What If Mobility Became the Symbol of the Future Once Again?

One hundred years ago, Henry Ford introduced the Ford Model T to middle-class Americans. The car revolutionized the whole transportation industry and became the symbol of modernization, freedom and prosperity for the growing middle classes. Currently, there is an ongoing mobility transformation, but it lacks a promise and symbolism.

Mobility as the Driver of a New Vision

Our current mobility solutions waste a tremendous amount of resources. The utilization rate of private cars is below five percent, our urban space is largely occupied by vehicles – and by spaces designed for them. We waste hours stuck in traffic and over a million people die in car accidents each year. On top of that, we are destroying ecosystems across the world with excessive pollution. Surely, none of this was part of Mr. Ford’s plan when he first envisioned the possibilities that new mobility could bring. However, we currently lack a real alternative. For many, the private car is still a necessity and an important status symbol. Cities and governments struggle to find solutions that could bring an end to congestion and pollution while making sure people’s needs are still met.

With the advent of autonomous, electric and connected vehicles, an increasing supply of renewable energy sources and many other disruptive technologies, we are now on the cusp of the largest change in transportation and mobility in 100 years.

With autonomous vehicles, time liberated from driving could make cars the instrument for the next media revolution or “offices on wheels”. They can also provide new opportunities for those who can’t drive, including disabled and elderly people. Together with solutions like Mobility as a Service, we can do more with far fewer vehicles. This will allow us to make better and more creative use of our urban space and have new encounters with people on shared rides. Electric car batteries could be used as storage for renewable energy and help balance the energy grid. Soon we might be able to travel 500 kilometers in 30 minutes by trainfly from New York to Shanghai in under an hourand even visit other planets.

Social Transformation for the 21st Century

Ford’s vision of the private car was just a proxy for a larger societal transformation. It impacted how we build our cities, work, structure our days, consume, live and travel. Today, self driving vehicles, renewable energy solutions and digital platforms could similarly act as powerful proxies for building a society that we’ll be proud of in one hundred years. This is why mobility should not be considered in a vacuum.

If the vision of the last century was world peace through consumerism, what would be the vision for world peace in the 21st century? How could better mobility support the vision? What would Mr. Ford think about the following goals?

1. 21st century mobility should be greenhouse gas emission free. Transportation and aviation currently make up 22 percent of the global GHG emissions. The related manufacturing processes increase the emissions even more.

2. 21st century mobility should be affordable for everyone. What if mobility would be about making us world citizens, providing everyone with the ability to travel at any time to anywhere in the world safely with a price that everyone can afford?

3. 21st century mobility should not waste our monetary resources. A car that is parked 95 percent of the time and loses value rapidly as soon as it’s driven out of the dealership is a terrible investment.

4. 21st century mobility should not waste our time. Time is ultimately the only scarce resource. It should be embraced, not spent stuck in traffic.

5. 21st century mobility solutions should not occupy our urban space. By designing better mobility services, enabled by new technology, we can free urban space from parking lots and congestion.

6. 21st century should mean the end for road fatalities. Today, over a million people die on the roads each year. Tomorrow, it should be zero. 

The article was co-authored by Henrik Suikkanen, Project Manager of Slush Y Mobility, and Sampo Hietanen, CEO and Founder of Maas Global.

This text has originally been published in Slush’s blog and it is the framework for Slush Y Mobility on Friday December 1st 2017.