Why digital platforms could take the place of automotive OEMs in our future travel experiences – and what it all means for the mobility ecosystem

The pace of change for European mobility will accelerate rapidly in the coming years. The growth of the personalized mobility experience, mobility as a service and the push towards total carbon-neutrality will all profoundly impact the way we think about travel  in future.

We’ll begin to control our own travel experiences in a new way, and this will impact our relationship with car brands, potentially weakening their ownership of us as customers. Much of this will be powered by AI, which is enabling ever more efficient algorithms that will influence every aspect of both the public and private mobility picture.

We’ll look at these patterns that are shifting the tectonic plates in travel, and what they could mean for both mobility customers and the ecosystem that is fighting to keep hold of them.

The unstoppable rise of personalized mobility

In 2014, Apple introduced CarPlay as a way to integrate a car-owner’s iPhone with their car’s dashboard. The move was important because it signalled the start of a radical shift in the way we might think about mobility in future. Apple’s intent was clear – they wanted to create a personalized experience for the mobility user while they were travelling, connecting them to the same host of content and applications that they accessed while at home or while out and about.

In Europe by 2030, public transportation providers will increasingly make mobility an experience that is customized around the individual. You’ll simply log on with your user ID and find much the same functionality as you have at home or on your mobile phone.

Apple CarPlay signalled something else too. It was an early incursion by big tech into the question of who owns the mobility customer. The era of OEMs owning the customer may simply recede into he past, to be replaced by a model in which the primary relationship the customer has is with their platform provider. Will this be Apple? Google? Meta? Or will it be as-yet-unspecified startup that can demonstrate a mastery of the mobility experience, in everything from congestion-avoidance to choosing the right sequence of transport legs that can take us from A to B, in whatever vehicles will be most convenient, as quickly and cost-effectively as possible?

Public transport on demand

The days of the timetable for mass transit may already be numbered. We’re moving from the era of planned transportation to that of individual choices. Pilots have been in place across Europe for some time that enable customers to book transportation in advance, and give transport companies the ability to plan both routes and times according to demand. This degree of flexibility will become the default across Europe in the coming years. Why run a train when nobody wants to use it? Instead, the train company will simply plan their services according to usage algorithms and even, potentially, on an hour-to-hour basis in response to prior customer bookings. At BearingPoint, this is what we call the shift towards ‘driving because of me’, where a vehicle undertakes a journey in direct response to customer demand.

The shift towards on-demand transportation is still dependent on there being enough customers to serve, and will see most adoption in metropolitan areas. It’s far more cost-effective to run a system like this where there are significant numbers of regular travellers. In rural areas, such systems will only work with significant government subsidisation – without it, private transportation will continue to predominate. Indeed, all of the shifts we’re forecasting in this piece will depend on the public sector’s willingness and ability to deliver both regulation and supporting infrastructure.

The role of OEMs in personalized mobility

Automotive OEMs are also making strides to personalize the mobility experience. On-demand functions are now gaining momentum in the car industry, allowing customers to add features to their car as required. Even an increase in horsepower is now available on some models at the touch of a button. OEMs will continue to develop new ways to enable a customer-personalized experience.

Mobility will become a service

It may not completely disappear, but ownership as a central feature of mobility is increasingly under threat. In the near future, we’ll think more in terms of mobility rather than car-ownership. Making our way around will be about far more than simply what car we’re driving.

Customers are already beginning to think of their transport as being merely a service that can be summoned on-demand. The car subscription model is rapidly gaining in popularity. The benefits are greater efficiency and freedom from the customer point of view, but the shift will also have profound consequences for OEMs and their brands, as customers are no longer tied to owning a single vehicle for an extended period of time.

Experience over ownership

What’s becoming clear is that the mobility experience is more important than ownership. What will this do for OEM brands, who invest huge amounts every year in currying favour with their current and potential customers? The vehicle brand will endure, and particularly in the premium segment. The value of getting around in a premium car – whether it’s owned, subscribed to or autonomous – will not diminish, but may even become more important, as it becomes more accessible to a larger market who can afford luxury experiences in briefer forms. And of course, in transportation on-demand, tiers will undoubtedly form, and we’ll be able to choose the quality of our mobility experience according to what we’re willing to pay.

Will freemium play a greater part in mobility?

With the shift to mobility as a service will also come the emergence of freemium mobility. To subsidize the cost of the new mobility experience, both OEMs and platform-providers will seek to generate revenue from additional offers and advertising. Freemium will coexist with the premium class of travel, although the contrast between the experiences will continue to increase.

Autonomous mobility – the long wait

Finally, we come to a technology that is currently being hotly debated across Europe and the wider world – autonomous vehicles. Autonomous transport is a dream for both mobility customers and planners that is yet to take on sufficient reality. Its growth is being hampered by legal and regulatory issues primarily concerned with safety. Substantial progress will be made on this point in the coming years, but autonomous mobility may be one of the last pieces of the puzzle to be solved.

When it does arrive, autonomous vehicles will further accelerate the shift towards mobility as a service. If an autonomous vehicle can pick me up and take me where I want to go, it will greatly reduce the need for me to own my own car.

How climate-neutrality might change the face of mobility

In the bid to achieve carbon-neutral transportation in Europe, a huge amount of work will have to be done by both public transport providers and OEMs. The conundrum of battery production and demand for EVs will need to be solved, as it is currently difficult to scale up to meet demand without environmental consequences, and remanufacturing is necessary for the foreseeable future based on current battery technology.  The circular economy, whereby many key parts of the vehicle including the battery can be recycled or re-used, will mushroom.

Optimizing capacity

In the context of ‘public’ transportation, the optimization of available capacity will become ever more important. This is another reason why crowdsourcing will take off as a means of planning transportation; offering services on demand is a way of ensuring maximum usage, and therefore a more efficient, environmentally-friendly transport system.

New mobility, and new players

In all of these areas, the mobility landscape is changing. How the European picture will look by 2030 is open for debate, but it is almost certain that new players will be taking a central role in how we experience mobility.

OEMs, for their part, will need to find a significantly different role to play. Will they involve themselves increasingly in the software business, or will they play to their strengths and focus on providing high quality vehicles for both public and private transport? Different OEMs are likely to take different approaches on this important issue, but it seems certain that the question of who will own the mobility customer is fully up for grabs.

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