motors.  It is David against Goliath.  Twenty feet to one side is the newest Hyundai Veloster and flanking VIA on the other side is a Ferrari wanna-be, the burnt orange F7 sports car from Falcon Motor Sports.  Everywhere the concept cars entice with devilish coaxing, a Lexus here, the Tom Cruise Mission Impossible BMW there.

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE sits VIA Motors with their three trucks.  TRUCKS!  These are plain vanilla trucks, in fact they are painted white more exactly.  They had the audacity to call a press conference.  At the podium is retired Co-Chairman of General Motors, Bob Lutz.  The creator of the Dodge Viper is extolling the virtues of a truck that runs on batteries.  Trucks.  I mean, who has ever heard of VIA Motors? Square jawed Bob charges on:

  • 100 miles to the gallon with a 400 mile range.
  • Horsepower out of a 11 inch by 11 inch electric motor that equals the output of original equipment.
  • The ability for the construction worker to plug the table saws, their arc welders into their truck for power on the job site.

Next comes a customer, PG&E, the largest utility in the country.  Their calculations are that converting their fleet of trucks and vans to the VIA products will save them nine million dollars a year.  They paint a picture of one of these VIA trucks pulling up to a house that has lost power, plugging in and becoming the local power grid.

As I watch the press corps, they start with skepticism and grim facial expressions.  More show attendees stop to listen as the crowd thickens.  I notice the thin line mouths turn up.  Several reporters are smiling, the cameras flash, the tangle of video cameras grow by a couple of hand-helds as momentum increases.   The press conference screeches to an end and the mugging by reporters begins.

Ah but something is missing.

How could this VIA start up, who on a string budget, competes with those giant household names who bookend their booth.


While all the concept cars got the initial attention, THIS VIA Motors thing was different.  It was new, it was news.  In the fire engine red world, they were plain white.  In a herd of sports cars and sedans they were a truck with big clunky working tires.

What was hidden was the SYNERGY that went on behind the scenes.   Missing was the wife of the VP of Marketing who was laying under a truck just a few hours before so she could plug in a vacuum.  Why was this attractive blonde pushing a vacuum?  Heaven forbid that the models at the German engineering product let their models break a nail.

Unnoticed was the member of the Board who negotiated the borrowing of chairs for the press from a neighboring big name car company.   There was the son of one of the Board members who had been there since six that morning in his threadbare working trousers.

These “Davids” were so focused on one-upping the surrounding Goliaths, their origins from the Rocky Mountains, that they didn’t even consider that they were supposed to be intimidated by the sophistication, the sheer shock and awe that bespoke their Detroit competition.

But Synergy, that 1 + 1 + 1 = 5 magic, doesn’t add up the parts, it multiplies the effects of individuals whose creative problem solving allows them to strike out on divergent paths.  If they work and create with this same sort of creative abandon, this intensity, not knowing that they are breaking the rules they will with their Herculean efforts slay that giant.

Said David on his way to face his giant, while being offered swords, untried armor, “Nah, just let me stop and get a little bolder.”  (spelling intentional. . . it’s a joke)

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