COMMENT: We’re well on the road to the future of mobility

With demands of future mobility already impacting today's auto industry, the next few years will be truly formative for transportation, from personal vehicles through to HD freight. By Jack Hunsley

Mobility is no longer as simple as moving from point A to B. While the operation of cars, vans, trucks and buses of the past relied solely on mechanical engineering, the vehicle of today – and more specifically, the vehicle of tomorrow – is becoming increasingly technologically complex. A vast influx of IT prowess and connectivity solutions has allowed the modern vehicle to be so much more than a lump of machinery, to the extent that the notion of the autonomous vehicle (AV) seems a far more realistic prospect than it did a decade ago.

There are several reasons for this transition, none perhaps more influential than the growing concerns around environmental sustainability. Many may have been disappointed by GM’s decision to end the EV1 programme in 1999 — a move which influenced the 2006 documentary, ‘Who killed the electric car?’ — but by contrast, the electric vehicle (EV) market is now flourishing. EV registrations are growing year-on-year, with major automakers in most global markets developing and marketing suitable products.

Ride-sharing, ride-hailing and car-sharing schemes are quickly becoming the norm amongst young people, a segment of buyers that traditionally would have looked instead to purchase their own vehicle outright

But, as these automakers begin to develop their own visions of the vehicle of the future, the market into which they are selling is also changing. The increased cost of ownership has led to the rise of Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Ride-sharing, ride-hailing and car-sharing schemes are quickly becoming the norm amongst young people, a segment of buyers that traditionally would have looked instead to purchase their own vehicle outright. Many major cities are also looking to deter private ownership, aiming to instead use autonomous shuttles, amongst other technologies, to fulfil the mobility needs of citizens across the globe.

In the commercial vehicle sector, which for many years has struggled within a driver-deprived market, the move towards autonomous trucking presents a dilemma. On the one hand, AVs could theoretically eliminate the need for a driver; on the other, both the automotive industry and governments will have to juggle this transition to avoid potential social disruption.

What is needed is a holistic approach, behind which the industry as a whole can unite to push the development of connected, electric and autonomous technology, and the wider reaches of the future of mobility

Traditional supply chains are also changing. The increased IT requirements of the modern connected vehicle and the AV have created a new tier in the supply chain, catered for by technology specialists capable of filling the IT competency void which major automakers currently lack. While currently a hotly contested tier, those players who fair best over the next few years could well find themselves as the go-to suppliers for decades to come.

And, looking at these decades to come, it will only be once Level 4 and 5 autonomy arrives that the true monetary benefits can be found. While the legwork put in today will certainly aid this transition, it is too early for the industry to put all its eggs in one basket. What is needed is a holistic approach, behind which the industry as a whole can unite to push the development of connected, electric and autonomous technology, and the wider reaches of the future of mobility.

To understand more about the ways in which changes in communication, propulsion, business models and regulations are affecting mobility, download the 2019 edition of Automotive World‘s latest special report, What is the future of mobility?

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