Something I really appreciate about the Young Leaders Forum is the flexibility to tailor the event to my own interests. Today amongst presentations of Latin American context I was also able to learn about the future of mobility. I find it compelling because it is estimated that 60% of the global population will live in urban areas within the next 30 years. Additionally, mobility is a critical means of social inclusion and the ability to have quality education, healthcare and employment is dependent upon one’s access to transportation. Finally, vehicles continue to be a factor in climate change and redesigning transportation creates exciting new business and technology opportunities with positive effects.
First was Ian Robertson, Director of Sales and Marketing for BMW. While it was exciting to learn of some of the new advancements in BMW’s products, I was more intrigued by the underlying shift in the company’s understanding of itself, an evolution that has come about due to changes in consumer behavior and desires. Programs like Mini E and Guggenheim Lab are giving the company insight to evolve from a product company to a service company. One key learning is that “usage”, or “access”, is more important than ownership. This has led to explorations of multimodal travel; people need different types of vehicles for different kinds of uses. I might be happy with a small electric car for my daily commute, but need a large family car for a weekend retreat out of the city.
BMW has created a venture capital group to invest in start-ups that are prototyping services for this new behavior. Recent investments in DriveNow, My City Way, and Park at My House are the first of at least a dozen companies BMW is funding.
Next Irene Feige, Director of the Institute for Mobility Research, led a roundtable on the future of transportation in urban areas. As her group has studied “mobility culture” they have discovered that walking and bicycling are declining in emerging markets around the world. A few thoughts emerged— cars are but one transportation mode in a chain of mobility needs and they need to be clearly connected as options within a system of buses, subways and bicycles in people’s minds. Second, growing population density can be helpful in solving some transportation problems if services can be decentralized and communication technologies can be improved to reduce the need for travel, ie. I can work from home and/or walk to my doctor, grocer and school.
The next roundtable was led by Inigo Urkidi, Director of the Bilboa Social Innovation Park. Inigo and his collaborators have invested heavily in bringing the MIT Media Lab’s foldable electric car concept to life. They call it Hiriko. Rather than being motivated by technolust or fortune, they actually started the journey with the question, “How can making this car create and distribute employment?”
They have invented a clever business that a) flips ownership of the brand to the the parts suppliers, b) distributes assembly to workforces in the cities that buy into the idea (Mälmo is first, followed soon by San Francisco and Berlin), c) builds a civic-sponsored car-share program, and d) creates opportunities for citizens to make some extra cash when they drive cars to pick up destinations. AND they have support from some unlikely players like Research in Motion to help build the communication infrastructure. This potentially disruptive start-up illustrates many of the ideas of the future…now.