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The internal combustion engine is one of the few remaining things most carmakers actually make. In many cases, the powertrain is the only real ‘fingerprint’ that sets one manufacturer apart from the other.

Bye bye, fingerprint.

With the incipient rise of the electric vehicle, carmakers are scrambling to partner with manufacturers in other sectors to stay competitive under the hood.

Volvo and Daimler are among the companies reaching out to companies like Bosch and Siemens, according to Paul Hockenos in the Herald Tribune. And it’s forcing them to question their individuality at every step.

According to Hockenos, the carmakers are struggling to put a positive spin on the new alliances, characterizing the ventures as ‘exploiting synergies’ rather than subjugating their mojos.

Incorporating electric power plants is clearly a necessary innovation for carmakers. The dominance Toyota achieved by pioneering hybrids was a clarion call that even GM heard.

But is partnership with electric motor manufacturers going to threaten the individuality of existing car brands? Hardly.

Following Apple’s Function Units

Most companies rely on business units to manufacture and innovate. These units are charged with taking a specific product and perfecting it to stay relevant, dominant and profitable.

Contrast that with Apple, a company organized around function units. Instead of organizing teams to perfect the iPod or iPad, they focus on perfecting the experience of listening to music, or reading.

Logically, a business unit charged with perfecting an internal combustion engine would be loath to jettison it in favour of an electric motor. But a function unit charged with more effective mobility would have no such qualms – they’d be much more technology agnostic.

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