Discontinuity: Mobility

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Increased consumer mobility is likely through 2030, but several developments have the potential to disrupt or reverse consumer mobility trends.

New technologies, new business practices, policy changes, or international events could trigger discontinuities that impact consumer mobility, explains Social Technologies' analyst Kyle Spector, who recently considered these possibilities as part of our series on discontinuities (those sudden, sharp breaks that can strike consumers, business sectors, nations, or the world with disruptive force).

Consider the following potential discontinuities in the mobility industry.

Ultra-cheap cars

Car prices are out of reach for most World 2 and World 3 consumers, but mass production of ultra-cheap cars could rapidly increase automobile ownership, change consumer behavior, and exacerbate a host of energy and environmental issues.

One of the world's lowest-priced cars, the Renault Logan sedan, sells for about $7,200, but this is still too expensive for most World 2 consumers. Auto manufacturers are particularly interested in producing ultra-cheap cars for World 2 because World 1 markets are becoming saturated. To create profitable ultra-cheap cars, auto manufacturers are looking at new materials and design systems to lower production costs.

Business implication: Ultra-cheap cars could have a major impact on consumer life in World 2--expanding the potential living and shopping space of consumers who previously could only shop as far as their feet, bicycles, or public transport could take them.

Automated driving

Automated driving could change the very meaning of driving, as intelligent vehicle/ highway systems could allow consumers to travel greater distances at faster speeds, improve fuel efficiency, reduce traffic jams, and turn the car into a mobile workstation.

Communications and sensing technology embedded in both roads and cars would allow cars to travel at very high speeds in close proximity without crashing--in some circumstances without any driver input. Some proposals call for the cars to operate by communicating with each other in an "intelligent swarm" model, while others envision cars that communicate with each other and with a central control system built into the highway. Accidents and traffic jams could become rare.

The most likely implementation of automated driving would include a long-term, phased transition during which cars and roads gradually become smarter. Already, auto manufacturers are including ever more sensing systems and artificial intelligence in cars, such as the ability to adjust cruise control speeds based on the distances between cars, or to precisely track the car's location through GPS.

Business implication: As more aspects of driving became automated, consumers could feel less of an affinity for their cars--viewing them as utilitarian rather than as an extension of their own identities, as many currently do. In essence, automated driving would effectively turn individual cars into part of a large-scale mass transit system.

Air taxis

On-demand flying in small air taxis, also known as very light jets (VLJs), could transform the current system of domestic commercial air travel.

Currently in development, VLJs are small planes (typically four to six seats) that would operate like a system of air taxis, ready to fly on demand. Instead of booking a seat using an airline's set schedule, customers could simply show up to the air taxi hub and jump on the next available plane to any other hub within the jet's flying radius. DayJet is a limited example of an air taxi system that operates mainly in Florida.

VLJ air taxis would take off from existing airports, but would likely also require the construction of very small local hubs. Longer flights might be accomplished by making two or three connections within the hub system, though it is likely that most international travel routes would still require traditional commercial airliners for some time, as VLJs are not designed for these routes.

Business implication: The airline industry is particular vulnerable to mobility discontinuities. Development of an on-demand air taxi system, when combined with other factors such as high fuel prices, could create significant challenges for traditional commercial air travel. Airlines would likely have to embrace aspects of on-demand aviation.

Closed borders

Any number of international events could lead to a closed-border world in which what gets in and out of a country is much more tightly controlled. Consumers would face personal, business, and lifestyle impacts resulting from closed borders. Movement of people and goods could be severely restricted.

Terrorism, anti-immigration sentiment, pandemics, or a number of other events could be triggers for closed borders. Events like the SARS outbreak in China and the 9/11 terror attacks in the US encouraged policymakers to tighten borders, providing a glimpse of what a more serious international event could do to border restrictions.

Business implication: Flows of migrants--usually a steady supply of cheap labor for developed and developing countries alike--would stop under a closed border system. This would strongly affect labor-intensive industries such as agriculture and construction, but might also have a disastrous effect on information industries that rely on the vast numbers of engineers coming out of World 2.

Learn more

To talk to Kyle Spector about additional business implications of mobility discontinuity and its relevance to major business sectors, contact Hope Gibbs, Social Technologies' leader of corporate communications: hope.gibbs@socialtechnologies.com.

About ) The Discontinuities series

Social Technologies recently released a series of briefs called Discontinuities, which are those sudden, sharp breaks that can strike consumers, business sectors, nations, or the world with disruptive force. Exactly when, where, or how such events will occur is inherently hard to foresee. This brief explores the potential discontinuity in the mobility sector. In the coming weeks, be on the lookout for more of our Discontinuities press releases.

Kyle Spector ) Futurist

Kyle Spector is a writer/ analyst for the Global Lifestyles and Technology Foresight multiclient projects. He also contributes content to a wide variety of custom consulting projects and manages/edits S)T's blog, ChangeWaves.

About Social Technologies

Social Technologies is a global research and consulting firm specializing in the integration of foresight, strategy, and innovation. With offices in Washington DC, London, and Shanghai, Social Technologies serves the world's leading companies, government agencies, and nonprofits. For information visit http://www.socialtechnologies.com, our blog: http://changewaves.socialtechnologies.com, and our newsletter: http://www.socialtechnologies.com/changewaves.

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