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More recently, literally before our eyes, the era of geopolitical empires has been replaced by the era of industrial ones. But they are unlikely to be eternal.

Arkady ALEKSEEV

They seemed unshakably strong. Their primacy in nature

indisputable. But time has changed the scenery - and suddenly it turned out that they have no place in the new theater of life. They disappeared, leaving behind one of the main mysteries of archaeological science.

DINOSAUR TIME

At first glance, the euphoria of mergers and associations, which has been piercing automobile production for several years, leaves us, observers, with one simple question: who is next? A sensible thought. There is a chance that by the time this issue is released, it will be determined whether Volkswagen will become the owner of BMW and whether General Motors will co-operate Daewoo among its satellites. But still try to figure out - why do they need it?

What are the benefits hidden behind the handshakes and radiant smiles of the leaders of the merging companies? It’s easy to answer. Here's an arithmetic example for starters. Developing a new car costs about $ 1 billion today. For partner firms, the price will be lower, because, as you already know, it’s easier to build the platform first, and to make a couple of related, but not necessarily similar, cars on it. It is reasonable to ask: is it absolutely necessary to “marry” in order to make models together? Of course not. Let us recall the Dutch factory NedKar, common until recently for Volvo and Mitsubishi, or a couple of Volkswagen Sharan and Ford Galaxy from one conveyor.

However, the economy is pretty tough. Two firms - therefore, two design teams, two design schools. Two mentality, finally. And therefore, lately, such joint projects have been going exclusively in one direction: one of the partners is buying out a share of the other - exactly the same is the case in the two named cases.

The benefits of alliances can be described with the newfangled word “globalization”. The expansion of dealer and service networks has not hurt anyone. So consider, let’s say, Renault with Nissan or Daimler with Chrysler. Finally, another type of economy: there is no need to develop an overly wide range of components. At the same time, general ones are produced in a much larger circulation and, according to the law of large-scale production, are much cheaper. If someone believes that you can’t save a lot on this, he’s mistaken. "Daimler-Chrysler" calls the annual figure of several billion dollars.

HOW MUCH TABLES NEEDED?

To understand the prospects of the current era of auto empires, it makes sense to recall that it was preceded by: expanding the range of models produced by each company (yesterday - the Mercedes A-class, in the future - the Cadillac pickup, the Porsche SUV) and capturing the maximum - in ideally, from scooter to supertrack - the number of market niches. At the same time, a reduction in the number of basic parts and the development of a universal platform concept. We have already noted that financial difficulties befell the losers precisely in these three positions (the same Nissan with its 29 platforms was eaten by Renault with nine). However, now it's time to think about whether the unification is really a panacea and the main line of development. Let's try to figure out what its disadvantages are.

The most visible are the huge buildings of the central offices of companies. Yes, the very word that was so fashionable at the dawn of perestroika: bureaucracy! One way or another, the prospects for technical solutions, machine models, etc. are determined in high and very high offices. Of course, there is feedback, these are marketing services, however, a direct clash of embodied concepts, competition of different cars in such conditions is almost impossible. At best, on paper, adjusted for market conditions. In a very similar way, the unforgettable economy of the socialist countries went forward, its eternal memory.

Enormous corporations, of course, can handle what the mid-level firms did not even dream of. However, the costs are no less massive. Of course, someone monitors the spending of funds, but in the giant cash flows it is not easy, and why consider it “not your own”. About twenty years ago, if not more, even a special term appeared - managerial capitalism: a person with a good salary makes decisions whose motives may be due to some personal benefit.

Leave the management issues for now and move on to production. A large concern incorporates a component manufacturing company. At first glance, not bad, a high level of independence from external conditions. There is another side: it is not easy to imagine a company that, with constantly guaranteed sales, would maintain an incentive to improve products. Example? Please: in the mid-90s, a quiet but large-scale divorce of General Motors took place with the concern Delfay, a manufacturer of components, belonging to the concern. On GM conveyors, a wider path opened up for the details of Bosch, Siemens, Magneti Marelli: designers were allowed to choose the best (or the most suitable) from the market. Delphi, in turn, gained a chance to work with other automakers and an incentive to continuously improve its products.

WITH A NETWORK AGAINST PYRAMID

We did not consider another factor. Various information is much more accessible to today's society. And automobile concerns are somehow forced to join these gigantic information flows. And here are their own laws - and the brilliant idea of ​​a tiny body shop, becoming accessible to many users, may turn out to be more promising and successful than the creation of a huge design bureau. In other words, modern methods of transmitting information (the Internet and technologies based on it) to some extent equalize the chances of different in the weight category participants in the automotive market. Unexpectedly, the original guilds of component manufacturers may be revived. If verticals are still characteristic when the car assembler releases most of its parts, then a completely different situation may arise. Indeed, even today, none of the auto-colossi produces tires, batteries, bearings. Often, subassembly of units is also performed on the side - this makes the production of machines more flexible, mobile. In addition, it gives rise to firms with a rather narrow specialization, which can live only in conditions of rapid exchange of information.