Fiat Gets Plenty of Mileage from Open Innovation

Published Oct-29-10

Designed by users for users; Fiat’s open innovation initiative to create a car for the future.

Fiat, Italy

The Story:

Fiat Gets Plenty of Mileage from Open Innovation Italian car making giant Fiat has turned up the throttle on open innovation to solicit public involvement in creating the car of the future. The Fiat Mio (which translates as “my Fiat”) is a concept that engaged more than 17,000 participants from more than 160 countries who submitted 11,000 ideas and contributions in 21 discussion areas and topics.

Treasure Trove of Ideas

The origin of the idea goes back to 2006 when Fiat was celebrating its 30th anniversary in Brazil. It decided to mark the occasion by inviting the public to engage in a campaign to come up with visionary ideas for the future.

Thousands of Brazilians from all ages and backgrounds left their expectations of the future on a specially created website. This got Fiat bosses thinking that the public had a treasure trove of inspirational ideas that could be tapped into.

So following the success of this project they began to give serious consideration to an open innovation scheme that would connect to the behaviors of consumers and forge a closer relationship with people who buy Fiat cars.

Mio was Born

And so the Mio concept was born. Form experience the company knew that they had to direct participants to think along the right lines. In any open innovation project a delicate balance has to be struck. You don’t want to be too prescriptive so that you constrain creativity, but neither do you want to be too vague, less the ideas you receive are too broad and wide of the mark.

The online social media initiative posed several rounds of questions to participants, known as the Mio community. Initially these were about features and designs (which were reviewed by engineers) and then later questions were focused on branding and marketing ideas.

All the suggestions were discussed by the community and the best ideas were trialed by the Fiat design team, along with some of the ideas contributed by the company’s own engineers.

Innovative Ideas

Amongst the most innovative submissions were an idea to have wheels that rotate 90 degrees to make parallel parking easier, inter-vehicle communication to avoid collisionS and cameras instead of rear-view mirrors.

This open innovation design initiative goes against the grain of current car design which is usually conducted in strict secrecy behind closed doors to prevent competitors from stealing ideas.

“The group of designers working in the Fiat Mio house were totally open,” said Fiat spokesperson Peter Fassbender. “There was transparency about every decision, which were all communicated online and commented on. This is completely different to the usual design process, which is entirely hidden and secretive.”

Creative Community

All ideas were submitted under the Creative Commons license which means that participants can own their own contributions, but they are free for the community to modify and distribute as it wishes.

Open Innovation and New Ways of Working

Fiat is considering open innovation as a new way of working. They admit that it can be a little difficult when they have to deal with truths about how consumers see their brand, and at times company creatives were concerned that they didn’t have control of the process.

But they are keen to keep the dialogue open with the Mio community because they can see how their ideas and passionate contributions can help the steer the company into exciting new areas.

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