Future Mobility: An American Perspective
A conversation with Stephanie Brinley, Associate Director for AutoIntelligence at S&P Global Mobility
October 27, 2023
What are the expected mobility trends in the U.S. market over the next 10 years?
I think in the next ten years we won’t see much change in attitudes. So that’s an interesting question to consider in that if you ask an American consumer today about their mobility tomorrow, their answer will be 100% based on what they know and what they see around them now.
But if you look beyond those 10 years, solutions like the Citroën Ami and some of the other low-speed electric shuttles, which are intended for short distances, could make a place for themselves because we don’t really have an alternative like that in the U.S. What we’re noticing is that a lot of companies, a lot of governments, municipal governments and local governments are looking at what people need to get around a city and move to a specific area and, for that, they’re looking at new alternatives.
So, I think some of these solutions have the potential to integrate into the U.S. market in a way that we are not looking at today. For example, we have, you know, an interest in communities and, especially if you look at baby boomers starting to retire, a good number of them retire with funding. And they are not really ready to give up their cars/mobility but they are ready to be more environmentally friendly.
Is there a need in the U.S. for “new mobility devices such as quadricycles” which are developed elsewhere in the world, particularly in the EU? If so, under what conditions? If not, why not?
Now I don’t see these new mobility devices like quadricycles integrating into existing traffic because in the United States, they are perceived as too small and therefore not safe. But if they operate in a low-speed, closed campus environment, like in a university, perhaps with students sharing it, that could be a solution in that space. Or in a community where traffic moves at low speeds and the other vehicles are similar in size or smaller. So, they don’t drive it next to a large SUV!
Secondly, I think there may be more opportunity than even the figures suggest, if consumers learn to see a different way of getting around the city and meeting their needs a little differently. Today, they don’t know that it’s possible and we are just starting to see possible mobility alternatives. So, as you go along, you have to show them something new and then build systems that are there to support it.
The systems are as important as the vehicles; it all has to seem to work together.
It’s more about how to seize these new opportunities and build a transport mobility system in a specific area. And I think that’s where there could be more opportunities if consumers see value in the experience and the system seems natural.
So, in a city like New York, if the city and mobility providers work together to imagine a system where some of the six-person shuttles that travel short distances and end up replacing taxis to some extent, it opens the possibility for us to transform our need and the way we get around. One of the obstacles to this development is the existing infrastructure. For this type of small vehicle, you must make sure that it is user-friendly enough to get consumers to see a new way of getting around.
Yet, the U.S. market will always remain anchored by demand for personal transport. There will always be a demand for someone to go alone according to their own schedule and with their own space.
We know that freedom is integral to the American mentality and culture. Are the costs and capabilities of carbon-free mobility perceived as a potential threat to freedom of movement?
In the U.S., freedom of movement and the possession of a vehicle that allows you to go anywhere at any time in a simple way, thanks to existing infrastructure, is very much rooted in the population. And if you want to choose the thing that is best for the environment, it also has to suit your own interest. If there’s no alignment with what you think you need for your life at a cost you’re willing to pay, then it’s hard to make the choice and it’s much easier to let someone else make the environmental choice.
I think the carbon-free element can make vehicles more attractive, mainly because they can be quieter and still offer strong torque for a more responsive acceleration. And if you’re in that little vehicle, in that little space, if you drive it yourself and you have a little more torque, you can feel good. But people may need to change their paradigm of what defines fun-to-drive. Cost remains an issue. When you think about the cost of carbon neutrality and EV products, there is a hurdle to overcome. It may be that shared transportation becomes a more viable solution in some areas.
The vehicle market overall is evolving, more and more car manufacturers are developing more vehicles in more segments and price points. As consumers learn more about range and charging, and the infrastructure improves, range may not be the overriding concern. Consumers will see more frequently and learn to better understand EVs, opening opportunity for addressing cost through lower-range battery packs and new segments. Today, EVs remain more expensive than an internal combustion engine vehicle of the same size. And that is a problem which is not fundamentally addressed by incentives.
Also, there remains an infrastructure problem which is expensive to resolve as well. The infrastructure will take time. You know, it took us 40 years to develop a good infrastructure of the service station. We’re trying to create an electric vehicle charging infrastructure in less than a decade. Many consumers will wait until they have more confidence in that infrastructure. The ideal use for a personal electric vehicle is when you charge at home as well. And so, in a city like New York or in urban environments, we really need to see this infrastructure develop for apartments. There are solutions evolving, but it will take time to develop optimal solutions.
The infrastructure for charging outside the house must be trustworthy, it must be robust, it must be reliable. It must be in places where you are not afraid to go. It has to be transparent. And these things will develop slowly.
And all this must be affordable for as many people as possible. Affordability of mobility may not mean you can afford to have your own car on the road. But it should mean you can afford to go where you’re going, using one mode or another. And so, we come back to the freedom of movement that Americans expect.