Andy Grove, former chairman of Intel, is reported to be pushing his old firm to become a manufacturer of electric car batteries. The December 12 WSJ report cites Grove’s advice as a potential solution to the microprocessor company’s “[struggle] to create another major business.” Apparently, current management is non-committal.
Why am I interested? Electric cars will become increasingly important to the economy and environment (let’s not get into what ultimately fuels the electricity). And, I used to be responsible for market strategy for a major US semiconductor maker.
There’s little doubt that the automotive battery business is going to be big. Sheer size, though, does not a strategy make.
The WSJ piece also states that Grove “believes that the principle of Moore’s law could apply to batteries . . .” It’s not clear to this one-time physics student that science and technology analogous to what drives Moore’s law could enable the same success in the chemistry and manufacturing of car batteries. Then again, unlike the Secretary of Energy designate, Steven Chu, I don’t have a Nobel Prize in physics or anything else.
Having the right partners and distribution channels are also key enablers for effective strategy. Intel is still the dominant designer and manufacturer of microprocessors. Cars these days do contain lots of semiconductors, both microprocessor-based CPUs as well as digital signal processors and other application-specific chips. I don’t know – maybe you do – what portion of these circuits are produced by Intel. But, the business process behind getting semiconductors designed into a car, then producing and delivering them, strikes me as quite different from what it takes to establish the relationship between a car company and a firm making batteries that provide the fundamental umph behind the vehicles.
You may already have “Intel Inside” your car. Will the meaning behind that great brand change? I’m skeptical.
– Posted by Tom Witkin