Posts Tagged: Innovation



High Speed Rail in China – Lessons for the cable industry? (Part 2)

Yesterday’s post High Speed Rail in China – Theft or Innovation? (Part 1) looked at ownership of ideas and innovation, specifically in terms of China’s role in the the advancement of HSR technologies. Following that train of thought (couldn’t help myself!) today I’ll look at what this means for the CPT industry, starting the discussion on the future of CPT transit and innovations.

Traditionally HSR manufacturers focused on incremental innovation. Today, however, Chinese manufacturers are pursuing large-scale disruptive innovations. Disruptive technologies tend to thrive in high growth markets where owners of existing technologies are slow to innovate — at least beyond the pace set by sustainable innovations which are in demand by a pre-existing customer base. Where as incremental innovation generally involves low cost and low risk, disruptive innovation means high cost and high risk since it requires significantly more R&D.

MARKET: As we’ve seen with HSR, and as discussed in yesterday’s post, if a growing market is not being effectively provided for by an existing technology, someone will find a way to improve upon that technology in order to satisfy the market need. While CPT has not yet experienced the same growth as HSR, it has certainly been fielding greater interest. With an increasing number of urban installations and proposed high profile systems the market does appears to be growing. Since all signs indicate that this growth will continue I would argue that CPT will be subject to the same market threats as HSR.

INNOVATION: In the instance of HST, Chinese engineers took a highly advanced technology and (in most cases) improved upon it through genuine innovation. One could argue that gondolas are also a highly advanced technology. While HSR had four major manufacturers, there are only two major ropeway manufacturers. Whether less competition has resulted in less innovation, that is a matter of speculation! Still, it is well known that competition in a growing market drives innovation and technology benefits from offering a faster, cheaper, more capable products. Is there room for significant innovation in the cable industry? I would think so, especially for urban applications.

COST: The Chinese have already dramatically decreased the price of HSR, which was originally being built for around US$100-200 per kilometre. According to Wikipedia the Chinese have completed 250km/h to 350km/h HSR lines for  US$6-32. Further investigation is required into these surprisingly low figures and what factors are attributed to these vast price disparates. Constructing anything at 70% the cost of your competitors would definitely be considered a competitive advantage. At less than 25% of the cost per kilometre, that’s a game changer!

Should the ropeway industry be concerned? I would think so. Is it helpless? Definitely not! What it can do about it is a post for another day.

What is your opinion?


This post was written by Ryan O’Connor. A planning and transportation professional based in Wellington, New Zealand. Ryan has been involved with Creative Urban Projects since March 2010.

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Urban Gondola Transit as Minivan, Revisited

Why was Apple able to get its tablet to market before everyone else? And why were they able to reap so much profit from it?

As much as we’d all like to see more innovation and invention in the cable industry, who’s going to pay for it?

Research and development is expensive. The way that a successful company makes money is by taking a business model that works and rejigging it into a variety of different forms in order to maximize revenue – and minimize costs.

When it first came out, it was common to hear people complain that Apple’s phenomenally successful iPad was nothing more than an oversized iPhone.

But that was exactly the point.

They took what they knew already worked and changed it into a slightly different form thereby opening an entire new market.

That they didn’t reinvent the wheel allowed them to bring a mass-market tablet device to market long before every other major tech company while simultaneously minimizing research, development and design costs.

As happy as I was to see the debate and discussion that arose from this week’s Minivan post, I think it important to reel in the discussion and ask people to consider ways to innovate and reinvent the technology that doesn’t involve mass engineering changes. Remember: The train has barely changed in the last 100 years, so why then should the gondola?

As it stands currently, the industry has little incentive to innovate. People are buying their products and their products are even being used sans innovation in mass urban transit applications – despite the fact that some still don’t believe ski lifts are appropriate in cities.

What then is the motivation for innovation, invention and change?

That’s not to say that the industry shouldn’t. Instead it’s to ask: Why would they bother?

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