The global automotive sector appears to be in the early stages of a paradigm shift. Several different factors are together shaping the future of mobility – and ‘mobility’ really is the operative word. Few people are talking about ‘vehicles’ or ‘transport’ anymore; the automotive narrative centres on this new buzzword: mobility.

The thing is – it’s not a buzzword at all; it’s the future.

Generational divides

The context for all of this is complex. Those who are up to date with social and cultural trends will be well versed in the rhetoric surrounding Millennials and Generation Z. These groups are said to be a generation of perpetual renters who prioritise ‘experiences’ over ownership and who are accustomed to subscription-based services and instant gratification.

Stereotyping has its pitfalls, but there is ample data to support the argument that younger consumers are more likely to question the necessity of ownership than their forebears.

 

Environmental concerns

Then you’ve got the environmental factors. Automotive consumers in 2019 are far more discerning when it comes to their carbon footprint than the buyers of just five years ago. Vehicle manufacturers are, very publicly, under legislative pressure to manufacture ‘cleaner’ vehicles for the future. This increased media scrutiny means that your average consumer is more environmentally conscious than ever before, bringing alternatively fuelled vehicles into sharp focus.

A connected and autonomous future

Next to be poured into this cauldron of change is the rapid technological innovation of the past few years. Once a farfetched, utopian dream, connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) are a not-too-distant reality, and to some extent, they already exist.

It is the combination of these inextricably linked forces that is driving the profound automotive revolution that we are all bearing witness to. But where exactly is it all heading?

In short: Mobility as a Service (MaaS).

Critical MaaS

MaaS has many strands to it. It includes services like ride-hailing and sharing, public transport in its various guises, and vehicle rental. The ‘traditional’ automotive companies – in other words, the household name vehicle manufacturers themselves – are also working hard behind the scenes to ensure they play a central role in the mobility of tomorrow, so the market is diversifying, and competition is intensifying.

Are we there yet?

No, we’re not. Despite surging forward momentum, there are still barriers to overcome. MaaS in its most advanced form depends on super-fast 5G nationwide networks to facilitate big data transfer, it requires greater charging infrastructure in cities and towns, it demands considerable advancements in CAV technology, and it requires the balance of purchasing power to tip.

That’s not to say that the industry isn’t working tirelessly to find solutions. Torque client Millbrook, for instance, is at the forefront of CAV development and testing. The official opening of Millbrook’s Autonomous Village at the co-located Cenex-LCV and Cenex-Connected Automated Mobility events earlier this month heralded the completion of the Millbrook-Culham Urban Test Bed.

In addition to the six purpose-built workshops that form the backbone of the Autonomous Village, the testbed features 70km of secure multi-terrain test tracks, a private, 5G-enabled mobile network, and the supporting physical and virtual infrastructure. If MaaS is going to be a reality, such facilities are a crucial piece of the puzzle.

Perhaps of equal importance in the realisation of MaaS, though, is the need for a more widespread change in the consumer psyche – from that of viewing mobility as an asset that one owns (a car) to seeing it as more of a service that can be used at any time.

To this end, one of Torque’s newest clients, Thrifty, is working hard to educate and inform drivers of the benefits of car rental over traditional leasing and finance options. While rental isn’t for everyone, the company makes a strong case for why its flexible short- and long-term rental products are a viable alternative in a range of situations. As a barometer for changing attitudes towards ownership, Thrifty will certainly be an interesting case in point.

The journey towards MaaS is thus well and truly underway. There are still plenty of bumps, twists and turns to negotiate, but soon there will be an automated system to deal with those.

Written by Alex Juggins