Will today’s auto manufacturers be the mobility service providers of tomorrow?

Catherine Kargas’ article discusses the SEAMless Mobility model and the facts, reasons and trends leading up to this necessary change in mobility of people and goods.In this article, she also discusses the link between electric vehicles and driverless technology and explains why the latter is a facilitator for the former.

Network electrification is under way, but there is still a lot to do in Canada in order to achieve sustainable and clean mobility

Electrification of personally owned vehicles in Canada is making progress, but the percentage of EVs in the vehicle fleet remains weak. To help boost EV penetration, several tools are being used, including:

  • Financial incentives: To encourage the move towards cleaner mobility, the most populous Canadian provinces offer financial incentives to lower the purchase price of EVs: currently Québec offers an $8000 discount while Ontario refunds $8500 on the purchase of an EV. As 60% of Canada’s electricity is generated through clean, renewable hydro (approximately 99% in Québec), a shift towards electric mobility would contribute significantly to making Canada’s transportation sustainable and cleaner while decreasing the country’s GHG emissions.
  • Charging stations: To alleviate consumer concerns related to range anxiety, over 2000 public charging stations have been installed with more planned over the course of the next few years. In Québec, North American leader in electrification of transportation, the government is investing in implementing fast chargers on the highway joining Montréal with the city of Québec.  Similarly, in British Columbia, fast chargers have been implemented along the North-South corridor connecting Vancouver with the western US states. These fast are an incentive for users to take their EVs for longer-range trips.

Newer forms of mobility contributing to sustainable transportation

Alternative ways of transportation are also soaring in Canada as the sharing economy offers options to consumers. Both ride sharing and car sharing have made their entrance in numerous Canadian cities.  In fact, car sharing membership is strong and climbing with services offered by Car2Go in a number of Canadian cities and regional offerings such as Communauto in Québec and Autoshare in Ontario.  The more on-street chargers are installed, the more car sharing companies will be encouraged to incorporate EVs in their fleet, which will also help the development of a strong electrified transportation network. Communauto, for example, has introduced EVs in their fleet for certain areas of Montreal.

A recent report by Morgan Stanley calculated that cars are only used for about 4% of their lives. This means that the world’s $20 trillion car fleet achieves only 4% utilization, leaving 8.4 trillion hours per year not used.  Sharing is therefore an important part of a sustainable mobility solution.

While NA culture is still strongly tied to the automobile, car sharing is gaining popularity thanks to its numerous environmental and economic benefits as well as its use of use. In fact, several Canadian families have evolved from two-car households to single-car households replacing the second vehicle with car sharing membership.

Fully autonomous vehicles: a solution to the economic and demographic change we are facing

Another essential trend that might foster the emergence of a more sustainable and safer mobility lies in the use of fully autonomous vehicles.

  • Over the next decade, there will be a 25-50% increase in urban dwelling as about 1 billion people move into cities. Population increases and the mobility demands of a growing middle class will place greater pressure on transportation systems and infrastructure. Clearly our generally inefficient transportation systems will lead to gridlock in most cities. Driverless vehicles offer a more sustainable transportation solution.
  • Most governments, facing economic difficulties, cannot continue to build new highways and infrastructure or to subsidize a transit system that incurs systemic losses despite its increasing popularity to meet the urban demographic boom and rising congestion. Smart vehicles can be part of the solution as they can help users choose the best transit routes, avoid accidents and thus help reduce congestion.
  • In addition, driverless vehicles will help society meet the needs of its aging population. In Canada, more than 120,000 people with some form of dementia have a valid driving license. In this context, driverless cars are a much safer option that can guarantee road safety while offering the elderly and disabled a mobility solution that allows them to remain autonomous and maintain their quality of life, all without placing additional pressure on governments to provide transportation services to the elderly.
  • Further, roughly 10% of world’s population lives with a disability.  Driverless vehicles would provide accessible mobility to the disabled and enable them to lead productive lives.

