The entire car industry is on the brink of transformation. Millions of people are driving less, as city dwellers are relying on ride-sharing services and other alternatives to individual ownership. How to reframe the car industry’s place in a rapidly changing world of mobility? The first feat to accomplish is the transition from automobiles to a mobility approach.
Earlier this year, Ford announced its investment in Pivotal, a cloud-based software platform whose company is headquartered in San Francisco, in order to further enhance its software development capabilities and deliver innovations to customers more quickly. The $182-million investment in Pivotal aims to help achieve Ford’s shift to an automotive and mobility company. Ford is continuing to focus on and invest in its core business – the design and manufacture of cars.
At the same time, it is aggressively pursuing emerging opportunities through Ford Smart Mobility – its plan is to become a leader in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, customer experience, and data and analytics. “Expand- ing our business in this way requires leading-edge software expertise that creates outstanding customer experiences”, says Mark Fields, Ford’s president and CEO. “Our investment in Pivotal will help strengthen our ability to deliver this at the speed of Silicon Valley, including continually expanding FordPass – the digital, physical, and personal mobility platform.” It will offer new customer services, like remote access to vehicles through a smartphone app, and solutions such as parking and car sharing. Innovating and iterating quickly, Pivotal and Ford IT engineers are working side-by-side to create new benefits for FordPass members. Field continues, “We are determined to learn to take risks, to challenge customs and question traditions, and to change our business going forward.”
SURGE OF DEVELOPMENT
IDEO design firm is among those helping Ford evolve from an automaker to a mobility provider, with two prototypes: a pay-as-you-go insurance offer and a digital tracker that captures how cyclists, cars, and public transport interact in the city. The carmaker approached IDEO, along with a number of other partners, to undertake two of 25 experiments exploring the car company’s place in the changing world of mobility. Info Cycle, for instance, plots a snapshot of how bikes traverse the city and interact with cars and public transport, by using Ford’s open-source API, OpenXCTM. Tackling the tangled ecosystems of bicycle sharing, private cars, and open city data proved to be an international effort. The projects brought together a multidisciplinary team of researchers, hardware and software developers, and data scientists, as well as interaction, industrial, and business designers from IDEO’s San Francisco, Palo Alto, Chicago, and London offices.
Matt Cooper-Wright, Senior Design Lead at IDEO says, “A lot of clients from various industries are seizing the opportunities opened up by new mobility, like travel and commuting activities: there is much room for improvement. The potential for relatively small changes to make a big difference to citizens is a great area for designers to be focusing their efforts on. IDEO has collaborated with Ford for more than 10 years on a wide range of projects – the design of the car and the services around it, and is now moving beyond the car into mobility services. IDEO London has been working on a series of mobility projects over the last two years.” Its contribution spans from design to coding to communicating; design teams have invented new ways to research and get to the truth. “This new Ford Smart Mobility world has provided a great opportunity to learn by building ‘close to real’ prototype experiences and services. We’ve simulated things accurately enough to learn how some of the new mobility services will actually be used.”
THE NEW RELATIONSHIP
So if mobility design has shifted from car engines to services, what’s the role of design in this crucial new era? “We are moving from a world where a car company’s contact with its customers was infrequent and largely transactional: you buy a car every five years, have it serviced every few years, get a repair hopefully never”, comments Cooper-Wright. “Nowadays, it has become much more of a relationship: if I can jump between dozens of mobility options, I’m going to gravitate to those that prove their worth each time I use them. The mentality is the post-trip rating system Uber offers – every single interaction needs to be great, as the cost of switching is so low. Unlike switching cars once I’ve bought one, I can have five taxi apps on my phone and can make my choices based on the last best experience. The question for mobility companies is how to direct their energies to ensure they deliver an excellent service every time.” Design needs to constantly iterate and improve experiences as people’s needs alter and mature. Changing user needs, coupled with ever shifting technological possibilities, make it difficult to have confidence in making the right decision. “We think that the design process is a great way to achieve certainty and direction, by bringing together user needs, technological constraints, and economic viability.”
DriveNow, the car-sharing joint venture between BMW Group and Sixt SE, has been available in certain European cities since 2011, offering a range of premium BMW and MINI vehicles to rent, based on the freeoating principle. The vehicles can be hired and returned, independent of location, within a de ned business area. Well over half-a-million registered customers find and reserve vehicles via the app or website, and are able to use the service across multiple cities. DriveNow operates a fleet of over 4,000 vehicles in Munich, Berlin, Düsseldorf, Cologne, Hamburg, Vienna, London, Copenhagen, and Stockholm. Some 20 percent of these are electric BMW i3 models. Several studies have proven that one DriveNow car replaces at least three private cars. This therefore contributes to easing the traffic situation in cities. And that is just one successful mobility service within BMW’s comprehensive bundle. Additionally, the automotive group is now offering an on and off-street parking service (ParkNow) and providing customers with access to an extensive charging network (ChargeNow).
In the USA, BMW has launched a freeoating car sharing service with additional features, under the name ReachNow. All of this underlines the growing importance of the mobility-services portfolio and business models within the BMW Group, where it is specified that the Now services are targeting very urban, young, modern customers – which is rather new for the corporation. “We are providing spontaneous and hassle-free mobility to those who do not need or want to own a car. “We observe that, especially in the dense urban areas we’re focusing on, mobility is getting more and more stressful and un- pleasant for all parties involved, and we want to be part of the solution and not perceived as part of the problem. We want to contribute to efficient and sustainable mobility in cities and to do our part in making them more liveable. Electric vehicles, especially in car-sharing fleets, can have a considerable impact there”, claims a BWM spokesperson. Convinced that mobility over the next 10-20 years, especially in urban areas “will probably see more change than over the last 100 years”, BMW designers are thinking about scenarios with fully automated, purely electric fleets, and what this could mean for its customers as well as for the company.
Artificial intelligence holds the promise of saving millions of lives by making our cars smart enough to avoid accidents. At the same time, it promises to offer mobility to those unable to operate a vehicle. On the path to autonomous driving, Toyota has established a new research facility. Dr. Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) announced in April that Toyota will establish its third TRI facility in the United States, where it will fund research into artificial intelligence, robotics, and materials science. The various Toyota Technical Centers have been conducting research into autonomous cars for more than a decade. “Sensor hardware and algorithms are improving at a tremendous pace. TRI researchers will push the frontier even further, with the goal of providing safer vehicles and more helpful robots in the home”, says Edwin Olson, an area leader. TRI will focus primarily on fully autonomous (chauffeured) driving and guardian angel driving, where the person is always engaged but the vehicle assists as necessary. Thus, a car that is incapable of causing a crash, regardless of the skill or condition of the driver.
Presented in June, during a futuristic event at London’s Roundhouse, was the Rolls-Royce VISION NEXT 100, a completely personal, effortless, and autonomous vehicle. With this car, the company is anticipating the mobility demands of the luxury customer. Rolls-Royce makes a bold and definitive statement about its confidence in a future that rejects the notion of anonymous, utilitarian, and bland modes of mobility, with an autonomous, coach-built, personalised vision for those who wish to form an emotional attachment to their vehicle. For the 105 years since its creation in 1911, the Spirit of Ecstasy bonnet ornament, modelled on Eleanor Thornton by artist Charles Sykes, has silently guided every Rolls-Royce. For its next interpretation, the Voice of Eleanor inhabits the VISION NEXT 100, commanding the car’s connectivity and enabling it to cater to the occupants’ every whim while advising, directing, and assessing the surrounding environment – a virtual assistant and chauffeur, freeing the passengers of all effort and encumbrance.