7 key factors that will determine future car usage

What will car usage — and, more broadly speaking, “mobility” — look like in 2030? We look at some key factors that will influence car ownership, car sharing, and the elusive promise of autonomous vehicles. Plus, what lasting effects will COVID-19 have on future mobility?

Mobility defined by vehicle autonomy

The idea of autonomous vehicles has captured many people’s imagination: They would love to have a digital chauffeur so they could truly multitask as they move about.

Hold that thought while you do a web search on the term “driving while sleeping.” Your search will return numerous news articles and even videos. So, it’s understandable that many consumers think that autonomous vehicles (AVs) are already here — and will be everywhere soon.

The names of features on current car models don’t help: for example “Autopilot” and “Full Self-Driving Capability,” are, to quote the carmaker’s manual, “…intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment.”

In other words, the cars in the “driving while sleeping” articles have Level 3 Vehicle Autonomy: limited self-driving under less complex environments, such as highways. They are not Level 4 (full self-driving under certain conditions) or Level 5 (full self-driving under all conditions: the vehicle has no steering wheel).

The technical challenges for full self-driving Level 5 vehicles are well-known. The biggest challenge is the ability to accurately see all relevant surroundings and obstacles — even under adverse weather or road conditions — and reacting safely.

But there are also major societal/regulatory challenges, like defining “safe and reasonable reactions.” Amnon Shashua, the CEO of Mobileye, notes that driverless cars have to make a trade-off between safety and usefulness: “I can be completely safe if I don’t drive or if I drive very slowly,” he says, “but then I’m not useful, and society will not want those vehicles on the road.”

Nonetheless, autonomous vehicles are slowly rolling out, but not in the ways that consumers may think. Level 4 or 5 vehicles are currently expensive — their economics can most readily be justified if the AVs replace the most expensive part of driving: professional drivers.

So Waymo is running driverless local people shuttles and delivery vans in limited areas (“geo-fenced”) in Arizona, which is typically free of adverse weather. Volkswagen Group, Intel’s Mobileye, and Champion Motors have announced plans to commercialize Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) with self-driving electric vehicles (“robo-taxis”) in Israel by 2022. Israel (also a sunny climate) is a small country, making creating the highly detailed maps required by AVs more manageable.

What will consumers see (and really appreciate) in vehicle autonomy in the next 5 years? Many more drivers will experience Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, which are Vehicle Autonomy Levels 1 and 2 features, such as automatic emergency braking, “smart” cruise control, and lane keeping assist. As Amnon Shashua of Mobileye points out, “Some safety regulators around the world have already started to include Level 1 and Level 2 technology as a prerequisite for a vehicle to achieve a 4- or 5-star safety rating.”

But no one can say with any certainty when the ultimate in vehicle autonomy, Level 5, will become widely available for robo-taxis and, further down the road, for personal luxury cars.
Mobility defined by behicle autonomy

Mobility defined by age group

Teenagers and young adults have radically different mindsets about car ownership than generations before: they are unwilling to pay the cost of buying and repairing automobiles — and frequently unable to afford the required auto insurance. Many of these potential drivers aren’t even getting their driver licenses.

These young mobility users are often content to ride-share, share cars, do short-term car rental when necessary, use public transportation, or — perhaps their favorite — use personal transportation whenever possible: e-scooters, skateboards, bicycles, etc.
Mobility defined by age group

Mobility defined by large cities

In most megacities, it’s more trouble to own a car than not to. Parking is the key issue — paid parking frequently costs more than all the other car expenses. With air pollution and traffic gridlock making cities “unlivable” every rush hour, cities are becoming bolder in restricting cars. At the same time, they are increasing pedestrian-only corridors (or streets reserved for only pedestrians, buses, and “for-hire” vehicles). “Surge pricing” — that is charging vehicles to enter high-density areas at certain times — is growing, as megacities carefully monitor the rollout of these programs in other megacities.

As an alternative to private cars, traditional non-car-ownership mobility (buses, trains, subways, for-hire cars) will need to expand and improve their connectivity. For example, cities are looking into making for-hire cars services aggregate their riders, so instead of having four Ubers on the same street — each carrying one passenger — mandated software aggregates the riders into one Uber carrying four passengers to adjacent designations.
Mobility defined by large cities

Mobility defined by commutes

Obviously, the more frequently someone drives longer distances, the more likely they are to own (or lease) their car rather than to share one. With battery electric vehicles (BEVs) extending their distance range, speeding up their charging times, and reaching price parity with internal combustion engine cars by 2025, those long-distance drivers will increasingly go electric in leased BEVs. (Currently, leasing BEVs can be more attractive than buying due to limited battery life.)

