Silicon Valley sees itself as driven to change the world for the betterment of mankind. And consumers have come to demand a higher level of social awareness from tech companies than from auto companies. But that may be changing, and the auto industry needs to react faster to societal issues if it wants to be seen as a leader and not part of a stodgy, old-world mentality.
The striking difference between the mind-set of Silicon Valley and that of the traditional auto industry was apparent this week when General Motors CEO Mary Barra silently remained on President Donald Trump's Strategic and Policy Forum after Trump's statements Tuesday that there were "fine people" among the white nationalists marching in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend.
Since Trump’s reaction to the weekend’s events, a number of CEOs announced publicly they would leave his two business advisory groups, and then Trump announced he was disbanding them "rather than putting pressure" on the leaders who sat on the councils.
Barra came out with a strong statement, saying GM supports diversity, but her remarks were seen as coming too late. Bloomberg said she feared facing the president's wrath if she left, and she wanted a voice in policy decisions.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk had stepped down in June after Trump backed out of the Paris climate accord. He resigned the same day Trump made that announcement.
There are many cultural differences between Silicon Valley and traditional manufacturing. Silicon Valley leaders tend to be brasher, quicker decision makers. The tech industry has many flaws, including sexism and ageism, but industry leaders appear to be quick to react when outside pressures force a change in direction.
It's a lesson that the traditional auto industry needs to learn, not just for political reasons, but because that kind of agility is what's needed to succeed in this disruptive new world.
— Sharon Silke Carty