TU-Automotive Europe 2016 – Day One

As the question of whether the autonomous car will ever become reality appears to have been resolved – almost everyone in the motor industry now believes that it will. Players in the broad and expanding automobile ecosystem are now considering the future of personal transportation itself, especially on how the rapidly evolving digital technology will change how an individual travels from one place to another.

That was certainly the case at the Internationales Congress Center München (ICM), where some 850 representatives from every sector of the automobile ecosystem gathered for the two-day TU-Automotive Europe 2016 conference. On Day 1 of the conference, the phrase that one heard almost everywhere was “mobility as a service”, a vision of a future world in which the automobile will be but one link in a broad network of transport options based on sustainability, safety, low pollution and congestion-free roads.  

In a sense, it seems as if recent technological innovations in mobility have been created in direct response to an on-going demographic shift that is altering the way we live. According to a forecast by the UN’s Population Division, cited by several conference presenters, 66% of the world’s population will be living in urban centres by the year 2050, compared to 30% in 1950 and 54% in 2014. Unless there is a radical transformation of how people move around, this means that in the future cities will be far more congested and polluted than they are today.

This development was put into sharp focus, during an afternoon presentation titled Changing the Face of the Modern City, by Michael Hurwitz, director of transport Innovation at Transport for London (TFL). He said London’s population is currently the highest it has ever been, 8.8M people, and it is expected to grow to 10M by 2030.

“To put that in a transport context, every single week the population of London grows by two double-decker red buses,” he said. “But we have constrained road space. We have 31M journeys on our networks every single day and less space to do this.”

In addition, Hurwitz said, 55% of all of our trips is by private car. Our vehicle occupancy is 1.4 on average, and 60% of car trips are with one individual in the car. We want to know how we can make that more efficient.”

Meanwhile, Volkswagen’s chief digital officer Johann Jungwirth revealed a little more about its new mobility brand first announced at the Paris Motor Show in September.

Speaking to TU-Automotive immediately after his fire-side chat on the future of mobility, Jungwirth said the 13th brand in the VW group will build on its relationship with Israeli start-up, Gett. He said: “It’s about mobility solutions focused on mobility on demand specifically and that is where we are covering our investment and partnership with Gett.

“Yet this new 13th brand will be a totally independent brand focused on mobility. We started in Hamburg with a city partnership and we are looking at partnerships with others cities. Of course we are focused on finding the right mobility solutions which we will discuss and disclose more in the next few weeks.”

Despite telling the conference that he can’t imagine wanting to drive a combustion power car again after his experiences with electric vehicle, Jungwirth did not rule our ICE power for the new mobility brand. He said: “It’s not about the product itself because it will draw from the products of the existing 12 Volkswagen brands because the 13th brand is the mobility brand. I cannot yet disclose which of these products will be used and which cities will be involved.

“I can say our new mobility solutions entity to be responsible for the 13th brand is headquartered in Berlin where we have a whole team in place withy CEO and CTO and the rest of the team working really hard to prepare for the launch.”

In another morning presentation, Michael Knudsen, strategy mobility services, BMW iVentures, offered additional data on how private car ownership is affecting urban congestion and pollution. “In high-density areas of a city, at peak time about 30% of the traffic are people looking for a parking space.” In addition, he said a great deal of urban parking is “wasted” because people in cities use their cars about 1-hour a day on the average, “so the car is parked for 23 hours a day”.

Or, as Christoph Weigler, general manager Germany, Uber, put it: “In many cities around the world, 30% of the landmass is dedicated to storing these hunks of steel that are not used right now.”

One way the city of London is attempting to reduce the number of cars on its roads is “to bear down on car ownership” by creating a mobility hierarchy that has private car use at the bottom and walking and cycling at the top, Hurwitz said. He noted, however, that the rise of ride-sharing services such as Uber has not reduced the number of cars in the city centre. “If you look at central London, the number of private cars is quite stable. What we’ve seen is a reduction in individual-driven cars but that’s been replaced by the rise of minicabs, Uber, private-hire vehicles. The fact is, we don’t have less [traffic].”

Uber’s Christoph Weigler suggested that carpooling could be a solution to reducing inner-city traffic congestion. Uber launched its Uber POOL service more than a year ago and it is now active in 35 cities. Weigler said that already 20% of global Uber trips are POOL trips, and in some West Coast cities half of the Uber trips are POOL trips, attesting to the attraction of the lower cost the service offers.

And it has had positive consequences for these cities, he said. “One year after launching Uber POOL congestion has been reduced significantly. And that makes sense because, especially on streets where congestion is really high and where a lot of people want to go, obviously there’s a huge likelihood of finding someone who wants to take the same trip.”

This has advantages for the passenger, in lower cost, for the driver, in higher utilisation, and for the city. “We take congestion out of the streets, we don’t need as much parking space and, obviously, pollution is reduced,” Weigler said.

Hurwitz said that autonomous cars may be an important part of London’s future mobility scheme but he does not regard it as a cure-all. “Looking at the future of autonomy, it will help in some parts of London and less so in others,” he said. “If it will take people out of private cars but not out of buses, if it will make people travel in a more efficient way, in a lower-emission way, those are positive opportunities. We just need to shape the regulations and to shape the policy incentives to make sure it happens in that way.”