Consumers are quickly learning the advantages of BEVs over ICE cars: very low maintenance costs, low fuel costs, outstanding handling and acceleration even in economy models, no tailpipe emissions, and the possibility for carbon-free mobility (if recharged electricity is from renewable sources). When current households own both an ICE and a BEV, the first choice for any given drive is 70% BEV vs. 30% ICE.
Mobility defined by commutes

Mobility defined by personal desires

“Everyone want to drive their own car” has been, especially in the United States, a mantra since Henry Ford rolled out the Model T in 1908. That’s clearly not the case anymore.

Aside from driving frequency and commute logistics, some other factors influencing the choice to own or share a car (including ride-sourcing, aka ride-sharing) include:

  • Availability and convenience of shared cars.
  • Cleanliness of shared cars.
  • Personal mindset: Is your car a statement about you, accessorized accordingly? Or are you a “just get me from point A to B” person?

Finally, people’s circumstances change. A die-hard “car guy or gal” can experience a lifestyle change — like a move, a new disability, or a desire to simplify — that forces them to rethink the key question: Do I want a car, or just the mobility that cars provide?

Mobility defined by personal desires

Mobility defined by governments

There’s a lot we cannot accurately predict about the next ten years in mobility, but there are a few things that appear to be undeniable:

  • Safety: Vehicles, and cars in particular, will continue to become safer as national governments and international agencies will persistently raise their safety standards. And why not? Car designers have proven themselves up to the challenge, as their design tools, such as crash simulations, become ever more powerful and accurate. And even widespread Level 5 Vehicle Autonomy will probably never negate the need (or desire) for inherently safer car designs, with passive safety systems seen as a key redundancy to the AV’s active safety systems.
  • Lightweighting: Lowering tailpipe emissions or raising BEV efficiency/range will continue to require light yet strong automotive materials.
  • Sustainability: The means for determining embedded CO2 in automobile materials will soon by standardized by the European Union, making “apples-to-apples” Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) the norm for the automotive industry. Governments will incentivize or penalize car OEMs and/or buyers accordingly.

Automakers will then compete based on the least “CO2-intensive” car designs. Car shoppers will use window stickers and websites to determine the total embedded CO2 for each car. Manufacturers of automotive materials will either “decarbonize” (reduce the embedded CO2) in their materials or suffer the market consequences. The nimble suppliers will innovate — thriving by working more closely than ever with carmakers.

Mobility defined by governments

Mobility defined by COVID-19

Many believe that COVID-19 is the most profound global event ever. (And while the 1918 Spanish Flu struck many countries and had an enormous death toll, the world was much less interconnected than it is now.) What will pandemics like COVID-19 mean, long-term, for the mobility industry?

  • Will large numbers of people continue to work remotely from home?
  • Will people shun public transportation in favor of cars — or personal transportation (e.g., e-scooters)?
  • Will the interior of shared cars be designed for fast, simple sanitizing? Will the surfaces be made from antiviral materials?
  • Will HEPA-quality HVAC systems deliver “personal air supply” to each passenger, be they in a car, bus, train or airplane? Will they include disinfectant-fogging operation between each passenger use?
  • Will “for-hire” drivers require that they take your temperature before you get into their car? That you also wear a mask and gloves? And, in turn, will the driver need to prove that the vehicle was sanitized prior to you stepping into it?
  • Will buses, train cars, airplanes, etc. have new “dividers” to keep people apart?
  • Will new apps tell you how many passengers are on the next bus, subway train, etc.?
  • Will discretionary travel ever return to pre-COVID-19 levels as long as epidemics are active anywhere in the world?

And finally, COVID-19 will continue to cause disruptions to car sales for however long it takes to discover and make effective therapeutics, vaccines and/or antibody tests — or for countries to adapt highly effective social (physical) distancing practices combined with testing and tracing.

But long-term, COVID-19 and other future respiratory pandemics might actually speed-up mobility’s transition to alternatives to the internal combustion engine. With a significant portion of the world’s population emerging from these illnesses with compromised respiratory systems, governments will design their economic stimulus packages to include the promotion of non-polluting mobility. The “Electrify Everything” movement will gather momentum and prove to be surprisingly energy efficient and extremely “doable” right now, using existing technology in exciting new combinations, such as micro-grids and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) capabilities.

The world will never be the same again after COVID-19 – and it is everyone’s job to make that, ultimately, a positive statement.


Mobility defined by COVID-19

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