There are few consumer categories that touch as many consumers as mobility. Mobility - the getting of one's self from A to B - is an issue for the entire population, and has experienced some integral moments in modern history. From the inception and mass production of the car, to the rise in environmental concerns and, more recently, the widespread adoption of cycling, the last hundred years have provided some pivotal moments.
We are now arguably at the dawn of the next big moment in the history of mobility, driven by several factors:
- The growth of the shared economy means a greater openness to sharing products vs. owning them
- This has coincided with an increasing burden of ownership - especially in automotive where insurance and service costs are ever increasing
- The average consumer is now more time-poor than ever before - travel time is often perceived as wasted time, how can it be decreased or made more useful?
- The growing dynamism of smart phones has now meant we can control our mobility plans from our trouser pockets - the $40bn value of Uber in just 5 years being a prime example
But what do these factors mean for the future of consumer mobility?
The shared economy has undoubtedly been one of the revelations of the 21st century, but that's not to say it has developed in a flawless manner. Both users of Uber and Airbnb have claimed to be the victims of criminal wrongdoing - bringing questions to the fore regarding the safety of the shared economy. These are not the only safety issues governing future mobility. The age-old institute of public transport is not exempt from such fears - with public transport infrastructures being a target for 21st century terrorists. This macro level of safety precedes any of the fears around relatively micro issues involving journey safety.
However, the reality is, as urban settlements grow and different mobility forms flourish (bikes, trams, tuk-tuks) and the roads are become more densely populated with hazards, the 21st century journey becomes riddled with potential dangers. Ensuring a safe passage is the cornerstone for successful mobility innovations, and this is unlikely to deviate in the future.
A shift from electric vehicles as a 'hippy-fad' to an accepted form of transport has led to this product line experiencing real growth and great investment from automotive manufacturers. CES 2015 revealed the debut product of Gogoro - the electric smart scooter. The highly positive reviews from on-trend tech media such as Wired, and the fact that mobile phone manufacturer HTC are investing in the initiative are potential signs that the green tides are turning. Combined with increasing electrical vehicle infrastructure, electrification is clearly a core player in the future of mobility.
Consumers - as a general population - have few universal characteristics. However, one of them is the increasing time-poor nature of the lives they lead. At the real heart of future mobility lies the ability to decrease travel time, or to allow consumers a travel space where they can continue to be functional - whether this is on a professional or social level. Ability to diminish chronological poverty is perhaps the winning hand in the future of mobility, whether this be via improved journey planning, a more nimble transport device or methods of travel with improved digital integration
Make it Cheaper
A core consumer gripe with mobility functions is the continually rising cost of travel vs. a seemingly stagnant, debatably declining, efficiency - whether it be the rising costs of UK train tickets, car insurance or errors within contactless payment systems. There are two realities at play here:
1. As shared ownership of cars becomes increasingly popular the cost of being behind the wheel of a premium vehicle is decreasing in relative terms. Indeed, BMWs recent car sharing alliance with Sixt aims to make premium vehicles available to the wider population. This is of course at the expense of ownership - but the experiential cost is much cheaper vs. traditional car hiring schemes.
2. The growth of the digital society has given birth to a smarter, more marketing savvy consumer. One element of this is a better consumer understanding of value for money. Where mobility is concerned, this means that future mobility solutions will have to make their pricing structures exhibit value vs. the dimensions discussed previously.
Although I can't realistically claim that consumer mobility as we know it will change overnight, the shift is already being evidenced in major cities around the world. As the shared economy develops, the digital landscape facilitates greater convenience and efficiency, our perceptions and needs around mobility look set to continue evolving. As such, the core providers of mobility - automotive manufacturers, urban planners, tech innovators and increasingly mobile software developers - must keep abreast of the developments in this pivotal element of consumer life.