The New York Times announced on Saturday 27 May that according to the AAA nearly 38 million people will travel this Memorial Day weekend and most of them will drive on America's roads and highways. That is a lot of cars, a lot of emissions, a lot of money on gas and a crazy amount of time in traffic. And despite rising gas prices and energy security fear, it is not yet changing consumer habits. Hundreds of thousands of us will be sitting tail-to-tail in our half empty vehicles, while empty seats on planes or trains or buses pass us by. The old model has yet to be challenged much then. And the white space for innovation remains untouched.
What if you replace 'car' with 'mobility'?I'm an Englishwoman in New York. One thing I notice that continues to evoke outright opinion and is apparently 'so' American is automobile ownership. I keep hearing that "Americans love their cars, they will never give them up or share them it is part of our identity". This is usually in response to sharing the success stories of UK 'car service' companies Streetcar and WhizzGo, the equivalent to Zipcar and Flexcar over here in the US.
Transport services or public transport is not promoted as a viable, or desirable, option for the business and holiday traveller in the US. Yet potentially it really could be, here or anywhere in the world, if it was thought of as a whole system focusing on the customer need — a solution rather than a product — that might include integration of trains, planes, automobiles, buses and more, rather than being the poor alternative to owning a car. Let's imagine also it is a consumer brand — 'Mobility' — and there is a personal web interface into the service for me.
The need is to move me seamlessly around the country, or in and out of the country, in the most effective and efficient way and to make this the smart and desirable option that relives me of high gas prices and traffic. Not to compete or completely replace my car ownership.
It doesn't mean taking my car and my identity away, it might just mean adding or brokering my car alongside a whole number of transport options. It might mean my automobile supports telematics or other tracking systems and that I have my own personalised Mobility web interface to manage my vehicle amongst ALL my integrated transport needs — plane, train, bicycle etc. It might also mean building personal status, or identity, through the mobility choices I make. (Airlines have been quite successful at doing this whether through low cost smart travel or high cost premium services).
Here's the provocation: what if a car manufacturer were to look for opportunities to innovate beyond the product, (on top of the engineering effort going into lighter/greener/more efficient vehicles), and to own mobility services and brand Mobility across a market. What if Ford or Toyota owned the interface to my transport needs. That might mean that they own the infrastructure, booking, planning, the brand and the servicing of transport solutions for individual or business needs that would marry together car use, flying, trains, buses, bicycles etc. So, the next time I book my mobility from New York to a conference in Boston, I can book and plan 'cab > train > cab > courtesy bus' from end-to-end. Or I could opt for the most efficient route based on a number of personalised variables like low fuel, low cost, speed etc. Or I could even choose ahead what food or services I might want on my journey.
Brand Mobility would be in the best place to own car services such as Zipcar and WhizzGo, as well as manufacture vehicles that are networked and service-ready. Brand Mobility is also in a great position to be a media owner or strategic partner for a world of destinations (ie, the bit that happens at the other end of your journey) because they own the service of my travel experience end to end. I own and manage my own booking interface.
WhizzGo the pay-as-you-go car service in the UK is getting near to this model as it builds strategic relationships with councils across the country and public transport authorities like the Rail Network. They see car services as one part of an integrated transport network. See also ::TreeHugger Picks: Car Sharing Services, ::Have You Reduced Your Dependence on Cars?