Leadership

If computers are like cars, then who's GM?

We often use cars as analogies for computers when trying to explain things to users. Can a further analogy be drawn? Is the computer industry also like the auto industry? Not exactly, although you could made a few comparisons.

We often use cars as analogies for computers when we're trying to explain things to users. Can a further analogy be drawn? Is the computer industry also like the auto industry? Not exactly, although you could make a few comparisons.

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The easiest way to explain the insides of a computer to some people is to relate it to a car. We've all done it, and it's become almost a cliche. However beyond the guts of an individual computer, other parallels can be drawn between the computer industry and the auto industry. Just as you can analogize the CPU to be a car's engine, you can also point out how one computer manufacturer has a counterpart in the auto industry.

A couple of comparisons

If you took some of the top computer companies, it's not exactly a 1-1 matchup. And I don't think there's always a direct matchup at this point in history. For example, none of the major computer makers are currently in as much financial trouble as GM or Ford.

Here's a quick rundown on how I would compare some of the top computer companies to car companies:

  • Acer = Hyundai -  Hyundai started off importing inexpensive cars of relatively low quality, but over time improved their cars and started increasing market share to become a significant player in the market. Acer has largely done the same.
  • Apple = Volvo - Volvo is a premium niche brand that has a loyal following. Customers of both companies feel that their chosen product is the best and offers superior safety and protection compared to the competition.
  • Dell = Ford - Ford is the maker of the common run-of-the-mill car. They're the second-largest U.S. car company. Like Dell, Ford makes large quantities of not overly exciting machines with a reputation of questionable quality. Ford also has a performance sub-brand called the Mustang, which would be the equivalent to Dell's AlienWare brand.
  • Gateway = Chrysler - Gateway was the third major U.S. computer company for a long time and was much smaller and more focused on a certain market segment than the other majors. Like Chrysler, it ran into financial problems and had to merge with another company (even though Chrysler is now independent). Like Chrysler, Gateway used fancy packaging (cow boxes) to hide products of questionable quality.
  • HP = GM (1930s) - GM of the 1930s didn't dominate the industry the way they did in the 50s and 60s and didn't have the financial problems of today. It did, however, scarf up a lot of competitors, was a significant leader in the industry, and put itself in the position to dominate in the future. HP has done the same thing in recent years.
  • Lenovo = Toyota - Toyota's the up-and-coming import brand that is the standard for car quality and innovation in the market. It's quickly growing to become the world leader in cars, but as it's grown, traditional quality has become an issue.
  • Toshiba = Subaru - Subaru has long been a small car company that's struggled in the marketplace in general and has been unable to escape the small four-wheel-drive car market. Likewise Toshiba's been basically trapped as a laptop vendor in this country.

That's just some of the comparisons that I could come up with off the top of my head. I think they cover the market pretty well, but you may have other suggestions.

Does branding matter in a purchase decision?

From a purchase decision standpoint, branding used to be a huge factor. You probably remember back when some people bought ONLY Fords, while others bought ONLY Chevys. Then you had the few odd ducks who preferred Dodges. Likewise in the computer field, entire groups of users developed who swore by their brand, be it Atari, Amiga, Radio Shack, or whatever.

As computer diversity has dropped, this has become less of an issue. With the exception of the Mac and Linux crowd, you don't always see branding as being a positive purchase decision point. Rather, I think what happens is people will use a brand to disqualify a vendor more than anything else. For example, even though Acer makes a pretty decent machine today, I still have a hard time getting past the 11 DOA machines out of 19 Acers that I encountered 10 years ago when working at the Police Department.

What's your take?

Does branding matter in a computer purchase? And is there an analogy between car companies and computer companies? Is there a twenty-first century GM I’m missing?

With most PC components being equal, there's not a lot to differentiate companies like Dell and  HP. PCs have largely become commodities, and I wonder if branding has that much effect at all.

23 comments
234234
234234

Interesting comparisons you got there. I strongly agree about the comparison between the Toyota & Lenovo. What about Mercedes-Benz' counterpart? I really like mercedes benz catalytic converter.

