15
Feb

2010

History and Future

Post by Steven Dale

For most of the 20th century, the cable industry had been a hodge-podge of European, Japanese and American companies each jockeying for their piece of the blossoming ski industry. Some companies specialized in manufacturing, others in operations and maintenance. Privately owned and maintained systems were common. There were dozens of players but few titans.

Like the American cable car industry of the 19th century, barriers to entry were low. There was nothing proprietary about the technology and all the components could, quite literally, be bought off the shelf. As the ski industry boomed, the cable industry attracted all sorts of fly-by-nighters and charlatans. Companies came and went and experienced companies found themselves fighting off insurgents with dubious safety records who exploited the lack of regulation within the industry.

Competition was brutal and innovation scarce.

Look back over cable’s 20th century history and you find something uniquely curious: New technology and innovation is almost entirely absent. A single game-changing innovation hadn’t been developed since the detachable grip in 1872. Imagine the computer, car or airline industry essentially not introducing a major new model or innovation for 125 years and you begin to understand how bizarre this actually was.

The ski industry was booming, yes, but it was a small industry with a razor thin target market. First you needed a mountain. Then you needed a population who knew how to ski. But you also needed a population that was wealthy enough to afford such an expensive sport and had the time to partake in the pleasure. The ski industry was (and still is) a pretty small pie to carve up amongst dozens of lift suppliers. What little profits the cable industry made were plowed back into getting more business. Research and development wasn’t the priority; survival was.

This all changed in the last quarter of the 20th century.

A flurry of mergers and acquisitions saw two major competitors emerge: The French-Italian consortium of Leitner-Poma and the Austrian-Swiss partnership, Doppelmayr-Garaventa. Today, these two companies control roughly 95% of the entire cable transit business and this concentration has provided the economies of scale necessary to advance the technology.

The integration of computer-controlled Programmable Logic Circuits has made cable safer than ever before and tight regulation has weeded out most of the deadbeats. In the last ten years alone at least four major new technologies have been developed and older technologies are being stretched to new limits. Cable’s popping up in totally unexpected places and thriving. It’s rare that a year goes by without some new surprise. I’m constantly surprised.

While consolidation in many industries often marks the beginning of the end of innovation, it marked the beginning of a new era for cable. Hopefully, that innovation continues. The urban market is just now starting to look at Cable Propelled Transit and I suspect cable finds itself on the cusp of something great.

Rather than slow the pace of innovation, now’s the time for the industry to push forward with more.



Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.

Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.

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