'Mobility on Demand' and more efficient, purpose-built vehicles

mobility on demand sustainability BMW, Daimler, Lyft, Uber
Dan Sturges
A snapshot of the increasingly crowded market for on-demand mobility.

Transportation is changing in a big way.

The Information Communication Technology revolution is enabling consumers to easily move about their city using a variety of new mobility services, such as Uber, Lyft, Zipcar, a city bikeshare service or another new service. The same week Uber announced its $40 billion valuation, Daimler’s Car2Go, a one-way-carshare service, announced it now has 1 million members.

While this new mobility future is just getting started, it will change in exciting ways the kinds of vehicles car designers will be working on as well as the design process overall.

As we consider what type of vehicles will flourish in this “Mobility on Demand” (MoD) future, we should recognize the large opportunity to “right-size” our mobility infrastructure. While a growing number of consumers will be using these new multimodal mobility services, I expect many more will be using a “blend” of vehicle types to meet their mobility needs.

For example, a consumer may have a smaller “daily driver,” but “micro-rent” (my term for renting by the minute or hour) a luxury car or truck on special occasions. This begins to offer car designers an opportunity to design “mission-specific” vehicles, rather than the way we design our current general-purpose cars and SUVs, which the consumer uses every day over what might be a 3-year period of their lease.

In addition to potential new use models of our vehicles, the electrification and autonomous drive technology offer the potential to create exciting new vehicle design opportunities. I remember nearly 15 years ago being in a presentation by a Nissan engineer introducing its new City EV called the “Hypermini.”

Near the back of his Powerpoint deck were a number of illustrations that caught my eye: they were of the small EV driving right into one’s house, or driving into a larger retailer’s building, like a Walmart. Because the vehicles didn’t pollute, Nissan felt someone could drive the groceries right into the kitchen. I don’t know of any group designing an “e-car integrated housing” solution right now, but that certainly doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

futuristic car sustainable mobility
Your ride of the future?
An upcoming market for compelling mission-specific vehicles offers car designers to enjoy a new type of design freedom. We rarely consider how neutral and even “vanilla” our designs for cars that the consumer is “married” to over a number of years are. What if you could only wear one type of shoe for three years, or only one outfit? What would those designs be like? Our cars today are the ones we use for so many diverse occasions, we often order them essentially absent any color (white, silver, grey, black).

Designing a new truck for a “truckshare” service only needs to be an awesome truck. It can be rugged, offer great hauling features, but would not be the vehicle to take, let’s say, to a tennis match. A luxury car for special nighttime events could explore an all-new design language, and needs only to do that task well. These are niche market vehicles for the nearer term, but it’s exciting to think of the many new vehicle designs ahead of us that do not have to be for the everyday driver, and do not need to be generic or vanilla designs.

There are many all-new types of vehicles we may soon be designing. It’s possible we may see an opportunity for “express” vehicles that a user would check-out for driving to a nearby city on a special higher-speed freeway lane. Or, with increased new mobility users in one city, a business case may be able to be made for a very large multi-family vehicle. It might even be a double-decker, and something a few families would check out for a long summer weekend. (Ital Design’s Columbus concept comes to mind when considering this potential new vehicle type. Did you see the small stairway inside that 1992 vehicle?)

And then there are opportunities for new custom vehicle designs for the center of a city. Madrid and Paris are working to keep larger vehicles toward the edge of their city centers. Car designers may find themselves working with transportation planners, real estate concerns, as well as potentially a municipality on the design of a new mobility solution that will be embedded in a given location.

As we move into this future where a smaller percentage of the public actually own a car, we are likely to find we have entered a new golden era of car design, one enabled by the MoD driven fragmentation, mission-specific vehicles, as well as the profound new power and control technologies which enable tremendous freedom for designers to explore.

This article originally appeared at Automotive Design and Production.