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GM, Lyft and Otto on the future of mobility

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If recent trends continue, we will be driven into a transportation future that is increasingly shared, connected, on-demand, electric and autonomous. How humankind's quality of life will change due to these technological innovations, however, is up for debate. 

Robin Chase, co-founder of Zipcar has warned that, if we don't prepare, we could end up in a nightmare of more congested cities with a dearth of tax revenue to maintain roads and massive job loss pegged to automation. On the flip-side, society could end up with safer roads, more convenient commutes, cleaner air and additional urban space as parking spaces become obsolete.

Beyond commonplace, and natural, concerns about health, safety and convenience, it still remains that one person's utopia can be another's dystopia. One person may laud that more data and connectivity will lead to more efficient and convenient mobility, even while another shudders at the prospect of having their every movement tracked.

The world of transportation is changing rapidly and the future is uncertain. These five videos from recent GreenBiz events provide a peek into the future of transportation as understood by people that are building it.

1. The (R)evolution of the car company

Many predict that the end of widespread car ownership is barreling toward us. They think that many modes of transportation will transform into services that shuttle us around from point A to point B — romantic American Dream visions of polished chrome and revved engines notwithstanding. But you wouldn’t immediately guess that an executive at America’s largest automotive company would be among those who share this view of the future. 

The urban mobility lead at General Motors, Peter Kosak, painted a picture at VERGE 15 of the various ways a car company can and must adapt its business model if it hopes to avoid going the way of the stagecoach. For example, General Motors has invested $500 million in Lyft and has launched Maven, a car-sharing spinoff company.

2. Otto co-founder on the promise of self-driving trucks

Anthony Levandowski is the co-founder of Otto — the autonomous truck manufacturing company that was recently acquired by Uber, and that even more recently “completed the world’s first shipment by self-driving cars.” He is currently at the center of a lawsuit by Waymo against Uber concerning stolen intellectual property. 

The common thought around the benefits of self-driving trucks is that they lower costs by eliminating drivers, allow for 24-hour use and drastically reduce the number of accidents and fatalities on our roads.

But removing the human element of the trucking industry can also substantially clean up the freight industry, Levandowski argued at VERGE 15. Self-driving programs can optimize fuel economy, use Internet and satellite connectivity to mitigate traffic congestion and facilitate truck platooning, and use data sharing to do away with the inefficient use of cargo space.

“All of the fuel saving tricks and expertise will be available to every single truck all the time,” said Levandowski.

3. Lessons from Finland: Urban planning in the age of mobility services

Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) has the ultimate goal of providing convenient transportation options that keep people from owning personal cars. 

We already see MaaS in action with Uber, Lyft and the like. But this model could expand to focus on particular cities or municipalities. For example, one could imagine an app that compiles all of the ride-sharing, car-sharing, bike-sharing and public transportation options of a city in a single platform with a single monthly subscription. 

Interestingly, Finland has incorporated MaaS into its national transportation strategy. "In Finland, we don’t want our regulation to be future-proof, but future-ready," explained Krista Huhtala-Jenks, senior officer for digitalization in transport and Mobility as a Service for Finland. 

She sat down with Gil Friend, chief sustainability officer for the city of Palo Alto, California, for a deep dive into the vast world of MaaS opportunities at VERGE 16.

4. Amory Lovins on accelerating EV growth

Amory Lovins, co-founder and Chief Scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute, has a knack for seeing the forest for the trees. Renowned for being the great dot-connector of the renewable energy movement with his seminal 1976 paper "Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken," here in this interview at  VERGE 16, Lovins offers a global perspective on the remarkable rapid growth of affordable electric vehicles and their effect on the electricity grid. 

For example, EVs and renewable energy generation are often associated with one another. But apart from the fact that they both fall under the "green" concept, what is the causal connection exactly?

Well, it’s all about batteries, explains Lovins. “By sometime in the 2020s when [electric vehicles] reach price parity, we’re going to be making a terawatt-hour of batteries for them. That means ubiquitous distributed solar, depressed gas prices, many gigawatts a year in the U.S. of smart charging and distributed storage coming onto the grid to help integrate variable PV and wind power. It’s going to change everything.”

5. What's next in Lyft's search for sustainable commutes?

Ridesharing companies have become the poster child for disruptive business models, and transportation in many cities has drastically evolved as a result of the industry's rise. Tommy Hayes, Lyft's transportation policy manager, spoke at VERGE 2015 about what's next for providers in the space — including a sharper focus on reducing emissions through shared rides.

For instance, ride-sharing has been found to be a convenient last-mile solution for commuters that use public transit for most of their commute but then need a way to get from the train stop to the classroom or office. Hayes explains that Lyft is also exploring partnerships with cities and companies to help people get where they need to go.

"We’re just beginning to learn what our patterns look like, and how we can nudge them for the most sustainable outcomes," Hayes said.