Last week the Smart Mobility Summit held in Valencia on April the 2nd offered a shuddering thought: there is already over 50% of the world population living in urban environments, a figure that will increase to about 70% by 2050.
If we add the high contamination already prevailing in large cities and the noticeable effects of climate change, it is clear that we need a drastic change in the urban mobility model, the present one is unsustainable and unworkable.
Urban mobility must focus on people and their comfort, thus the idea is to foster collective urban and intercity transport, such as trains and tramways for the longer distances and bicycles, electric or otherwise, for the shorter ones.
In this future of sustainable urban mobility, the electric car is certainly expected to play a key role, whether for long or short distances. And apart from being electric, thanks to the available technology, it also needs to be connected, autonomous and… shared.
The large manufacturers have already jumped, in various measures, to the design and manufacture of electric vehicles, but their industrialisation faces a major challenge: electric batteries. In this area, Asian countries, particularly China, are well ahead (it is estimated that Europe needs to build some 8-10 gigafactories to catch up), but the investment required by factory construction is very high and offers poor initial returns due to the low demand.
Ford Mobility has given a date, 2021, for presenting their first autonomous vehicle. It may sound like science fiction, but all the scenarios contemplated include autonomous driving, only limited by the reliability of the technology employed.
Since the future belongs to the autonomous vehicle, two interesting consequences ensue. The first one is the necessary connectivity, not just for the vehicle to drive itself in a complex urban environment, but also to offer systems of work and/or entertainment to the passengers during the trip, exploiting new digital businesses and improving user satisfaction.
On the other hand, if the vehicle doesn’t need a driver, it becomes less attractive to own a car, tending to a collaborative economy in which users reserve and share a vehicle through a technological platform such as those already in use for renting electric bicycles or motorcycles.
At the end, it would appear that competition between the future manufacturers will be based more on the offer of entertainment and connectivity services than on the vehicle itself, while industrial competition will be centred in the areas of electric batteries and powertrains.