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  • Writer's pictureTammy Meehan

Riding the waves of mobility

Updated: May 19, 2020

As I sit down to write my very first blog with the PLUM Catalyst, I’m faced with a HUGE dilemma… what should I write about first?

Some very relevant possible mobility-related topics off the top of my head include:

FIRST, at the macro impact level and impacting all areas of our lives, in case you didn’t know we are in the middle of a pandemic (Who could’ve predicted this one?!)

SECOND, and also near/dear to my heart, the Vehicle to Everything (V2X) industry is facing a possible massive decision point where the discussions over the spectrum allocations in the U.S. are heating up (see article here). Which, either way it lands, is going to have lasting impacts on tech companies and government investment decisions (Note: We all saw this one coming, now I’m just waiting for finale)

THIRD, mobility in general is getting turned upside down and sideways as new solutions are getting major investments and interest has grown into action from cities. Micromobility and new sustainable mobility solutions appear to be getting even more attention post-COVID (See the latest article from The Guardian)

In an effort to talk about something “different”, let’s chat about the third topic, Mobility. More specifically, what I refer to as Future Mobility (cue the Star Wars music). OK, no Star Wars, but seriously, by future, I’m not even talking about flying cars or personal hoverboards that can skate across water. I’m talking about the new mobility solutions that are already developed and have the ability to hit the streets (pun intended) very, very soon.

Future Mobility is defined in my book as the mobility solutions that will be available to us in cities and communities. The new mobility solutions will inherently be safer, smarter, seamless and more equitable mobility solutions, i.e. what our transportation systems should look like if we can navigate and land in the many revolutions we are riding today.

Future Mobility is defined as the solutions that will be safer, smarter, seamless and more equitable i.e. what our transportation systems should look like

Let me explain:

In 1908, The Ford Motor Company overturned transportation by making a Model T available to the masses. Prior to the Model T, everyone got around by horse, train, boat or your very own two feet -walking uphill, in the snow, both ways, according to my parents and grandparents.

There were rumors of how great it would be to have “self driving” carriages, but they didn’t have a vision how it could be engineered. After the Model T engineered and advertised, everyone dreamt of owning a car! A car, the newfound innovative way of self-propelling a family carriage. But it wasn’t necessarily the engineering that was the most innovative part of the story. Don’t get me wrong, creating the engineered design of a self-powered carriage was absolutely superior engineering! Five-passenger family cars made by vanadium steel with 4-cylinders, 20 horsepower. Seriously exciting engineering back then.

But the most amazing part of this Cinderella transportation story was actually in the next three chapters: Ford’s the ability to share the vision of the new this new toy, build the trust that it operated, get them excited that they need one, and then give them the ability to get it! Shown below is an actual advertisement from the Saturday Evening Post for the new Ford Model T from October 3rd, 1908.

Ford introduced design AND the market development plan to get everyone their own cars. The combination of truly innovative design and the innovative business plan completely paid off. Families gained independence and improved mobility while the new technology company doubled production year after year. According to The Detroit News article, in 1909 there were only 200,000 motorized vehicles in the U.S. Just seven years later, in 1916, there were 2.25 million motorized vehicles! An entire industry was built up and rode the waves of the new revolution. How many new tech companies wouldn’t want to achieve doubling growth like this year over year?! (Can I get an Amen on that one please?)

Of course, Ford, and the new booming automotive industry, figured out additional factors that played into the astronomical growth rates they experienced over the years to come (think manufacturing innovations). But the last huge transportation revolution all started with four important market development pieces: 1. A new engineering design, 2.Building the consumer excitement over the new design, 3. Building of public trust, and 4. Giving the buyers the ability to get it.

Many experts agree that there are at least three revolutions happening all at once in transportation mobility today

3 Revolutions at UC Davis cites Shared, Electric, Automated. I believe we should start to refer to at least FOUR revolutions including Micromobility. If we add the latest pandemic, we may now have FIVE (or four with a new pandemic catalyst?).

For today, I'm noting some high-level tidbits of FOUR revolutions in transportation mobility:

Shared mobility – Starting with the innovations in mobility on-demand. Companies like Uber and Lyft created a revolution because they created a model that allows transportation access on-demand, from an app on your phone. Payment, ride hailing, everything is right there in this tech. At the same time, car-owners can better utilize their expensive assets, making money from their cars (almost) whenever they want. Cars can be shared. Now we see a lot of different new examples of car sharing solutions popping up in cities all over the world. Certainly not fully deployed but innovations that are available today.

Electrification – Energy is a hot topic because it impacts Every. Single. Industry. Clean energy has been a goal for decades. The automotive design of electric vehicles, propelled by Tesla, started to get trust, credibility and traction in the industry around 2012. Now almost every OEM has plans for e-vehicle additions to their fleet. And the new topics related to electrification are the growing concerns over the capacity of our grid to handle all of the future electrified vehicles. Governments offer incentives to use cleaner fuel options in transportation. The new technologies are not fully deployed, but the innovation certainly exists (cocked and ready) to be deploying to the masses today.

