From Automakers to Mobility Providers

Automologist, MAC, gives his take on the change in mobility that is upon us.


Forget the hairy chested, testosterone-infused car adverts of the past. Ignore the traditional auto virtues of power, speed and handling that petrolheads like me would consume with great big gulps of tyre smoke whilst beating our hairy chests and making strange noises about power bands and peak torque. The future of the car industry seems to be much more about apps, connectivity and algorithms than white knuckling, particularly if you were watching what went down at the recent Detroit Motor Show where much of the talk from industry leaders was about the transformation of companies from automakers to “mobility providers”.

Of course there was still plenty of showcasing of the latest automotive bling, but most seemed to be grappling with how and when the industry will have to re-invent itself. The debate seemed to have started last year when Toyota publically renamed itself from automaker to mobility provider  but now Mark Fields, Ford’s CEO, has taken the bull by the horns and seems to be unveiling his strategy on how to take the Big Blue into this brave new world.

No one is actually saying that they will cease manufacturing the more traditional vehicle. But it would seem that most are saying that they will look further than being just a nuts-and-bolts manufacturer to become much more of a total “get-where-you-are-going” solutions provider that will offer ride sharing, transportation assistance and new types of vehicle ownership (such as fractional ownership or time sharing).

“Everybody is talking about Silicon Valley disrupting the car business but we are going to disrupt ourselves,” Fields said during an interview at the recent Detroit Show.


Perhaps, then, fear of competition from the Valley is the main driver for the change. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the very existence of some these ambitious tech companies in that Californian valley are becoming the preoccupation of the old world order over in Detroit, and there is no end to the line of those that seem to want to join in. In his speech, Fields spent time pointing out how Apple had for the past 18 years been upending and transforming the music and phone industries, and it is obvious he doesn’t want this to happen to the car industry.

There is already a convergence of trends, with the likes of Googles autonomous car and Tesla’s electric-powered vehicles, and on-demand mobility providers such as Uber, so you may think that the writing is already firmly on the wall. But you could say that it has been largely there but unseen for some time before that. Presently, the world car business is probably worth US$2.3 trillion annually whereas the global transport market is worth at least double that, and is likely to surge as the world urbanises further. It is not surprising then that so many diverse industries, including current automakers, want a piece of the future action.

So, where to place you’re your bet for the future of the Mobility Industry? We have written at length about Autonomous Mobility on Demand and the Google Pod and Apples involvement and the rise of Uber. General Motors is putting its money into an outfit called Lyft with an eye to develop a fleet of self-driving vehicles that would arrive with the mere tap of an app. Toyota recently announced that personal robotics would eventually outshine the company’s car business, and during the Show, Volvo’s CEO, Hakan Samuelsson, reiterated his company’s goal to prevent anyone from being killed or seriously injured whilst in charge of one of their products by the year 2020, which is of course a perfect vision.

In other words, there will be plenty of new avenues for mobility in the future but this petrolhead hopes a few of them will still let the testosterone flow.

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