Sustainable Mobility: the impact of the Automotive Industry

When we think of vehicles in cities we have a picture of congested roads, routes blocked by parked delivery vans, wide expanses of parking spaces and of course, pollution from traffic fumes. How does this all fit into a sustainable future?

With annual global car sales forecast to reach 125 million by 2025, and half of those vehicles estimated to be purchased by city dwellers, coupled with the global vehicle fleet set to reach to 2 billion by 2030 (currently it is 1.2 billion), one thing is for sure – the human relationship with the car is set to remain with us for many years to come. However, it is the changing nature of that relationship that is interesting, specifically when we think in terms of the challenges of sustainable urban mobility. When we think of vehicles in cities we have a picture of congested roads, routes blocked by parked delivery vans, wide expanses of parking spaces and of course, pollution from traffic fumes. How does this all fit into a sustainable future?

In order to answer some of these questions, let us consider the 4 key technology trends that are occurring simultaneously within the automotive industry, connectedness, electrification, sharing and autonomous driving.

Connected vehicles, as part of a wider Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem, offer many real-time driver services that are not only convenient, but can also impact safety and congestion. By connecting to other vehicles (V2V), surrounding infrastructure (V2I) and even pedestrians or cyclists, dynamic route planning becomes possible allowing drivers to avoid congested areas, weather or road conditions ahead can be known and accounted for, parking spaces pre-allocated and potential collisions avoided.

The numbers of electric vehicles (EV’s) on the roads in the future is set to surpass even the most optimistic forecasts of 10 years ago, with 54% of new car sales predicted to be EV’s by 2040. Advancing battery technologies, consumer acceptance (driven by charging infrastructure roll outs to reduce range anxiety), industry tailpipe emissions regulations, inner-city toll reductions and future city bans on diesel vehicles have all contributed to this growth. Of course, the impact on pollution of these zero-emission vehicles is immense, but there is also the forward-thinking view of having EV’s as a source of power storage for households or communities, a sort of extension to the grid, as we seek to find the best ways of delivering electrical energy to the cities of the future.

Ride and vehicle sharing is on the increase, fuelled by several potential factors – altruistic values to reduce congestion, cost, sociability and the reduced social status of owning a car (not so in emerging markets). Whilst this might mean less vehicle sales for the car makers, they have redressed their revenue balance by creating new business models (or buying up companies offering these services). The evidence today suggests that car and ride sharing is having an impact on utilisation rates of passenger cars (typically 5% over a year) as well as reducing the number of cars on the road – and poses a real threat to public transport as people seek a flexible, on-demand travel solution.

Autonomous vehicles (AV’s) are recognised as the next logical step to connected cars. Already in test mode in several cities, their progression into mainstream acceptance seems inevitable. The potential benefits have been widely broadcast – less accidents, increased road utilisation as AV’s can travel closer together at faster speeds), giving greater mobility to the aged and disabled plus more efficient use of travel time as drivers become passengers and can do other tasks during the journeys. However, there are large infrastructure implications for cities, not least providing a robust and reliable data communications network with very low latency times. And of course, AV’s will not only be limited to passenger cars, we already have people mover pods (such as London Heathrow Terminal 5) and cities need to think about how such transport might be accommodated into their 30 year masterplans. Other factors that city planners and urban policy makers need to consider in relation to AV’s are discussed in the recently published Arcadis report Driverless Cities.

Future mobility solutions need to include the personal car (in whatever form) as part of them. The technology advancements in the automotive industry go some way to enable a totally integrated urban transport solution, but there is still more to do. The ultimate aim must be to create a cohesive, sustainable ecosystem that embraces private and public transport, cycling and walking to deliver mobility for all.

Martijn Karrenbeld

Global Director Industrial Manufacturing +31 (0)6 2706 0599 Ask me a question
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