Mikebanks
Mikebanks

most people are going to say IBM, I think. I don't know about IBM now, but when they were making PCs they were like Cadillac. You know: overpriced versions of what you could get cheap under another brand name--with a few frills. That, or Lincoln. To rank IBM in corporate fashion, one would have to take into account that GM is a prime example of a truism: Too much money makes you stupid. --Mike On the Way to the web

uberg33k50
uberg33k50

Then I will never buy a Hyundai! Acer support SUCKS so badly they make Dell's out-sourced customer support look like a cadillac...and that is pretty bad!

Gordon.Hope-Murray
Gordon.Hope-Murray

I can't see a tech company having a board idiotic enough to ramp up production of fuel inefficient cars when no one could afford to run them. Admittedly Tom delay has a lot of blame for creating a tax loophole that made SUV's artificially cheap, while idiot CEOs addicted to the high margin on crap cars ultimately paid for by the government, didn't have the foresight to actually LEAD their businesses. Carly Fiorina at HP probably does make your GM analogy accurate since she was about as incompetent as GMs execs but fortunately HP kicked that failure out and got back to being an engineering company. Ford at least have euopean product lines they can bring to the US that have excellent reputations such as the focus and mondeo. All the car makers that have the advantage at the moment are foreign ones that made sensible cars in a sensible market, that wasn't distorted by the short term priorities of a the 'too big to fail corporate behomoths' and quid pro quo corruption that made them economical. I don't think there's quite that degree of fossilisation in the tech industry.

vucliriel
vucliriel

OK, I know it may seem off-topic, but how about comparing present day software design at Microsoft and Apple to their car manufacturer counterparts of the late 60s and early 70s? It never ceases to amaze me how bloated, processing intensive and generally inefficient software has become, just like how they used to make throwaway, unreliable and gas guzzling cars in the late 60s and early 70s. Linux, Open Source and Assembly language software could then be compared to early Volvo and Toyota. Simple, effective, efficient and foremost, reliable and requiring less computing resources. Compare that to Flash, Visual Basic, Java and the like which could be compared to your basic oversized, sluggish, power-everything useless 3 ton sedan of those days.

Joe_R
Joe_R

IBM was, at one time, the GM of personal computers. But while IBM adapted and remained successful in a changing market, GM didn't and went into the tank, at least financially. (The reasons for which are probably more suited for the water cooler discussions.)

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

Computers and cars are deity engineering.Let's see if we can get computers to at least travel the speed limit.

paladin2
paladin2

At least I don't agree with your choices, not analogizing with car companies. As a two time Dell buyer I seem to be unaware where and why all the "why'd you buy that junk?" sentiment comes from. I feel the need to defend my choice sometimes and though I'd also disagree with your description of Ford because I've driven their pickups probably more than any other vehicle and your description of Fords quality is way off the mark, at least in my case. Since they serve as my mobile office in my high mileage job, I've driven 8 new F-150s 200,000 miles plus each without ever been left sitting on the side of the road waiting for help, and have heard the Fix Or Repair Daily line almost as many times as I have miles. Dell, in my case at least is a Suzuki in my mind. I've lived in Costa Rica going on 10 years now and F-150s go for 50,000 bucks and are too large for a lot of the roads so I've become a Suzuki 4X4 driver and I can't kill my Vitara no matter how hard I try. My present Precision 6300, with it's x9000 (or something like that) extreme processor and the Nvidia quatro fx3600 graphics card, mostly metal case, cool, cool running everything, CPU, GPU, HD, memory, board and all the rest is, and I'm tempted to say piece of art, but that'd probably be a stretch, but about as good as I think you can make a laptop. It's only a semi portable portable, but I even like that. Small and light aren't in my specification interests. In fact the heaver the better, though this 17" powerhouse is lighter than my 15" Inspiron. And I can put it on the barbecue grill after I've run it over with my car and have a new one in about 48 hours. That's how long it took them to replace the Inspiron I pretty much destroyed, and I'm in Costa Rica. My point? I think you have Dell and Ford wrong. But that's just been my experience. The crappiest piece of junk I've encountered? Falcon Northwest believe it or not. But that may have just been a lemon and mention it only to show that even the supposed top line stuff occasionally craps out.

