Panasonic is emerging as a very different company in the business space their hardened Toughbook Laptops have expanded into Toughpad tablets and drifted into solid POS (Point of Sale), Solar, and Digital Signage markets. Much of this was visible at the NASCAR event in Sonoma, Calif. last weekend, and I had a chance to chat with a number of Panasonic customers as to why they preferred solutions from the company. Panasonic provides much of the technology used at NASCAR and they were the primary sponsor of the Panasonic car driven by Jeff Gordon which missed winning by “that much” to quote Maxwell Smart in a nail biter of a race.
Let’s talk Panasonic in the context of NASCAR
NASCAR is an interesting race series in that it is both uniquely popular in the U.S. and because of where technology is used most heavily, which isn’t in the cars but on the race tracks and in the media rooms. In other words the cars are pretty low tech except for the cameras in and around them and the technology in place to engage the fans with their favorite driver both on and off the track. This makes them an ideal showcase for Panasonic which doesn’t do that much with automotive technology but has great depth in the technology that surrounds the race.
For instance much of the electrical solar power and digital signage at the Sonoma Infineon raceway is supplied by Panasonic.
What I found interesting is why race teams use Panasonic ToughBooks, I mean why would a race team need a hardened laptop that wouldn’t actually go with the driver in the car (except perhaps during car testing). This was driving the race teams a bit nuts too because they constantly found that regular laptops failed rather quickly and catastrophically. I actually ran into the reason doing a F1 interview a few years back, it is the engine vibrations that cause the devices to fail. The engines running at high rpms cause everything around them to vibrate and that vibration can cause hard drive heads to score platters, connections in the laptop to fatigue and fail, and wear on connectors that wouldn’t otherwise occur. A hardened product is designed and tested to a high standard to survive vibration and shock and this is often required by race teams who, like the Hendricks team that Panasonic sponsors, intends to win a lot of races.
Increasingly however Tablets are being used in areas that were once the purview of laptops and this is because they can be held more easily. If you are working on or under a car you’ll likely not be able to type on a keyboard very well and need to swipe through manuals or exchange messages with a remote resource real time. Even the camera on a tablet comes in handy if you have to try to diagnose a problem with a remote expert, a picture is worth more than a thousand words (and given the noise levels in a shop or on a track vocal discussions may simply not be all that practical).
Panasonic released a small 5” tablet right before the race and while I didn’t see it in use I spoke to a number of customers who felt it was ideal for their technicians because of the relatively low cost and high portability. I expect it would be far more useful than even a 10” tablet underneath a car and could be more easily mounted in a race car to assist with trials and testing. It isn’t like they have a ton of extra unused space on the dash so smaller could be better.
Wrapping Up: Jeff Gordon and Panasonic
Sometimes technology plays a fascinating behind the scenes role, and while Jeff Gordon in the Panasonic car didn’t win, he did start back at 15th and finished a very close second suggesting he kicked every butt on that track but one and he nearly kicked that one too. Granted most of this performance could be connected to a great driver, a great team, and a great car but it was hard to avoid the fact that this team used Panasonic technology heavily and the team owner raved about it. I doubt he would have done that had Panasonic ever let him down. Perhaps that showcases how technology should be, a small part of a great performance and no part of a reason to fail.
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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