Fiat Mio

​"How did we predict the future?"

Ten years after its launch in the 2010 Motor Show, Fiat Mio is still celebrated as a concept car and open innovation case.

December 10 2020 - In 2008, the now director of the FCA Design Center in Latin America, Peter Fassbender, had an insight that would culminate in one of the largest open innovation projects in Brazil and the first of its kind in the world: the production of a very special concept car. That’s when the concept of the Fiat Mio came to fruition.

Fassbender wondered about the automotive industry's ability to understand and meet the wishes of its consumers and, with the endorsement of the company's board, worked with a talented and motivated team of designers, engineers and communicators, who led forward the daring construction of a car on an open platform.

Fiat then asked the public what the car of the future would be. And it received amazing feedback. There were almost 11,000 ideas and 12,000 comments, that have guided all the work.

Two years later, in July 2010, after a long and challenging process of interactions and collaborative production, the assembly of the Fiat Mio was completed, inside the São Paulo International Motor Show. "We were able to keep our promise and create a car with all of you, with your ideas, with your participation. The car itself in the show was not the great cultural change we set in motion, but instead, the process by which it was done; we did it on an open platform with a community of more than 15,000 people. The real revolutionary idea was to do a project involving everybody," says Peter.

A Revolutionary Idea

Peter Fassbender, Director of the Latam Design Center at FCAFor Peter Fassbender, Director of the Latam Design Center at FCA, the revolutionary idea was the collaborative project itself.

"The designer is an artist, who wants to improve the world and does not accept the status quo. Our opportunity to escape from the rules happens every two years at the Motor Show, when we show a car with new concepts, an object of experimentation. But we wanted even more, because when you create a concept, even today, few people remember it," says Peter.

At the time, he had read an article that reflected on the company's transparency and consumer involvement in production. "And I saw that the most common process was to create something and then show it to the public and ask them about it. But then it's too late to change a project. That's why you have to involve the customer from the beginning," he says. Peter also explains that the visibility of a car launched at the Motor Show is of approximately six months, but there is an earlier phase of production, which lasts a year and a half. "This means that we had the possibility to create visibility for almost two years. So, I gathered the most creative people in the company and asked, why don't we do it online?"

At the time, the head of interior design at Fiat, Mateus Silveira, coordinated part of the project's design team. He says that the idea of increasing exposure time has evolved with the understanding of the impact of social networks and the transformations of relationships with digital technology. More than displaying the content, it would be possible to allow the consumer to interact directly with the process. Because the work was open, the team chose to place the platform under the Creative Commons license. "Thus, all the available knowledge would belong to everyone. Which means that, to this day, anyone can take those ideas, develop their own Fiat Mio and all improvement would return to the collective", says Mateus.

Open Construction

Maria Lucia Antonio, FCA Brand Marketing Communication for Latin AmericaMaria Lucia Antonio, FCA Brand Marketing Communication for Latin America.

According to Isabella Vianna, Manager of Color Design and Graphic Materials, Virtual Reality and Accessories, the first big challenge was to build the platform of interaction with the public and supply it with content. The first version, which asked for conceptual ideas, aired in August 2009, and the second in November, with 21 topics selected to continue the discussion. "We needed to generate content daily, not leave the people without answers," she recalls. Cameras recorded the entire process of the designers, which was documented in episodes that supported the project’s blog. "This transparency helped a lot because it showed a very human and open Fiat that is doing a dedicated job every day," says Peter.

Maria Lucia Antonio, FCA's Brand Marketing Communication for Latin America, says that practically a "war room" was built to deal with the collaborative process and organize all the information that arrived and had to be returned. "The auto industry hides everything and this was a completely open project. Internally, it was necessary to learn how to work in this new way. And, externally it was wonderful: everything was news. In Brazil, the car still has a great imagery power and participating in this construction is the dream of many people", she says.

The team opened the site asking about color, design, technologies and features of the car, which were outlined and the ideas uploaded online. All the characteristics for the car came directly from consumers or interpreted from shared desires. "Today we talk about a responsive, autonomous car, powered by solar energy and sustainable. All this appeared very strongly back then, and brought us very important feedback for the subsequent projects regarding what people wanted. Many times, we stay inside the box and lose a little sensitivity about what people need, so opening the conversation is a very rich experience," reflects Isabella.

Evolution of Technology

Fiat Mio concept carFiat Mio is still an innovation case studied worldwide.

Paulo Matos, Human and Organizational Development Manager at ISVOR, was supervisor of innovation in Product Engineering at Fiat, and had the role of understanding, analyzing and producing technical feasibility studies of equipment and technologies for the car, from the opinions given by customers. Some of the proposals conceptually implemented in the Fiat Mio have already become a reality over these ten years, such as the electric car. Others are still very current challenges, such as personal assistant and autonomous cars. "And there are things that we envisioned ahead of us, such as the engine on the wheels or the distributed sound, where the driver hears one song and the passenger another. It was a car far ahead of its time. It still is."

Isabella highlights the proposals related to sustainability. The designer says that, even today, it was not possible to apply all the suggestions that came up at the time. Others have become the starting point for new projects within the brand, such as the use of fabrics made from recyclable thread inside the vehicles. "We were able to work with suppliers to enable this type of lining. In the automotive sector there is this ecological concern regarding the impact of our products. In the production of the Fiat Mio, we began to see this side of people: more humane, concerned about the future and the number of cars on the streets", she explains.

Innovation and New Ways of Producing

For Mateus, who experienced a major career change from working with Fiat Mio to now being Product Innovation and Connectivity Manager, the project has also transformed the way the team thinks about car production. "First, we moved away from this direct relationship with core business with the car; then, we had to let go of the idea that we are the ones who make a car. We learned that combined knowledge has a lot more power," he says.

Maria Lucia says that the internal processes were very rich, with the collaboration between the different areas and teams, in a less hierarchical way. "It was a great cognitive diversity, of people with information, jobs, different worldviews, internally and externally. I think it was an experiment in diversity," she says.

Paulo speaks of the project as a great exercise in mindset change. "At first, we were still very orthodox, and we had to let go of this attitude. We were not developing a car for today and we were not the ones to define the resolutions; it was the customer," he says. He recalls that the request for an electric engine on the wheels was a subject of much debate among engineers, because there is still no engine light enough that won’t affect the dynamics of the car when placed on the wheels. "But perhaps, in a not so distant future, engines will no longer be as heavy. And then we changed our mindset, because it was the car of the future. We started doing this exercise of breaking these molds and it changed the way we thought. There is no innovation without thinking about the future," he says. For the engineer, this project was a lesson for Fiat about open innovation and a great legacy on how to talk to the customer.

The whole team talks about a sense of "longing" and vision changing, career plans and new possibilities when reminiscing about the project. Even today, Fiat Mio is a successful project studied worldwide. "When I look at the Mio, I see that we got it right, the collective got it right. A low-emission electric vehicle, a personal assistant, autonomous, with an interior that looks like the living room of our house, made with sustainable materials. That's magical to me! How did we predict the future?" Mateus reflects.

Words: Luiza Lages

Pictures: Marketing

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