John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro
John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro

The computer/car comparison is an outdated cliche. However, I think a interesting comparison can still be made between car companies and computer companies. And I think the branding comparison is important in a purchase decision as well. I pointed out my car/computer analogs in Decision Central: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/decisioncentral/?p=171 Does branding matter in a computer purchase? And is there an analogy between car companies and computer companies. Is there a 21st century GM I?m missing?

dlovep
dlovep

Dell should be GM,... an even more crappier menu"fat"urer, squeeze profit by doing a zero stocking system, can it be done? yes indeed, what kind of defends for this crappy maker ? When you brought in your New Piece of your OWN stuff within the years of warranty, it's now refurbished, experience of my Precision 380, power supply failure within the 3 months, what happen then ? replace my New PC for a refurbish PC... how do you feel buddy ? why not just buy a refurbish at the first place ? what kind of theory is that ? they should listed in their Terms and Conditions, "If your NEW PC fail, you will get a factory refurbish, NOT EXCHANGE in identical value!" For Dell fans: Good to pay Brand New price for a refurbish PCs. By the way, welcome to call the Dell Support team, you will meet your customer representative from all over Asian region. LOL~~

CodeCurmudgeon
CodeCurmudgeon

IBM, while it is not in the dire straits that GM is, is also a fallen giant. IBM was far more dominant than GM ever was (remember IBM & the seven dwarves?) but it has descended to a state of near irrelevance today. IBM made a couple of fatal decisions and lost out to commodity computing, with the driving force shifting from IBM to Microsoft. The first bad decision was the fee structure for licensing their Microchannel architecture: They lost control of PC architecture with that one. Insisting on making OS2 run on 286 machines cost them control of software. These two decisions toppled IBM from the dominant computer maker to a supplier of hardware for legacy systems and an also-ran supplier of blade servers.

John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro
John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro

IBM's an interesting case. They were once dominant in all aspects of computer hardware. They however sold off their PC (car) business to the Chinese, and now stick to midrange, mainframe, and servers (trucks). That being the case, and IBM/GM analogy might be appropriate. Depends if GM winds up staying in the car business or winds up breaking up and selling brands to the Japanese or Chinese. I'm open to other IBM analogies...

santeewelding
santeewelding

A turn of phrase can serve as a bread crumb, among others in a trail leading to where you are.

winthrop.polk
winthrop.polk

Because you buy a prepackaged system from Dell, which is just a repackager. Dell doesn't make any of the components, they buy and assemble them. They look at the assembling processes from a minimum performance and cost-cost-cost! perspective only. So your components are cheap, usually very limited expandability, probably a plastic enclosure, minimum power supply, crappy heat sinks, crappy mother board with crappy caps, crappy noisy fans, no window, etc. etc. etc. The point is, when you buy from a packager they are think, "okay, what is the cheapest crap I can give this guy that still has the specs stated". You may be able to specify what processor you want in your machine, but I doubt you can tell them I want RAM from this manufacturer, with this many spare slots, and a motherboard made by Asus (and trust me, there are 100s of RAM manufacturers; I only trust 5-10). Out of all the repackagers, Dell is probably the best; But they still design your computer to maximize profit rather than functionality and aesthetics.

winthrop.polk
winthrop.polk

NO $25,000,000,000 for GM! Look at this: http://www.ecogeek.org/content/view/1033/69/ The fuel cell was invented in 1890. Ethanol was invented before gasoline. These are not new technologies. Give me $1,000,000 and I guarantee I can create a completely practical 150mpg car with zero loss of performance. The way to go is hydrogen via nuclear, wind, geothermal, tidal, wave, localized solar, etc. Everything else is just a stepping stone to this. The problem is that the oil companies (who?s profits rival the US GDP) do not want to see this happen unless they have full control over it (as they do our politicians). Hydrogen can be produced anywhere there is water and electricity. Thus, they would loss their control and thus their glorious power. They should let them fail and, instead, give a couple 100 million to the manufacturers of the 300mpg car to start bulk production (after slight redesign for more practical look).