Automation – Cool factors were the original driving forces for the engineering designs of automated vehicles. The 1939 World Fair’s Futurama exhibit by GM, was a 17-minute pitch that showed its audience a number of utopian innovations in transportation. Over 30 million people took the Futurama ride, designed by Disney (yes, Disney, huge Disney dork here). Part of the exhibit showed a family riding down the utopian highway in their car without needing to drive the vehicle. Since that exhibit (and probably before), people can’t seem to take their mind off the idea of kicking back while they get to their destinations. How can I be in a car, moving to my destination, but not be required to be in total control? If I want to kick back, I could kick back. If it can keep me safer, then I can let the machine drive. All this sounded great, but I’d advocate that, while the World Fair images were showing the cool factor of automation, it’s the real safety benefits that are now driving this revolution forward. It’s hard to put a price on safety. Some have tried (see NHTSA’s $129 billion dollar distracted driving crash costs per year). The combination of improving roadway safety and achieving business financial benefits (as seen for the trucking industry), is really what is moving this forward from ADAS to Autonomous vehicle technologies that exist, ready to be deployed today.

Micromobility – Skateboards, scooters and bicycles are not new innovations, but when combined with the other three revolutions above, these micro solutions are becoming entirely new animals. According to a National Household Travel Survey (NHTS), this micromobility revolution will soon account for 60% of all trips. The industry is getting such excitement that consumers are pulling the tech into cities and its causing cities to react with having to build new licensing, regulations and more quickly figure out the curb management issues. I see this revolution moving along very analogous to the Ford revolution.

The crazy part about these four transportation revolutions is they are all happening all at once and they all seem to be hitting an inflection point of being “launch ready” at around the same time frame!

All of these revolutions happening at once can leave us as consumers of transportation feeling excited but overwhelmed by the sheer number of new options being introduced every day! Imagine how our governments feel with managing tax-payer dollars and trying to make the best long-term decisions for their cities and communities when they are seeing new shiny objects every day. For my government working friends out there *fist bump*.

So, how do we ride out and navigate these revolution waves all happening at once?

So, let's compare the Ford example to today's revolutions:

1. Engineering Designs: We need awesome engineering innovations in mobility (check, check, check, check. All four revolutions I’ve highlighted above new technologies already available TODAY with more coming).

2. Consumer Excitement: We need to build the consumer excitement and show the vision for these new technologies – in some cases that means building awareness and excitement of how all four of these revolutions will happen, together. Let’s face it, the Futurama World’s Fair was over 80 years ago. It might be time for a refresh. If someone decides to coordinate a new Futurama exhibit with Disney again, I’m raising my hand right now for this project! Building a vision and creating excitement in an exhibit like a World Fair would be amazing and taking our latest revolutions into new visions - yes please! We should do this!

3. Ability to get it: We need to give them the ability to actually use it, spending their hard-earned and sometimes tax-payer money. In many cases we'll need to figure out how to allow everyone the access to the right technologies at the right times. The crazy part about the state of these revolutions is that the ability to pay for these new technologies doesn’t seem to be the biggest wave to overcome right now, contrary to the Ford Model T story. We certainly have some work to do here, but I don’t see the funding as the biggest wave to overcome right now. Many governments and consumers are already willing to pony up the money (ok, that pun is funny right? If you’re still with me, that was a short comedic break just for you). Governments are investing billions in mobility aspects of smart cities. Consumers are paying for electrification and automation in their vehicles. It’s certainly not equitable yet, but funds are being allocated in both public and private sectors. As in the Ford example, and in any other new tech introductions, costs and therefore price points, will drop after achieving manufacturing efficiencies. The same will happen in these new technologies.

4. Public Trust: This one is the ringer and the biggest wave to ride right now in all four of these revolutions.

Public trust is the ringer and the biggest wave to ride right now in all four of these revolutions

The trust wave didn’t have the uphill climb for Ford in 1909, like it does for us today. The current lack of trust is actually partially to be blamed on them. In 1909, consumers proved to be naïve and very trustworthy, and unfortunately, that fact came back to bite the new industry. Traffic congestion and accidents, specifically pedestrian accidents, rose exponentially. They didn’t know what they didn’t know. The excitement overcame it all. I’d advocate that the current state of the latest new micromobility roll-outs is similar to the Model T type of excitement.

Today, each technology and revolution will have a different approach to building trust, but likely it will need to incorporate some amount of education and demonstration to the masses; including both public and private sectors. For the biggest benefits in the revolutions, this is going to take deep commitment, time and major collaboration. I’ll say this again because it’s important:

Building trust in the new technologies found in these revolutions will most certainly take collaboration, commitment, and time

The industry has so many new choices right now and on top of the many choices, we still have the Model T revolution clean-up to do. According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer from Edelman research, the good news is that technology is still the most trusted sector. But, tech trust also appears to be wavering so we have a short window to address public trust in the technology of these revolutions.

There are so, so many benefits coming with the technology in each of these revolutions. I hope that the fact that these revolutions happening all at once turns into a blessing and not a curse for each. We have available at our fingertips, some amazing new engineered designs (shout out to the engineers!). These innovations will allow for smarter, safer, more sustainable and more equitable transportation options. Many of these new technologies are promising to do some clean-up to the congestion and safety messes left behind from Model T revolution. All we need to do is also overcome some of the trust issues that the Model T also created.

I’m excited to see a day that we can look back at these four revolutions as periods in time that completely changed our door to door transportation experience. Big changes aren’t easy. But the messiest and hardest revolutions are often the ones that are most worth it. This is a seriously exciting time to be in transportation. Riding out and navigating all of the waves will NOT be easy. But, if we do, we’ll all be able to look back and say to our own grandchildren that we were there in the middle of these waves, navigating up and down (both ways-barefoot ;), to bring them their new Future of Mobility.

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