Mobility Blockers:
(part 2) how tech fears and 2D thinking are keeping us looking in the rearview mirror

Part 2 of 4

So in part one of the Mobility Blockers series we ended with the topic of Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and how marketers are not addressing the concept that is essential to the electric vehicle value proposition. TCO is a term widely used by fleet vehicle managers but in Europe this term is evolving to address the new economic order that is the sharing economy. TCM or Total Cost of Mobility is the TCO of the future because it factors in a more holistic approach to the mobility needs of an employee where in the past that employee may have been assigned a company car. TCM better addresses problems where an urban dwelling employee might not want a company car, but does have multi-modal transportation needs. Therefore a mobility budget is a better solution than assigning a company car that often creates a parking predicament at a substantial cost in a downtown apartment or condo complex. Mobility can be the second or third-largest expense of a company – so combining fleet and travel management is a key to reducing those costs.

A prime example of how TCM is being played out in the market place is with General Motors. GM has made a conscious decision to shift its efforts from high volume market share boosting fleet sales, where margins are typically very low, towards car sharing with its new Maven car sharing brand where margins are expected to be higher. The Maven brand is rolling out across the US but there is no word on when the mobility service aimed at competitors like ZipCar, Car2Go and Enterprise Car Share will come to Canada.

mobilityFounder John Stonier and Engineer Kody Baker of VeloMetro with their Veemo pedal-electric assist eTrike.

From my research one company that is on the right path towards low cost, active, shared and sustainable transportation is VeloMetro of Vancouver, BC. Velocars are essentially enclosed eTrikes that legally don’t require a license or insurance and are capped at a top speed of 32 kph for bike lane access which is just perfect for urban areas. Where things get really interesting with this company is when you think about how much easier it is to park such a vehicle and of course take a close look at their business model. The model is focused on sharing not retail sales which equates to more recurring revenue and better margins, not a one-time wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am sale. The medium or in this case the business model is the message. Transportation is such a huge part of our economy so the impact of a shift from vehicle sales to shared mobility is massive. We are effectively talking about a fundamental change to our global economic model and a real paradigm-shift towards evidence-based thinking is happening as well. The fundamental reason why more people don’t buy EVs or put solar on their roofs’ is because they are very strategically being sold wants not needs by savvy marketers. Most people don’t necessarily want to own a car they just need to get to work somehow and they don’t have other options. All this is about to change. The Autonomous, Connected, Electric and Shared (ACES) mobility path we are on is causing massive disruption to the old way of thinking and doing business.

mobilityLocal Motors Debuts “Olli” – a Self-Driving 3D-Printed Car

As vehicles are increasingly becoming like mobile computer nodes, their complexity and costs are rising dramatically making asset optimization in an ownership-based model difficult to justify for even the largest of automakers. This is largely why shared mobility is taking off. How can I best use what little resources I have in the most efficient manner possible given increased income polarization? I share my stuff with as many people as possible of course! Basically, we need to kick the consumerism habit and think different about our fixation with stuff. Problem is few people so far want to do that.

mobilityAt San Jose State University students in the Solar Superways Challenge are modeling PRT systems and working with PRT pioneer Ron Swenson.

Until recently, we did not have distributed energy or the Internet of Things (IoT) models to frame new business concepts around but now the packet switching IoT network model is being applied to every facet of commerce. In the quest for superior mobility solutions, the evidence is pointing to Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) because it works on a neural network. A learning PRT network will be the kernel of our Mobility-as-a-Service (Maas) future. Subscription-based multi-modal transportation is the end game and PRT companies like skyTran are poised perfectly for this integrated finance and mobility model. What this means is soon in mega cities everywhere, folks will be using an app like Whim created by Sampo Hietanen and his Finnish team at MaaS Global, that not only helps you navigate all your connections on route from A to B factoring in options like bike sharing, velocar sharing, ride sharing, free-floating car sharing, dynamic shuttling, BRT, LRT, subways, PRT and of course walking. Not only does Whim select the best mode of transport based on your itinerary and profile, but it will know how many velocars or PRT podcars are stationed in your area at any given time, it will also offer you a fixed monthly payment that matches with your mobility needs to simplify the transaction all within one app. No need to own any mode of transportation because access is greater than ownership in the sharing economy.

So for a family of four, you might choose a $900 per month Whim MaaS package that gives you 2,000 kilometres of travel per month from your choice of multi-modal service providers offered as partners in the Whim app. The stinger for auto marketers here is that soon vehicles will be largely commoditized by sharing and nobody will care much about the brand of ride they are sitting in. Whim users will only care about their monthly mobility cost because the lines are already pretty blurred between what used to be an inferior domestic and a luxury import car. And when companies like Local Motors, Tech Shops and other makerspace hubs begin to churn out more lower cost and practical 3D printed vehicles, all hell will begin to break lose in the centralized manufacturing world. Think about what personal computers and desktop digital printing did to our lives and then think about how desktop digital manufacturing will disrupt the Pacific Rim’s lock on low cost manufactured goods.

blockersHyperloop One Photo Shows What Testing Looks Like Inside the Tube.

Later adopters of MaaS will be people living in more rural areas. Other MaaS users might be the one per centers who may opt to still own a custom pimped out and fully sanitized PRT podcar that is able to autonomously attach and detach from a guideway so that they can parse the first and last mile problem. The first and last mile piece of our commute has been the bane of public transit since trolleys were towed by horses. Despite such exceptions, undoubtedly when you share, you care less about the badge on the hood of your ride. We are already seeing this paradigm-shift in the cellphone market where most of the major hardware companies look and feel virtually the same.

What is fundamentally unique about PRT as a mobility platform compared to simply ACES vehicles is that it is an integrated and holistic solution that addresses not only the vehicle but the medium of transport that the vehicle travels ON or in the case of Elon Musk’s Hyperloop−WITHIN! So back to Marshall McLuchan and the medium is the message. Building a great autonomous connected and electric car that is also shared by many people, is only as good as the medium (the roads) you have to operate it on. If your medium is constantly jammed with traffic you might as well just walk or ride your bike. This is another key reason why the VeloMetro solution will be very disruptive because with an eTrike you can travel on your choice of roads, bike paths and conceivably connect and disconnect autonomously to and from an elevated guideway as well to avoid congestion. The medium options are key!

Building a vehicle in isolation without reinventing the road is akin to studying furiously all your life to amass terrific knowledge, but feeding your body junk food and couch surfing your life away to an early grave. If your body is not fit enough to transport you, what good is having a finely tuned and efficient brain that can barely get you to work or the hospital? If asphalt and concrete are too expensive and you have run out of affordable real estate to construct highways upon, then it does not matter much how great the autonomous e-car service is that you build.

We are rapidly transitioning to a mobility landscape where vehicles that are Autonomous, Connected, Electric and Shared (ACES) are beginning to run the table. But I think, there is more to solving our mobility problems then the LIDAR and laser sensors on an autonomous car, it’s really about applying the right multi-modal tools to our real estate-centric planet and thinking about the medium of transport more carefully in an integrated societal framework. Everybody wants their time and space so give them what they want.

– Part 2 of 4 –


Stephen Bieda is a Sustainability Leader
and Cleantech Marketing Communications Strategist

ABOUT The Road Electric