Making the first crowdsourced car: Fiat's journey

Mario HonrubiaCrowdsourcingInnovationCase Studies

Imagine that you are a car manufacturer and you want to modernize and use novel ideas in the way you develop new vehicles. What would you do? Most likely, you start with an idea, create a concept, design and build prototypes, test it, gather feedback, produce a new prototype, test it again… repeating this cycle until finally, you are ready to produce and sell the finished product to your customers. However, if you really want to be innovative and are also looking for higher alignment with your customers out there, you might want to pursue a path like Fiat. In August 2009 Fiat launched a project called "Fiat Mio". The idea which started out in Brazil in 2006 was to invite people to help create a car for the future and design the world's first crowdsourced car. Could they do it? Yes. Isn't that some amazing result? When you're dealing with the development of a complex product like an automobile, there are always things that you do in-house (e.g. some serious and sensitive engineering work or some part of production). However, there are also many things that you can crowdsource and the result of Mio project show this something doable. In Sao Paulo Auto Show in October 2010, Fiat finally unveiled the Fiat Mio, the world's first crowdsourced car, a futuristic concept car based on the ideas and solutions proposed by thousands of people around the world. Many design and development activities including the logo of Fiat Mio were developed by enthusiastic contributors who were interacting with the company through the project website. More than 17,000 participants from around the world provided in excess of 11,000 ideas and solutions. The end result? "A compact and agile car, comfortable and safe with innovative traffic solutions for big cities, a pollutant-free engine and the capacity to receive personalized updates, ability to change in configuration." What can we learn from Mio? The Fiat Mio is a prime example of what can be accomplished by intelligent crowdsourcing of a firm's product development activities. Rather than relying solely on internal abilities, one can think about connecting to a large community of engineers, startups and other partners to circumvent the restrictions of limited resources and knowledge, and think outside the box—literally.

In order to make this happen, several things need to happen:
  1. An external collaboration process can't function effectively without the R&D personnel willing to listen and collaborate with the crowd. This will be realized through strong support of R&D executives for such ventures.
  2. In projects with such high levels of participation, the company might end up with many good solutions which might be contradictory. The company should be able to develop criteria and guidelines to quickly filter the input to absolutely valuable ones.
  3. The product may not be the real outcome. The result is usually much more than that. Perhaps the most meaningful legacy of the Fiat Mio is the communication platform built between Fiat and consumers and the large amount of data that Fiat collected from the crowd. At the end of the day, it's also about knowledge capital not merely a physical artifact.
  4. Programs such as this can give a company new perspectives on problem-solving and create win-win situations: Overall, the gains are not only for the company but the participants also become well-known as being the owner of specific solutions materialized in the product.
  Looking at the possibilities of crowdsourcing for a complex product like a car, I wonder if we can't do the same with other artifacts around us. As an example, I am personally looking forward to a new phone after 7 years of using an iPhone. Maybe it's now the time for "Smartphone Mio". Note: By the way, you can watch the whole journey for Fiat Mio in 17 short videos here on our Youtube Channel Download our Engineering Crowdsourcing white paper