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Scott McNealy On the Auto Industry.

Get out of the "Detroit syndrome" and put the car on the Web, says Sun Microsystoms' outspoken CEO.

Scott McNealy has a non-traditional management style. A few years ago the chairman and CEO of Sun Microsystems called one of his best and brightest into his office and asked him why he wasn't happy. The guy said he'd been thinking about some new ideas and wanted to do them on his own. Rather than lose his skills, McNealy gave the man some capital and told him to go to it. A few years later this skunkworks handed the Java operating system to McNealy -- and rocketed Sun to fame.

Those are the kinds of ideas McNealy says the auto industry needs. Get out of the "Detroit syndrome." Take more risks. Believe in your people. Get your products connected to the World Wide Web.

McNealy recently shared his views on the auto industry during an SAE retreat at Greenbrier, W. Va.

"Life is being put on the Web," he says. "There is an opportunity to put the car on the Web." The problem, he believes, is that automakers are not taking advantage of it. Phone companies and even tollbooths can talk to the car; the automakers can't. If he has his way, that'll change soon, whether automakers are on board or not.

On making more money: In the future, automakers could get a cut of the service bill. McNealy sees a time when buyers will carry a card that is simply swiped though an automatic debit machine to pay for items such as gas, tires and repairs. At some point that "debit machine" could be linked to the car through the Internet so the customer could simply pay for the services through that link. The bill would come from the automaker, which would have business partnerships with those service providers. The card would, of course, be provided by an automaker -- and if McNealy has his way, the transaction will be handled by Java software.

He also sees a time when people will drive a car into a lot, park it and pick up another that is more suited for their current needs. For example, if you want a minivan for the weekend, you park your sedan. As you drive out you swipe the card and are billed by the automakers. And, guess what, you'll need to reserve that vehicle on the Web.

The automakers should think of the car as "Java with tires," McNealy says.

On service: A world of opportunity opens up as the automakers evolve their websites. Soon customers will be able to type www. (automakers' name), vin number and find out where their vehicle was built, who worked on it, what dealer sold it, what repairs were done and get updates for necessary service.

"Service is about 25% of the total lifecycle cost of a vehicle, so grab it," he advises.

On manufacturing: Linking vehicles to the Web could totally change manufacturing, McNealy predicts. Software-based upgrades could be downloaded into vehicles using the cell phone and the Web.

On the Internet as an invasion of privacy: People are concerned that they'll lose their privacy if the Web is linked to their car. The privacy issue is a "red herring," McNealy admits. The answer is honesty. Companies must always tell the customers what kind of information they are collecting and what they plan to do with it.

"I trust OnStar (GM's in-vehicle information system) not to track where I'm going and tell my wife," McNealy jokes. "But I've met Bill Clinton, and I'm no Bill Clinton."

There are other possibilities. With a GPS system and a link to the Web, a car can be programmed to stop kids from speeding. The card they carry will start the car and when it does their entire profile will be downloaded into the vehicle. Part of that profile can be speed and distance limits. Or, McNealy says, the GPS system can call home and warn parents that the kid is going too fast or going too far from home.

On Microsoft: As you might imagine, McNealy has no soft spot in his heart for arch-competitor Microsoft or its founder, Bill Gates. He claims his Java software is far superior to Microsoft's Auto PC because it lets people interact with the Web and it can't crash.

"It is mathematically proven, you can't send a virus on Java," he says. "Windows can send a virus and you'll get the blue screen of death." Microsoft has a "three-fingered salute -- Control, Alt, Delete," he adds.

McNealy warns the auto industry that "Microsoft can profile a car buyer better than you. Auto PC will infiltrate your car and tell Microsoft what gas stations or food stores you use." It can sell that information for advertising purposes. "That's why it wants to be in your car," he asserts.

On mobile offices: Once vehicles are linked to the Web it will be easier to create the much-ballyhooed "office on wheels," McNealy predicts. "The card you carry can bring your desktop into the car," he says.

On attracting the best and brightest: The auto industry must be "cooler," more accepting of people that don't fit the traditional mold. McNealy's advice: Get used to employees in grunge jeans who thrive on body piercing.

The Power of the Ring

Remember the ring Green Lantern wore that gave him superpowers? There's one available for the auto industry, and it's called the Java ring. This piece of jewelry can make your vehicle do whatever you want it to do--well, almost. Chips inside the piece of jewelry contain the profile of the owner. Simply stick the ring in the receptor in the car, or perhaps wave it in front of the sensor, and the car knows it's you and will obey your commands.

The vehicle can then be customized to a buyer's likes and dislikes and even be programmed to handle business transactions. For example, the "ring" may contain a link to the Worldwide Web that lets people do banking on-line. Say there's on Onstar system in the vehicle and it has e-GM. "You could turn the car on and be affiliated with a GM partner like Citibank," says Eric Chu, group marketing manager of Sun's consumer and embedded division. The device could download "money," like a virtual debit machine.

Take that a step further. Customers will be able to "pay" for a cable movie for the kids on the back seat, or, for a price, order up a special song on a non-commercial radio station. GM is already looking at offering just such a station through Onstar.

There is a catch, Chu says. There must be a common standard that links the car and the Web. Sun, of course, is lobbying for its Java system. That topic is currently under discussion among the automakers.

"The ring in only one way," says Chu." It uses the Java card technology so it can be on a ring or in a smart card, or any other way, like a belt or necklace." But, he points out, the ring is quite a fashion statement.

Sun Microsystems Chairman Scott McNealy is a believer. He wears one on his left hand.

-- Marjorie Sorge
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Comment:Scott McNealy On the Auto Industry.
Author:Sorge, Marjorie
Publication:Automotive Industries
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:Dec 1, 1999
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