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Auto makers are feeling the pull of ‘digital gravity’ in a rapidly changing industry

Auto makers are feeling the pull of ‘digital gravity’

KPMG and Egon Zehnder release a global mindset study on the status quo of digitalization in the automotive industry.

Phil Blackman

Chief Operating Officer, Global Corporate Affairs

KPMG International


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While awareness is high, mindset and openness to approaching truly new paths are low

Awareness of digitalization is high and change initiatives are numerous in the automotive industry. Yet on a strategic and cultural level, change is hardly taking place, claims a joint global automotive study by KPMG and Egon Zehnder. The survey, which interviewed 527 auto executives from around the world, determines that most automotive companies are not prepared for the digital shift disrupting the industry. Stalling at the executive level prevents a deeper transformation journey which includes organizational alignment. Largescale change is not possible without a tech-first mindset shift.

Major survey results include:

  • While 92 percent of respondents are convinced that a new and different cultural approach is imperative, only 29 percent regard building a `fail first, fail fast' environment as a guiding principle for such a new culture, and only 34 percent consider fewer hierarchies appropriate. Most respondents (55 percent) openly admit that their company has not defined a new cultural approach at all.
  • A majority say the necessary prerequisites for digitalization are “process changes” (57 percent). Cultural changes and leadership awareness are ranked lowest. Also, when asked about usage of AI and other digitalization technologies, almost 50 percent reveal their strategy is to be an early follower. Only 40 percent want to be first movers.
  • A majority claim that the main driver of digitalization comprises cooperation models with players from their own industry. Also, 66 percent say that traditional and new business models need to run “side by side” while only 34 percent believe in a “complete shift of business models and products with a clear awareness that the return of new businesses can still be negative today.”

KPMG and Egon Zehnder liken the results of the survey to the realization of scientists that the sun is at the center of our solar system. Understanding the power of digitalization in the auto industry presents the same reordering of the industry as we know it.

Dieter Becker, Global and European Head of Automotive, KPMG International: “Our survey clearly demonstrates that the industry is caught up in its traditional 'product optimization'/tech mindset and its 'I can do it all on my own' approach. What is lacking is a clear and revolutionary vision and bold moves toward new and digital partnerships with the expectation that cooperation will positively influence the automotive industry. We are entering a time where cultural hires and Diverse Network Families are truly a 'must' for the industry moving forward.”

Christian Rosen, Global Head of the Automotive Practice of Egon Zehnder, calls for a humble leadership that “empowers a new culture bridging the gap between traditional and digital expertise. While the industry knows that Digital Gravity clearly dominates the future, it has to understand how to unleash - via new talent and a culture of self-invention - the creative power needed for the future.” Rosen also calls for a focused initial approach. “Many things are working excellently and will stay. Many people focus on too many areas at the same time instead of strategically identifying those areas in which digital transformation has to start.”

Both parties praised the high degree of awareness and alert that are documented in the entire survey. They also acknowledge that while new players have the advantage of playing only the new cards, the classical industry needs to “change wheels while driving.” In the words of Dieter Becker from KPMG, this is “not necessarily a disadvantage, but in fact can be turned into a winning factor.” “In the end,” adds Christian Rosen from Egon Zehnder, “those players who can perfectly navigate Digital Gravity and high-class production will win the battle in the mobility sector.”

For the complete results of the study, please visit the Digital Gravity website.

For press requests, please contact:

Phil Blackman
KPMG International
Chief Operating Officer, Global Corporate Affairs
+44 (0)7770 700383

About KPMG International

KPMG is a global network of professional services firms providing Audit, Tax and Advisory services. We operate in 153 countries and have 207,000 people working in member firms around the world. The independent member firms of the KPMG network are affiliated with KPMG International Cooperative ("KPMG International"), a Swiss entity. Each KPMG firm is a legally distinct and separate entity and describes itself as such.

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