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In 1984 Richard Saul Wurman, an architect and graphic designer, established a conference titled “Technology, Entertainment and Design.” Which is now known by its acronym, TED. While it was originally an invitation-only event for the cognoscenti in those three areas of endeavor, it was expanded globally, and there are “TED talks” occurring in cities everywhere (these are typically “TEDx” events, which, according to the organization, provide “local TED-like experiences”).

What Apple is to consumer electronics products and Starbucks is to coffee-like beverages, TED has become to conferences: nearly ubiquitous and, to the extent that something with such reach can be, cool. So what does TED have to do with the auto industry? Well, it is rather simple.

Because TED is au courant, particularly among the digital intelligentsia, someone needed to glom onto it. As we’ve seen at auto shows, press conferences and photo ops, automotive executives have foregone the tailored worsted and gone for the denim; they’ve tossed the ties and try to look causally earnest. (Which doesn’t necessarily work out so well, but dammit, if you’re going to invest millions in some startup software company, looking like you’re a denizen of SoMA is one of the rewards.)

The other three-letter acronym, BMW, is the one who grabbed the silicon ticket by affiliating with TED.
Specifically, it is the BMW i brand, which sells the i3 EV, that is being hammered in the market by the Chevy Bolt, and the i8 plug-in hybrid, which is arguably a $143,000 answer to a question that no one asked. [Ed’s note: we gave the i8 our 2014 Technology of the Year award, so our opinion differs from Gary’s.]

The official rhetoric goes on to describe the i brand as one that is “focusing on visionary vehicle concepts, connected mobility services and a new understanding of premium strongly defined by sustainability.”

Of course.

So with TED, BMW i is seeking out “NextVisionaries,” with the two words being jammed together in a way that is analogous to the lower-case “i”: something that has a reason somewhere, but not just evidently.
The individuals they are seeking out have ideas about “rethinking personal mobility.” Arguably, “personal mobility” is something that has come to exist with little in the way of serious cogitation and debate, so maybe “thinking personal mobility” would be more to the point.

The winner, the person who presents “the most impressive, most promising and most groundbreaking” proposal, gets to present a TED talk in New York next November. So here’s something to think — or rethink — about: Is the typical person who is interested in TED talks interested in the subject of personal mobility? Based on the evidence of the top 25 TED talks, the answer to that question is “No.”

On TED’s own list of “The most popular talks of all time,” the top topics are the education system, body language, leadership, vulnerability, orgasms, strokes, motivation (two on that subject), appearance, introversion, public speaking, gestural technology, liars, happiness (two on this, too), sea creatures, extended breath-holding, misdirection, stress, brain magic, creativity, the good life, cultural understanding, statistics, and spam email.

Nothing about cars — electric, autonomous or otherwise. Nothing about bikes or scooters or buses or trains or Segways or. …

Isn’t this simply a case of what is called “borrowed interest” in the marketing world: BMW grabbing the coattails — or maybe the UNTUCKit button-down shirttails — of TED?

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