The people working deep in the weeds to evolve the way people move around cities are nothing if not optimistic.
There are real challenges ahead, but, overall, positive changes will come from the way the COVID-19 pandemic and new technologies are forcing us to rethink what’s normal as well as what’s possible.
That was all abundantly clear during Wards Automotive Tech Week: Megatrends conference this week in a panel discussion, “Reshaping the Future of Urban Transport.”
When it comes to the new technologies, the automotive industry already has passed a line that most people outside of the industry don’t see or haven’t noticed, says Daniel Barel, co-founder and CEO of REE Automotive, a company working on a next-generation electric vehicle platform.
“We’ve seen that most traditional OEMs have either stopped or significantly decreased investment in ICE technologies and have moved to electrification,” he says. “We have passed that critical mass.”
Anders Wall, vice president-investor relationships for GreenMobility A/S, an EV car sharing service operating in seven cities in northern Europe, is tracking trends that show many young people are unlikely to ever own a car, delivery companies are looking for smaller electric cargo vans and large companies want to change their entire fleet to electric or shared vehicles.
“Change is definitely accelerating, and I dare say it has been accelerated by COVID because it has forced people to think differently and start acting differently,” he says.
GreenMobility saw growth during the second half of 2020, Wall (below, left) says, despite the travel restrictions caused by the pandemic. Some of this was because people moved away from public transportation out of health concerns, but GreenMobility also saw a large number of people making substantial changes to the ways they move around, from selling their car to commuting at different times of day.
“Traditional morning rush hour is almost gone here in Copenhagen, but we still have a high momentum in our fleet, so people seem to be using it at different times of the day and they’ve chosen a more flexible solution,” he says.
How this all plays out once the pandemic is over will be answered by individuals analyzing the cost of all these services as well as their reliability and flexibility, Wall says.
“It comes down to availability,” he says. “We have to provide the service when and where it’s needed. We have to give them certainty that they can always rely on this service. I need to be certain that once the game has ended, there’s a solution for me standing outside. I don’t really care about the brand of the car, just give me a solution.”
Christopher Emmanuel, director of infrastructure and governance policy for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, says Florida CoC members, including large land holders, utility companies, theme parks and retirement communities, are more than ready for changes in the way people move around, as long as they can make the spreadsheets work.
“They are all excited about this technology, but the ecosystem needs to prove itself,” he says. “We need to make sure there’s a business case for them laying out a fair amount of capital for something that they’re not going to be using that much of.”
Free2Move is a Groupe PSA North America company operating a free-floating car sharing fleet in Washington, DC, made up of 600 Chevrolet Cruze and Equinox models.
Lynn Blake, Groupe PSA North America's vice president-mobility, says PSA has learned a lot about car sharing in DC over the past two years, and she believes there is a lot the company can do to better harness data as it figures out how to design more personal offers for its customers.
F2M also is investigating “alternative ownership models,” Blake says.
“If we don’t evolve and change, we are going to die,” she says. “This space is so quick and consumer preferences change – we have to be changing with it.”
That’s optimistic, right?