Future Urban City Mobility: “The city will shape the car”
“In the past, the car shaped the city. Tomorrow, the city will shape the car”, said Lisa Füting, Senior Project Manager Urban Solutions at Audi. She was speaking at the European Automotive Forum, on 18 January in Brussels. The Forum’s 6th edition tackled one of the hottest topics of today – and of tomorrow: Urban (Auto)Mobility. Most experts agree that the relationship between cars and cities will change profoundly.
In the urban mobility ecosystem of the future, the car will be electric, and if at all possible, emission-free. But most importantly, it will be just one of many mobility solutions at the disposal of tomorrow’s ‘consumer of mobility’: it will be used only if and when it is needed.
Sooner or later
As cities expand and impose more restrictions on vehicles, and as parking spaces become rarer, owning a car just for urban mobility alone will lose its appeal, for both city dwellers and commuters. In other words: car ownership in an urban setting will decline and disappear.
To be sure, this will be a gradual process. As technological development is not aligned with investments in infrastructure, and since there is no strong, sustainable vision for smart city development that unites cities, let alone countries, the inevitable changes may come later rather than sooner.
That, at least, was one of the conclusions of a panel discussion on Sustainable (Auto)Mobility in Liveable Cities, moderated by Eric Desomer, Automotive Leader at Deloitte Belgium.
As Mr. Eric Desomer told us afterwards, a central problem for the development of future mobility is “the conflict between the global thinking of car manufacturers and the local reality that will build the future of mobility. The global vision of manufacturers has worked until now because the car was merely an asset to be sold”.
“At present, there is no car manufacturer – nor any other player – who offers a global solution to the issues of urban mobility. And there will be no global solution. Those ecosystems are locally crafted, with regulation, players and actors that are all very location-specific. It is therefore high time for mobility players who want to be successful to adapt to the local-ness of this new reality”.
Additional problem: what’s wrong with the industry, also ails the authorities. “There is a lack of vision among cities, across countries and in Europe. Of course, there are some conversations going on, but these are ad hoc discussions, not structured dialogues”, says Mr. Desomer of Deloitte Belgium. “It’s essential that all actors are stimulated to develop an intelligent mobility ecosystem, based on key pillars and fundamentals that are adopted by all major cities – of course taking into account their specific urban context and infrastructure, their local mobility offers and the relevant legislation”.
“At the moment, the European Commission doesn’t seem to have a grip on this. It would, however, be good that there was a Europe-wide initiative to synchronise developments in the Smart City movement across the continent. This is what car manufacturers and other major mobility actors want and need: an over-arching vision – and if possible, a sustainable one”.
Ocean of data
In the absence of European synchronicity on urban mobility, a first good step in that direction is the best-practice sharing within POLIS, a network of European cities working towards innovative technologies and policies for urban mobility.
“Cities have to understand that, for the mobility of tomorrow, their role will be completely different”, says Mr. Desomer. In Smart Cities, connectivity will create an ocean of data that cities can use to determine consumer behaviour and, in a wider sense, the needs of their citizens, and act accordingly.
“Rotterdam is already doing that. It uses dynamic pricing schemes for parking and road use. It’s an example of how cities will become much more entrepreneurial. After all, they already have the roads and the parking spaces; and they will have mobility data that will allow them to ensure that Smart Mobility will happen in tomorrow’s cities”.
Does this mean that those cities of tomorrow will also own mobility itself? “Not necessarily. The city has to facilitate integration, to make sure there is a ‘cloud’ of some sort in which smart urban mobility can develop and grow. That does not mean that the city operates the vehicles or owns the infrastructure. No, the main function of the city of tomorrow is to aggregate smart thinking on mobility and become a sort of laboratory of mobility innovation”.
When we think about mobility in Smart Cities, we automatically assume the vehicles will be electric and autonomous. Whoa, not so fast, says Mr. Desomer; “In our last Deloitte Consumer Survey, we asked consumers which powertrain they had in mind for their next car. Well over 60% still went for an internal combustion engine (ICE). Reasons mentioned for not choosing an electric powertrain were, first, range anxiety, followed by doubts about pricing and residual value, and the limitations of the charging network”.
Politicians, it is said, think of the next election. Statesmen and –women think of the next generation. Isn’t the problem in Europe that, when it comes to Smart City development and the future of Smart Mobility, that we have too many politicians, and not enough statesmen and –women?
The next Kodak
“I don’t think the problem is political”, counters Mr. Desomer. “The industry itself also has a problem. CEOs of car manufacturers have a certain set of corporate objectives that guide their actions. If they can increase their profits by selling more ICE vehicles, they’ll happily do that. What’s the average tenure of a CEO – four years? Well, he or she will more often than not act with that kind of time frame in mind”.
“And in spite of that, CEOs are still well positioned and highly trusted when it comes to issues of future mobility. In a recent survey about Autonomous Driving, it was the traditional OEMs that were indicated as the most reliable partner, not newcomers like Apple, Google and other tech giants. That confidence is a valuable asset to have, but the OEMs have to realise that they must act now, or they may become the next Kodak – a giant defeated by progress”.