Introducing Asymcar

If Apple can have a hobby then so can Asymco.

Jim Zellmer and I were having fun talking about cars and thought why not record our conversations and put them up for others to listen. That’s how Asymcar got started.

Besides having fun, what we plan to do is use the auto industry as a lens to understand how disruption works. Whereas Asymco is a narrative on an industry that is dynamic because of disruption, we hope to make Asymcar a narrative on an industry that isn’t dynamic because of a lack of disruption. A sort of foil to Asymco (or maybe an Asymco Bizarro.)

The approach is to use stories that everyone can understand whether you care about cars or not. The inspiration was the TV program Top Gear which satirizes the adolescence of the male mind, and thus appeals to all. With Asymcar we hope to bring a rich set of new metaphors to describe similarly curious phenomena.

Check out the first Podcast: Tubular exoskeleton-type thing

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    Needs a new icon!

  • Oliver Bruce

    Awesome Horace! Very much looking forward to this series!

  • Is there any RSS feed with podcast, only iTunes?

    • jim_zellmer

      Good catch. I just added the RSS podcast feed along with iTunes. Give it a try.

  • Matthew Gunson

    Really like this idea.

  • Farshad Nayeri

    Great idea! Was looking for the accompanying Padcast and didn’t find it. 🙂

  • Neutral 2.0?

  • professortom

    As James May said, “We already have self-driving cars. They’re called taxis!”

  • professortom

    I really liked how you explained that by trying to solve a different problem entirely–by changing the domain of the problem–the problem itself goes away. For example, your pointing out that if cars are thought of as an information problem, about how to know where a car is at all times and how to get a car somewhere as soon as possible was brilliant thinking.

    I’m surprised you didn’t suggest that electric cars would fit this model for urbane areas: that is to say, given that I need a car quickly to go around town, why couldn’t an electric car drive itself to me, I pilot it and then it drives itself away, parks and recharges.

    I wonder if the following idea changes your thinking or approach to the problem: what if the majority of the time, a car is parked? That is to say, what if each car is in a state of “parked” much more often than not and only travels small distances? Now, all of the sudden, most of the problems with electric cars disappear. Long charging times aren’t a problem: the car is parked (and thus charging) more often than not. And because the car only need work for short distances, now a product that isn’t good enough compared to the incumbent product (vehicles with internal combustion engines) become good enough in their own niche: driverless taxis. Now the electric car can become disruptive.

    That having been said, I’ve always thought that the electric car isn’t the vehicle (pardon the pun) to obsolete/disrupt the internal combustion engine. The electric car is just trying to be a better car. That is not disruptive, that is sustaining. Aside from all of the problems with electric cars: lack of power, lack of range, weight, long charging times, having to use existing energy sources to charge them and thus not solving the energy problem at all–aside from all of these problems, I think the electric car’s fundamental problem is that no one is thinking about the fact that the car is a networked technology.

    As you stated in the Critical Path episode when you talked about the road network in the Netherlands, the way to disrupt a networked technology isn’t to attack the thing on the network but rather to make the network itself irrelevant. What I’m surprised hasn’t been discussed or tried yet is figuring out how to make roads irrelevant and thus things that crawl along the surface of the earth like the adder in the book of Genesis become irrelevant by default.

  • professortom

    As I said in a previous comment, I don’t that that the electric car is the product that will disrupt vehicles that are powered by internal combustion. I think that, short of disrupting and thus making internal combustion irrelevant all together, the tool to replace octane powered vehicles is hydrogen. Yes, I know that hydrogen is flammable, less safe than octane etc. But those sound like “simple” problems for science to solve.

    The reason why I think hydrogen is the logical replacement for octane is that hydrogen is abundant and can use the existing infrastructure for distribution and collection. That is to say, hydrogen can be stored in tanks and delivered via a tanker trunk and dispensed via a pump. As such, refueling a hydrogen vehicle should take appreciably no longer than refueling an octane engine.

    It seems to me that the current incumbents could embrace this technology much more easily than electric cars.

    • KirkBurgess

      Here is my take on electric vehcile disruption possibility:

      Electric cars will likely be highly disruptive to the energy industry surrounding cars, while at the same time simply be a sustaining non-disruptive innovation to the car manufacturing industry.

      I don’t think hydrogen has a chance considering the huge amount of infrastructure investment that would be required for little benefit over gasoline. Electric vehicles on the other hand require virtually no new infrastructure – every home already has electricity, as does almost every workplace. Also worth noting that every gasoline filling station also has electricity, and the cost to install Tesla like superchargers will be much less than the cost of switching to hydrogen. EV range is increasing, and charging times are decreasing. Electricity as a vehcile energy source is far more developed for consumer use than hydrogen at this point.

      And then we come down to simple cost. It might not be so obvious in some markets with cheap gas (like the USA) – but in many markets electricity is quite simply a cheaper power source than gasoline.

  • professortom

    What do you think of Series 20 of Top Gear? I’ve been highly disappointed by the lack of specials and lack of comradic buffoonery. It feels like they’re pulling their punches with this series.

    The hovercraft was an interesting idea, but that episode felt to me like the uncanny valley: they had something of a success, but it wasn’t successful enough.

    Something that’s bothered me for quite a while is how James May is made to play the fool. He’s a really smart guy; I wished they’d let him “ramble” on a bit. That would make the show educational.

    Speaking of Mr. May, I would like to recommend a book of his. It was originally published under the title James May’s 20th Century, but is available both on the Kindle and paperback as James May’s Magnificent Machines: How Men in Sheds Have Changed the World.

    • I agree Series 20 is weak. Producing TG seems to depend on many variables and it’s not yet possible to get consistency.
      I suspect there are the usual corrosive forces affecting success at work.

  • fl1nty

    Horace it would be great if you could somehow share show notes on the podcast. You mentioned someone who was on the board of tata motors consulting on the nano car. The name wasn’t clear – clay something. Could you type it out in a reply?