Mobility is changing rapidly – there is no denying it. And with that comes big challenges, as well as big opportunities.
Technology, social trends and user demand are reinventing how we move people and goods from point A to point B. We’re seeing a swing towards mobility on demand; the changing nature of ownership; new, ultralight and advanced materials; and the growth of connected and autonomous vehicles. The outcome is a new ecosystem of mobility that could offer faster, easier, cheaper, cleaner, safer, more efficient, and more customized travel.
“We are at the beginning of a transformational journey,” says Stephan Preussler, Global Consumer & Industry Insights Manager, PUR Industrial Marketing. “How do we see the future of mobility? It will be multifaceted and undoubtedly interesting. No matter what the mobility of the future will look like, Covestro will help shape it.”
Connected and autonomous vehicles are no longer a question of ‘if’ but rather ‘when’. Elements of both technologies are already here. Satnavs, for example, now include dynamic route guidance. Meanwhile, self-parking and adaptive cruise control are all features of autonomy that give the driver added value and safety during their journey. But this is just the start.
“Future mobility is set to seamlessly connect to people’s lives,” says Stephan. “It lies within intelligent combinations of different mobility means. Technology will connect to any transportation method and tailor a route that caters to our needs, according to our profile, journey style or final destination. Journeys are also expected to become more productive and entertaining, possibly becoming extensions of our daily routines.”
‘We envisage a gradual transition to fully autonomous vehicles’
Connectivity goes hand in hand with autonomous vehicles, with both technologies having the potential to optimize network capacity, reduce congestion, make people’s journeys stress-free and increase safety. “We envisage a gradual transition to fully autonomous vehicles,” says Stephan. “They will seamlessly transport users to their destination without the driver having to pay attention to what’s happening on the road.” And that has the potential to provide a major shift in the user experience.
On average, a driver spends around 50 minutes a day in their vehicle. Here, autonomous technology could provide a time and space for other activities to take place, from catching up on emails to watching TV. Meanwhile, connectivity could enhance that experience further, for example by providing individualized mood enhancing cabins that automatically sets temperature, lighting and music based on your individual profile.
“This opens up entirely new interiors and usages,” says Stephan. “Inside an automotive interior, the goal is to unite comfort with functionality. High-quality surfaces, comfortable seats and integrated technology: the interior as a mobile living room continues to be a critical factor for consumers when using, accessing or purchasing a car.”
Naturally, this level of innovation means new players entering the market (as well as older ones possibly exiting). But this may also act as a catalyst across many industries. “New players will come in, not only in terms of autonomous vehicles, but also as ecosystem enablers,” says Stephan. “The search for the best future mobility solutions will involve cooperation and partnerships among numerous parties.”
Understanding the ‘on demand’ culture
As consumers change the way they behave, they will push our industries in new directions. In recent years, the trend of shared mobility has started to emerge, particularly in larger cities, where private vehicles are underused due to high congestion. In those circumstances public transport is mainly used for the weekly commute and private vehicles driven during weekends only.
People no longer automatically associate mobility with owning a car. Instead, many consumers want access to as many transport options as possible and ideally, at the click of a button through car clubs, ride share or ride-hailing apps.
This trend is expected to lead to decreasing private ownership levels, which would create a radical departure from the traditional automotive business model. “This opens up opportunities for mobility service providers that seamlessly cover all travel phases and offer the most efficient use of all modes of transport,” says Stephan.
Vehicle ownership is losing its appeal for younger generations, especially in developed countries. Along with economic factors, services such as Spotify, Netflix and food delivery platforms have facilitated an ‘on-demand’ generation, and one that expects a range of choice. As such, this generation is more aware of flexible transport options beyond possession.
Car sharing is particularly attractive to this group, whose attitude to ownership has been compared to dating. For them, owning a car feels like being tied down. “Getting a license and owning a vehicle would previously have served as an initiation ritual, a sign of freedom entering adulthood,” says Stephan. “Now, younger consumers view ownership as a burden rather than a benefit. Today, it’s mobile devices that help shape mobility.”
Emerging technologies and approaches
As car ownership continues to decline, we will see a higher adoption of alternative propulsion technologies, such as hybrids, electric vehicles, and hydrogen enter the market. We will see these emerge in bicycles and cars, and other forms of compact or more ‘mission specific’ vehicles not yet seen.
“To ensure this transition from combustion engine to widespread electric mobility succeeds, the manufacturers of battery-driven vehicles still have several, critical challenges to overcome,” says Stephan. And with 80 years of experience and more than 15,000 employees worldwide, our product portfolio enables us to develop solutions to meet these challenges.
Electric vehicle adoption has started slowly as the infrastructure of charging networks is built up. But as these networks reach critical density, the rate of uptake will pick up. And this is a crucial time. Mass-motorization in emerging economies means there will be more than three billion vehicles on the planet in 2050, compared with around one billion today. Already, cities and smaller urban areas are experiencing congestion, harmful levels of air pollution, and other negative effects of mobility. Without effective mobility solutions, these problems are expected to get worse.
“In the future, the cities that resolve these mobility problems can use them as a selling point to attract businesses and inhabitants,” says Stephan. This is already happening around the world. Offering alternative fuel cars with an established infrastructure is a great way of making people more comfortable with this technology and tackling worries such as range anxiety. Many city mayors are implementing car sharing and electric vehicle schemes for these purposes, while we see more corporations asking for electric and petrol-electric hybrid models in their fleets to support their corporate sustainability targets.
“The search for sustainable mobility involves partnerships between private and public-sector players,” says Stephan. “Different industries within telematics value chain – consumer electronics, original equipment manufacturers (OEM), telematics suppliers, network operators and internet companies – view the challenges as a huge opportunity.”
Collaboration is the key
We are at the beginning of a transformational journey where shifts in traditional business models are certain. But future success will only come through an unprecedented degree of collaboration. At Covestro, our smart materials for future mobility will support these endeavours.
The demand for personalized mobility continues to grow worldwide. Car buyers are also demanding more when it comes to the functionality and design of vehicles. It is therefore necessary to re-think the materials used in automotive engineering today.
“This is where hi-tech materials from Covestro come into play,” says Stephan. “In terms of performance, safety, comfort and appearance, they offer a world of new possibilities for many components in a vehicle.”
Source materials as follows: