Solving the biggest questions about future mobility

Would you rather have your pizza delivered by a drone or a self-driving car? That’s how we broke the ice during EVS30 and eMove360 in Germany last month. The consensus was clear: people want a self-driving car with an actual person, who will be able to walk up the stairs, and bring the pizza right to their doorsteps. We were blown away by how people were actually thinking this through...

But we weren’t expecting any less from these clean tech and electric vehicle experts. So, we fired off some more burning questions we thought they’d know how to answer best.

How do we eliminate the preconceptions about electric cars?

There’s no doubt that electric cars are getting better and cheaper. The actual hurdle in the transition from oil to electric is charging infrastructure. Should governments put the infrastructure in place first and wait for the sales of electric cars to catch up, or the other way around? It’s a real chicken-or-the-egg situation.

In our survey of 850 electric drivers, the lack of charging infrastructure is often seen as the biggest concern. However, we found that having a decent amount of charging points at your disposal does not remove the perception of charging points as being either slow or often occupied. For some, the underdeveloped technology is to blame. For others, it’s the (mis)communication.

As a matter of fact, it’s the communication about the technology that needs to be improved. It’s a shift of mindset, a shift of paradigm. We can’t get hung up on the petrol station model where you drive to a station and fill up your tank within five minutes, while the people behind impatiently wait for their turn.

If you’re driving electric, you can fill up your tank wherever and whenever you want. You will have access to a charging station at home, at work, and on the road. The speed only matters for emergencies and long commutes. But to cover your daily travels, all you need is your own charging station in your driveway or at work.

Will car-sharing outnumber car ownership?

Unsurprisingly, the younger generation unanimously agreed that shared transportation would be the only way to go in the future, while the older folks said that they would want to hold on to their personal cars. But one thing everyone could all agree on was that car sharing will be mostly beneficial to cities, whereas residents in suburban areas might still be better off using their personal cars.

Car ownership for many metropolitan areas is no longer a freedom — it’s an expensive hassle, and public policies are playing a part in this. In London, the number of car drivers entering the city during rush hour fell from 137,000 in 2000 to 64,000 in 2014. In Oslo, cars will be banned from its city center by 2019. Paris already introduced car-free days and free public transportation, and Amsterdam is putting more and more environmental zones for vehicles in place. As a result, today’s average car spends about 80% of the time parked at home, 16% parked at work, and it’s only in use for about 4% of the time.

This question doesn’t stop here. The majority of respondents saw car-sharing as part of a bigger transition within the transport industry. All of them envisioned a transportation system that’s more shared, more on-demand, more autonomous, and obviously, less expensive — a system that creates more space for cities rather than clogging up the streets with parked cars. A system that’s seamlessly integrated with each and every transportation method — from taking a self-driving cab to the train station, to taking a communal car for those last few miles to your destination.

Is the future of mobility electric?

As we wrapped up our musings on future transportation, we realized that this final question perhaps is no longer the best one to ask. Everyone agreed that the future is inevitably electric for personal cars. But what took us by surprise was that none of them were able to give us an indication of when they actually saw this change happening. The question they posed wasn’t whether the future will be electric, because it will be in many ways, but whether the timeline for the transition from internal combustion engines (ICE) to electric, as many countries have now promised, is feasible.

All of the respondents pointed fingers to the (lack of) policies and the (lack of) infrastructure for the slow transition, while some even said to be unsure if the government will be able to follow through their plans because of the economic implications this electric revolution will bring along.

Electric drivetrains consist of fewer components. It’s no secret that their production will require fewer workers than the production of ICE vehicles. Will governments be able to follow through on their promises if ICE bans lead to people losing jobs? Maybe not. But as we face a rapid industrial change, we need to look at how to retain, groom, and compensate workers, instead of blaming the people that lobby for lower carbon emissions. These are real dangers. And as much as it might leave people behind, the electric car industry will create numerous new jobs too, which is a development we’ve already seen in the clean energy and renewables industry.

Electric mobility will drastically change the car industry as we know it, the same way the search engine did to information technology twenty years ago, and the smartphone to consumerism just this past decade. Every decade needs a disruptor, and the electric car is next up to bat.

A peek into the future?

Download our Manifesto of Electric Mobility.

Interview sample:
Age: 12 interviewees between 25 and 60 years old.
Profession: engineers, business development and marketing managers, consultants, from both private companies (70%) and public organizations (30%) in the eMobility sector.
Nationalities: Europe (90%), Asia (10%).

The Economist / Business Insider / Raconteur / Fortune / CleanTechnica

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Vivian Zhou

Vivian wants to live in a car-free city, though she wouldn't mind city hopping with an electric car. On this blog, Vivian writes about the impact of electric cars, clean tech, and climate change on our daily lives.

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