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2020: Mobility at a Crossroads

Wow, what a decade it’s been in the mobility world!

It’s impressive how much progress we’ve made to commercialize connected, shared, electric and autonomous (ACES) technologies. Just 10 years ago, Uber had not yet released its app to the public. Some doubted that we’d ever see batteries cheaper than $1,000 per kWh. Peer-to-Peer sharing companies, such as Relay Rides (Turo) and Getaround, did not yet exist. Google’s self-driving car project had just kicked off and was still a secret to the world. Kick scooters were just kids’ toys.

Fast-forward to today, and Uber has facilitated over 10 billion rides worldwide, an electrified vehicle is the most efficient car to hail rides, there are over 60 companies with permits to test autonomous vehicles (AVs) in the state of California, “kids’ toys” line our streets for public use, and the technological barriers to provide mobility as a service are now effectively zero.

So, what does the next decade hold? Can we expect the same level of progress over the next 10 years? Will economic realities or environmental policy changes derail innovation?

Those are tough questions to answer. A few things are certain, though:

  1. In order to minimize the effects of climate change, the transportation sector needs to take urgent and drastic measures to curb emissions.

  2. Reducing our vehicle footprint by increasing the utilization of vehicles is critical for both emissions- and cost-reduction efforts. The cleanest and cheapest vehicle is the one that’s not built.

  3. The hard work for mobility services - to make ride hailing consistently safe, to make the shared vehicle experience reliable, and to make autonomous vehicles scalable - is just beginning.

So, where do those truths lead us in the next decade?

For a number of reasons, I think we’re on the verge of the most important decade in the history of transportation. A few predictions:

  1. As mobility providers compete to drive costs out of their services, mega fleets will come to dominate the space. The question remains who will dominate those mega fleets...traditional fleet management companies? Automakers? Amazon?

  2. In order to manage the service side of these businesses more efficiently, mobility services will adopt and innovate on the new mobile payment methods that we’ve seen in the developing markets (e.g. AliPay, WeChat Pay). Expect future blockchain-based technologies to alleviate some of today’s high transaction fees and fraud risk.

  3. Speaking of developing markets, the combination of megacities and high cost of ownership relative to income makes them prime targets for mobility services. To succeed in these markets, providers must focus on developing safety and security measures for users and assets. There will be some tension between the increased implementation of tracking technology and expanded personal privacy laws that will need to be resolved for the common good.

  4. All-electric vehicles will finally become an important part of fleets, as agencies require them and EVs become cost competitive. This will drive attention to the environmental and geopolitical impact of lithium reserves and mining. As a result, we’ll see significant advances in new battery technologies that promise truly revolutionary innovation in the 2030s.

  5. These predictions will manifest themselves across the asset spectrum, from bicycles to heavy trucks, and provide myriad opportunities for entrepreneurs to develop innovative solutions to today’s transportation and transaction challenges.

  6. As for AVs? Yep, they’re coming. But before we see ubiquitous vehicles available to our whim, we’ll see more accidents, more deaths, and greater public backlash. On the other hand, we should prepare ourselves to be disappointed with the timeline of scaled AV rollouts, for which a LOT of development and regulatory definition still remain. That’s why the question of “When?” is anyone’s guess.

As a matter of course with all these amazing innovations, we as a society will be traveling more miles in these vehicles and we’ll be generating more value. Will we be generating greater emissions as well? Will we be supporting the implementation of new technologies or defending the old ones that enabled us to create the urgent situation in which we find ourselves? 2020 definitely marks a crossroads for the rest of this decade, and there are a couple divergent paths that lay before us.

It’s time for those of us working on new mobility activities to consider our plans and how we can impact the coming decade. Both from a market perspective and an environmental one, the 2020s will be the decade that defines the new mobility era.

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