Hurwitz noted that Volvo Group will be testing its autonomous prototypes in London next year and that the city is open to other carmakers testing the technology on its roads. “What we’re doing at the moment is engaging constructively with anyone who wants to work on our streets. If they’re going through our junctions, we need to know. We want to have an honest discussion about what’s safe operation, what useful data can we exchange, how we can utilise these services to complement our objectives. In the next 2 or 3 years you’re going to see lots of trialling.”

He was not the only representative of a European capital’s public transport authority to speak on the first day of the conference. Reinhard Birke, CEO of Upstream – next level mobility, which he described as “the digital part of the public transport authorities of Vienna”, addressed an afternoon panel discussion on Automated Mobility as a Service: Building the Framework for the Future.

He used the opportunity to describe WienMobil, his company’s solution to Vienna’s growing mobility issues. To begin with, he agreed with Hurwitz that current ride-sharing services are not solving urban mobility problems. In fact, they might eventually present another problem.

 “We are transporting 440M people underground,” Birke said. “If the prices of on-demand car mobility would drop to near zero, which is predicted by the big companies, then most likely those 440M people will come up to the surface and will not ride the metro anymore and we will have a big problem. So we have to provide other services like that.”

Vienna’s – and increasingly Austria’s – solution is a single platform on which “we have integrated all the parts of the mobility chain in Vienna. And we’re expanding it now through the country. We have all the taxis, we have Uber, we have Europcar, we have all parking garages on our platform. And we are providing that via one application to our customers in Vienna.”

The app is available via download from the Google Play store and the App Store but this presents the question of having a viable business case for the platform. As Birke put it: “We cannot provide sustainable mobility for the long term if it relies on third party software like Google or Apple.”

Upstream’s solution was to open the platform to third-party mobility providers, which he says “was a big game changer for us”. He described one partner, a Finnish company that “provides mobility as a service in a way that you pay 200 or 300 euros flat per month and for that you can use car-sharing, a taxi, or whatever you want. We have 22 partners at the moment providing their own mobility services in Vienna, but all of them are running on our shared platform.”

Because the problems mobility services address are social in nature – pollution, congestion – it was probably inevitable that the solutions brought by private enterprise would have to be deployed in partnership with public authorities. BMW, a pioneer in the automotive technology, was among the first to recognise this.

In his presentation, BMW iVenture’s Michael Knudsen said the carmaker’s Centre of Urban Mobility Competence is aimed at holding dialogues with municipal authorities about mobile solutions. “This is a small team of five people who are starting to discuss with cities and other stakeholders what the future urban environment could look like, including mobility solutions,” he said. “Our services and partners are involved, other car-sharing providers are involved, public transportation is involved, all necessary stakeholders are involved.” The aim of this multi-stakeholder dialogue is “to talk about the best possible solutions for the cities, to create ideas to make the urban environment much more liveable for the residents.”

A first pilot based on these discussions, to convince people to rely more on public transport and car-sharing, was run for two weeks in the German capital Berlin and was very successful, Knudsen said.

So, it seems that in the future carmakers will act as a partners of public authorities, as well as increasingly becoming service providers. “OEMs are currently preparing for a new future,” said Stephanie Schliffski, Managing Director at StratMa International Sarl. “We see it with GM, who has heavily invested in Lyft and yesterday announced a partnership with Uber. We see it with Ford, who announced at the beginning of the year that they are now an auto and mobility company providing with FordPass services to Ford users and Ford non-users.”

As Knudsen’s presentation made clear, BMW has been preparing its future for some time, and is currently testing or rolling out new mobility products that are geared to the coming world of intermodal and pollution-free travel.

“BMW’s solutions for the city,” said Michael Knudsen, “is all about electric mobility, electric cars.” However, while this helps solve the problems of noise and emissions pollution, “it does not solve the problem of congestion, parking pressure and all the other [problems] we are faced with in our daily mobility,” he said.

To help ease those pressures, Knudsen said, “the main focus for BMW is on car-related services, [such as] car-sharing solutions like DriveNow or ReachNow, . . . [as well as} parking solutions such as Park Now.” 

DriveNow, says Knudsen, “addresses the needs of young people in an urban environment who don’t necessarily need to own a car or don’t want to own a car but sometimes they need a car”. He added that the car-maker sees car-sharing as part of the overall mobility portfolio of a city, including public transportation and other modes, such as walking and cycling.

Knudsen said that the multinational transport company Arriva integrated BMW DriveNow in the Danish capital Copenhagen, where Arriva functions as the city’s public transport provider, “as part of their public transport offering. What is special about Copenhagen is that we have a pure electric fleet, with 400 i3s.” This, Knudsen maintained, “reduces [the number of] cars you need to cover all your mobility needs”.

He admitted that electric mobility was “still struggling with the high price of the cars [and] the lack of infrastructure regarding public charging.” BMW has tried to solve this issue by urging public authorities to expand the charging infrastructure and by offering its ChargeNow service, which “gives our customers access to the existing [charging] infrastructure”.

Certainly, as Schliffski made clear, BMW is not the only carmaker preparing for the future. Yet, as Tom Kirschbaum COO and co-founder of Door2Door, cautioned, perhaps not everyone is prepared for the change. “The US companies are more aggressive,” he said. “This is quite different from the traditional European players. They want to do it but the question is: are they agile enough to disrupt themselves? This is probably a question that most likely not every player in the market will answer with a strong yes five or ten years from now.”

Now catch up with all the news on Day Two.

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