The link between electric and driverless

Several respected organizations around the world, including Électricité de France (EDF), have made the connection between electric propulsion and driverless technology. In fact, driverless technology is a facilitator for electrification of transportation.  Today, a motorist purchases a vehicle that meets ALL of his/her road travel needs, including those rare trips of several hundred kilometers. Given the limited autonomy of most electric vehicle models on the market today, these rare lengthy trips would require the motorist to make numerous stops for recharging (assuming there are charging stations available along the route).  So, despite the fact that an electric vehicle would meet the large majority of travel needs of most motorists, most EVs are not ideal for all trips.  At least not yet!

In a context where driverless vehicles are shared, the passenger need not think about vehicle autonomy or charging. The intelligent vehicle takes care of all that and more.  The shared electric vehicle would be ideal for most urban travel. Further, for a fleet operator, the electric vehicle, in many jurisdictions, is less expensive to operate than its conventional counterpart.

Tomorrow’s transportation will be SEAMlessTM: Shared, Electric, Autonomous, Multimodal

SEAMless.pngTomorrow’s transportation system will offer SEAMlessTM mobility.  It will be fully autonomous and electric but it will also be shared and multimodal. Multimodal transportation networks, combining car- and bike-sharing solutions, railway, metro (subway) and bus networks, are facilitated by complete information available (possible mobility options with time and cost) free of charge on a smartphone. Apps, such as RideScout, are already providing much of this information.  The seamless interconnectivity between the various modes of transportation is often what’s missing today.

Already, multimodal systems are evident with transit systems partnering with car sharing providers, for example. In Montreal, the transit property (Société de transport de Montréal) offers consumers packages to purchase bus passes and gain access to Communauto car sharing at reduced rates.  Car sharing vehicles are conveniently located around Montréal metro stations to help customers with that first/last mile connection.


phonesmart.jpgIn Europe, Helsinki’s plan to move away from individual passenger vehicles is an excellent example of multimodality. The introduction of a single pass providing access to a fully integrated transportation network in a multimodal ecosystem will provide commuters with complete, affordable on-demand mobility solutions that will make individual car ownership pointless.

But such connected urban networks can only be developed if the different mobility actors agree to integrate their services to build a real connected transportation system.

While some car manufacturers have embraced the rise in multimodality, some consider it as a threat to their established market and business model. Daimler is one of the automotive OEMs that have demonstrated a tremendous ability to adapt to this changing transportation ecosystem. Consider the fact that Daimler has vertically integrated forward into the car sharing space with Car2Go. Consider the fact that it is one of the leading developers of driverless technology. Consider the fact that it recently acquired mytaxi and RideScout.

Government vision and planning are required

The revolutionary change in mobility that will take place within the coming decade will create tremendous opportunity as new industries and business models are shaped.  Numerous businesses, will however be disrupted and others obliterated.  Those that feel threatened by this change will try to delay its introduction.  Governments need not only recognize the need for change to achieve sustainable mobility but be visionary enough to pave the way for such change.  To minimize the pain associated with labour displacement and to maximize the benefits of this change in transportation, governments need to start planning the SEAMlessTM mobility systems of tomorrow.  This includes developing a roadmap that takes infrastructure, people and systems into consideration.

Google’s role will be essential to entice traditional carmakers to adapt to this new mobility model

In this changing context, Google’s role in this ecosystem will indeed be extremely important, in particular for the development and commercialization of driverless vehicles.  In fact, even though many carmakers already have access to the necessary technology to build autonomous vehicles, Google seems to have taken the lead.

With its Google cars, Google has become a “showcase” for this new technology. Given the comfort, safety, economic and environmental advantages of this technology, carmakers will be forced to adapt their models.  As Mr. Ford said not long ago, in the future, carmakers will probably no longer be just carmakers, but mobility services providers.

Catherine Kargas’ article was initially published on Michelin Challenge Bibendum Communityé

Photo : Nataliya Hora