jck
jck

Just that the auto industry has sustained longer...somehow. I am still in shock though...GM and Ford both knew that prices of gas had been rising for 24-30 months. But, they did nothing to follow the logic that gas costing double of what it did 4 years ago would drive consumers to drive less and buy more used cars than new to conserve money. Hence, why I think it's silly to say bail out the auto industry. I mean think about it...if Microsoft was to go under...that affects about 90% of everyone in this country...because of home PCs, work PCs, PCs run on MS based systems in stores they go to, etc. But would the government bail out MS? Hell no. So, let the "Big 3" go to their execs and cut their pensions and pay and golden parachutes...let them go to their retirees who have posh retirements and cut them back to a reasonable level...and let them learn from their mistake by getting burned rather than having their hand held and babied. Part of capitalism is losing money, as well as making it. Tough luck, Big 3. You did bad business...time to suffer.

Gordon.Hope-Murray
Gordon.Hope-Murray

GM are definately not IBM. IBM is a technology company, and definately has adapability and innovation. GM has neither, It was used to selling a crap product and doing well by lobbying and manipulating the market. Those were it's core business functions, not engineering or manufacturing.

paladin2
paladin2

I know how Dell and every most other of the big name "manufacturers" work. But my Dell came with the minimum memory which I immediately replaced with 4GB of Crucial for a few bucks, Hitachi Travelstar drive that is the same as my 6 year old Inspiron that still is running with somewhere way over 10,000 hours CD/DVD by Samsung (don't know if that's good or bad), Intel wireless, and Nvidia fx quatro fx3600 video and I don't know who made the LCD or the mother board for that matter but like I said, I have and it's still is in use a more than six year old Inspiron that's lived a tough life in a rainforest environment and with it's Pentium 4 3.06 processor is still faster than any core-duo Vista Machine I've tried. And that all the 'junk' parts you claim make up that computer still work perfectly after what I said has been a tough six years. I'm not a fan nor am I defending the practices of big business of which Dell is most certainly a member and I object to some of their practices strongly. Political dimensions of todays big corporate sons of bitches. But I am saying that I know their profit is more important than my satisfaction, but only to a point. Because they rely on my satisfaction to buy their computers. And from my last experience with them, I give them high marks but understand not everybody does. Due to some lawsuit settlement about the 5150 model that I really don't know anything about because mine never gave me any trouble maybe they were trying extra hard or something because they were always johnny on the spot with my one service request, basically rebuilding the whole thing after some idiot used his Cohiba grande as a pointer and overshot his goal and snubbing the cherry of that huge cigar, which then proceeded to bounce down the screen onto the keyboard, the same night lightning blew right through a pair of surge protectors and blew up the modem. Back as good as new in less than 48 hours. And I'm in a Costa Rican jungle. I do sound like a damn Dell salesman and maybe I'm the exception but I find nothing to justify calling any component junk. Maybe farmed out to the lowest bidder, but in my case the low bidder put out some pretty good long lasting junk. And that's mostly OK by me.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

The steam cars had some issues with blowing up though and batteries for the electric cars sucked. Diesel engines where originally designed to run on vegitable oil until a feul company said "we'll fund this engine your developing but can you make it burn this less refined left over rather than that corn-oil?" Well, that is if my history of technology professor in Uni is to be trusted. ;) It'll be interesting to see what we clever monkeys come up with in the near future though.

Gordon.Hope-Murray
Gordon.Hope-Murray

Car makers make more on higher margin SUVs. When the democrats tried to introduce a bill that required more fuel efficent cars, the republican congress controlled by tom delay blocked the bill and introduced a different one that gave tax breaks to people who buy SUVs. End result? Car companies get their higher margin car sales, joe public buys more crappy SUVs, the goverment funnels money into GM's pocket. The republicans branded it a victory for american choice. It's a failure induced by friedmanist economics grauates in the upper decision making reaches who absorbed the dogma but not the ability to think. They were only ever concerned with the next quarters profits, and competely unable to think long term

johnharlem85
johnharlem85

Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull over to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car usa auto part, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason you would simply accept this.

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