Every automaker needs to plan for the future.
For more than a century, this generally has meant determining which types of vehicles to produce and in what quantities. But with technology causing rapid shifts in mobility and car ownership, anticipating what their business will look like only a decade from now is much more difficult for OEMs.
That’s why Nissan has held a series of “Futures” conferences around the world and convened its first in the U.S. at the Los Angeles auto show last week.
While mobility discussions and displays have become common at auto shows worldwide and the organizers of the annual Los Angeles event even changed the name of its media preview days to AutomobilityLA to reflect transformations in the car industry, Nissan Futures wasn’t about vehicles, per se. If anything, it was not about them.
The half-day program included a handful of Nissan representatives, but they mostly took a backseat to speakers as diverse as the vice president of Walt Disney Studios’ Technology Innovations Group, an award-winning LA architect and actress and Nissan Leaf owner Margot Robbie.
Denis Le Vot, chairman-Nissan North America, noted in his opening remarks that the reason for this diversity – and dearth of auto-centric participants in the program – is designed to widen the scope of the conversation and collaboration around future mobility.
“We recognize that we need to work with a range of partners, from government to start-ups, to academics and city planners to make sure that automotive advancements are being widely and equally distributed, whether you drive a Nissan, or a Nissan drives you, or you don’t drive at all,” Le Vot says.
A common thread among speakers was imagining a day when personal car ownership will diminish and may even disappear altogether.
While this may seem farfetched, New York Times bestselling author Steven Kotler, who wrote the 2015 book, Tomorrowland: Our Journey From Science Fiction To Science Fact, notes advances in technology such as the Internet and smartphones have radically transformed our lives and business in ways no one could have imagined.
Several experts at the event whose professions are predicting the future feel that shift in mobility and particularly self-driving cars will have an equal impact, and different sectors of business and society need to work together to prepare for them.
To that end, Rachel Nguyen, executive director of Nissan’s Future Lab in Silicon Valley, heads a varied group of researchers who analyze mobility trends for the company.
“The Future Lab is a team of individuals with different backgrounds from social sciences, to design, to engineering and urban planning,” she says. While everyone from car company execs to enthusiast consumers worry about what these shifts in mobility will mean for vehicle ownership and driving, Nguyen says she believes it’s an exciting time to be in the automotive industry.
“We have a lot of smart technologies and things are really going to be different,” she adds. “First and foremost, we’ll have a lot more options in mobility.” That sounds like an accurate prediction.