Buckle up? The Relevance of Cars and Getting Around

8 Jul 2020

by Cathy Maisano


In 1886, Carl Benz patented the first three-wheeled automobile. A couple of years later, his wife, Bertha and their two sons took off for a spin in a new and improved model, unbeknownst to Carl. Well, it was more the first ever long-distance journey in the history of cars, than a moment of burning rubber. Yet more poignantly, it was the beginning of the pursuit of driving pleasure. It was defining a moment of freedom that would become the chorus of car brand advertising forevermore.


To be free to drive was to feel alive! To do so, meant owning it. It was a key identifier of independence:

For Baby Boomers and the previous generation, getting a driver’s licence and having the freedom to drive was a major life event, cementing the reluctance to relinquish private-car ownership.” (Reshaping Urban Mobility with Autonomous Vehicles Report)


Fast-forward to today and Millennials and Gen Z and the meaning of freedom appears something not bound to car ownership. Costs, traffic congestion and climate change concerns play a big factor. A gradual shift in attitudes toward owning cars has happened, but where does that leave us feeling about cars and how we get around these days?  How is freedom valued today and what can the industry learn from its new take?  At Discover.ai, we have been thinking about this and the changing face of the relevance of cars and mobility. Sampling diverse global online sources and analysing them in our unique ai platform, we have been able to identify four interesting themes developing, that are in response to these questions…


Experience Over Acquisition

Seeking a relationship with car providers that enable ultra-convenience and flexibility for a rewarding experience matters more than owning the car. The rise of mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) is well underway and is having huge effects on the car industry as we know it.


“At the same time, shifts in consumer preferences are placing further pressures on incumbents, who may not have the agility to quickly launch new products, due to the legacy of older manufacturing plants and IT systems. For instance, as consumers move away from personal vehicle ownership towards on demand mobility services, their direct relationship may shift from the car brand to a vehicle agnostic platform such as Uber or Lyft” (2030 Transforming the Mobility Landscape Report)


Whether it’s car-sharing, ride-sharing, car-hailing, an impromptu lifestyle is becoming more and more the mode of freedom in mobility today. Not wanting the commitment of costs and responsibilities of owning, in favour of ‘putting the brakes on’ when to have a car and when not to have a car.


“Renting a car will become more convenient than owning one.” (https://www.zipcar.com)

“Between public transportation and ride-sharing services, I just can’t justify the overhead of owning a car.”          (Millennial social media user)


Whilst the continued decline to car ownership seems inevitable in urban areas, achieving ultimate MaaS experiences is yet to fully realise. MaaS platforms are still developing and future success will depend on delivery models that provide commuters with value for money.


“The option might not be the best if immediate access to a car is required or if you do not have plans to use a shared vehicle service on a regular basis.” (http://www.communitycarshare.org) 


Emphasising Passenger NOT Driver

Self-driving, autonomous, driverless cars are far less futuristic than once thought. Google’s driverless cars have already driven more than one million miles in autonomous mode. Soon there will be fleets of driverless vehicles on-demand – no need to own, no need to drive, yet now embracing greater independence and freedom for others less previously inclined.


“Self-driving vehicles will soon allow disabled people and older people to enjoy the freedom to travel that the rest of us take for granted.” (Future of Mobility Strategy Report)


“Fully autonomous vehicles could prolong independent travel later in life, providing freedom and independence to people who can no longer drive.” (Future of Mobility Final Report)


This shines a promising light for the makers of cars to design and implement ‘passenger freedom’ into car spaces – a new-age alternative to driver-focused innovation.


Vehicle manufacturers could design and develop vehicles not to accommodate drivers but, rather, to emphasize passenger experience, potentially giving rise to new vehicle structures and forms. In the meantime, it is reasonable to anticipate a healthy tension between automakers, heavily invested in today’s product-centered system, and technological innovators looking to realize a more virtually dependent world of mobility options.” (Future of Mobility Report)


Health & Hygiene inside and outside of the vehicle

 Escalating outside air pollution has witnessed mounting pressure for change in the volume of cars on the road. Thinking of the greater good to reduce emissions has spurred on the need for cleaner fuels and cleaner vehicles. Then arrives Covid-19 and whilst this cause remains strong, the healthy and safety inside modes of transport has warranted attention. It is also giving weight to a renewed appeal for car ownership for fear of contamination. It is about freedom from infection.


The expanded service is significant because consumers have been more hesitant to engage with car-sharing and ride-hailing services since the start of the pandemic amid heightened health concerns and hygiene measures. (http://www.communitycarshare.org)


Especially during this time, it’s crucial to sanitize all surroundings and practice good hygiene on a daily basis to reduce the spread of germs. When you’re going in and out of your vehicle, apply hand sanitizer when you can. (https://www.automoblog.net)


Getting around needs to be a lot of things, but safety is paramount. Environments that can ensure greater protection via their systems and product-devices should attract favourable attention


Seamless Connections

Recent months have seen the work-at-home space demand for tech set-ups to quickly be fully operative and functioning. The model has shown to work and is steering a path for more flexible working options where ongoing working from home to some degree is a given. As such, the consumer tech will only get better for remote at-home work and so commuter journeying will be far less governed by the conventions of the past.


“Whatever the reason or motivation behind it, with the advancements in technology and telecommunications, the opportunities to work at home are in abundance.” (http://www.simplelivingaustralia.co.au)

I’m working from home, so no commuting.”  (https://www.reddit.com.uk)


New urban-designed streetscapes including extensive cycling tracks, safer and wider foot pavements, car-free zoning, measures in place for traffic-calming, new mass transit networks all work toward more options for human movement in cities. In turn, this relegates the role of the car to but one of now many viable transportation commuter routes.


As an urban planner, architect, and designer, he shows how we can free ourselves from dependence on cars by making our cities more walkable and more liveable.” (https://www.zipcar.com)

“I live in London where cycling is the quickest, healthiest and cheapest way to get from A to B.”

Pairing the technology and the commuter urban designs is just one signpost of the seamless connectivity in life today and for tomorrow, enabling people to utilise their time in ways that they would prefer:


There are people switching from active commuting to a more structured designated exercise period.” (18-24 Social media user)


Freedom of getting around, has always mattered to people. Yet now we see it readily attaching itself to themes of experience, ‘passenger-focus’, health and seamless connection that ensure mobility is as flexible and optional as possible. Car brands would do well to explore these further. The car industry will need to navigate its space in the hearts of such sentiment for not only long-term relevance but a long-term meaningful relationship.

Written by Cathy Maisano

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