We seem to write a lot about transport and the viewable trends in that area. It’s probably something to do with our proximity and relationship with the Silverstone Technology Cluster here in the UK. Being close to clever people means we can see things happening early.
Because we aren’t deeply involved in engineering, in the way that some of the guys around Silverstone are, we can stand back and see what implications for the rest of us some of these new developments may have. After all, not all new technology is focused on going round a race track at speed.
Here are five automotive developments that will change your customer behaviours:
1 The Brompton Electric bike
Brompton has been a bastion of design for decades and holds a treasured place in the hearts of its loyal customers. With theft of e-bikes a growing problem, the response to Brompton’s launch of a battery version of its classic design was reserved. Early thoughts were that this move was only precedented by Bob Dylan going electric. But wait – Brompton bikes fold up and you take them into the office. They don’t live on the street with the Treks and Van Moofs. Take a bow, Brompton: mission accomplished, simply, elegantly and without changing its heritage or brand values. If you run a car park close to a station or are a park and ride operator, get ready for your revenues to drop as e-bikes provide a really viable alternative to your VP.
2 The electric bus and the health of islands
Air pollution, particularly in cities, is increasing. Health agencies issue regular urban pollution gradings for air quality, and town-dwellers are urged to look after themselves.
Diet is being touted as a way of counteracting poor air quality, and we focus on population densities and the places where e-buses are most needed.
Monocle reported the tale of e-buses saving a South Korean islet, Udo, from being overrun by fans of a soap opera. At first, cars were restricted, but now Chinese-built e-buses provide transport across the island. The number of visitors may be high, but the number of cars has reduced. As an initiative that will drive more greening of Udo, e-buses have been an answer to a question that wasn’t entirely forecasted.
3 Roboracing – really?
As a motor racing fan of a certain vintage, I listen to the hype around autonomous track racing with some dismay. Isn’t that just gaming, with a big bill when it goes wrong? Then two things happened on the same day and I had a moment of clarity: first, I watched Roborace fly up Goodwood’s hill climb without clipping a bale or a flint wall. Then, I watched Lewis Hamilton win F1 in Hungary and, suddenly, automatons racing didn’t seem like such an unbelievable idea.
Vehicle autonomy has lots of questions to answer: will it drive single vehicle usage? How will all those single occupancy units fit on the roads? Can the load capacity and battery drain ever be the entire answer for freight movements out of town? And so on. But the fact that development is pushing the boundaries of what is possible means that, when the next cycle of car replacement (roughly 20 years) is done, and the next generation of drivers is born into a market where EVs are the only option, the change will be complete. Enjoy sucking in particulates while you can. When electrically powered vehicles are the norm, autonomous options will be available.
4 EVs and Mars Bars
I still like this as an illustration of what’s to come. When you charge your EV at home or the office, you will have stopped visiting the fuel station. When we all start doing the same, that’s a lot of footfall no longer passing the Mars bars, Lucozade and pork pies. Suddenly, Walkers Crisps aren’t so easy to get hold of, along with all the other impulse products that we buy as little treats when no-one’s looking.
A straight-line extrapolation of the EV trend says that food distribution will need an overhaul and yet it’s not a thought that seems to have struck the wholesalers and convenience brands. To re-design an entire distribution system takes time, and they’ve got a few years – but only a few. Now would be a really good time to start working on that.
5 Innovation corridors
The Oxford to Cambridge ‘Growth Corridor’ is one of those strategic proposals that doesn’t seem to have a discrete owner, but lots of organisations attach themselves to the concept because it makes sense to the population caught inside its boundaries.
It also justifies other things. HS2 becomes more palatable when framed in the context of innovation. The East-West rail link takes on a similar hue. Road development through the region seems sensible, until you realise that it mostly helps the drivers who want to get through and out the other side as fast as possible.
The point is that a regional strategy that links major technology development centres and provides infrastructure to attract brains into the catchment is a good idea. It may not please farmers, but it does concentrate urban conurbations into a place with a reason.
Step up Ontario. Committing $20bnCAD (€7.1bn) for Canada’s first high-speed rail network, linking towns with no obvious need, is brave for any administration. But link Toronto with Windsor (Canada’s southernmost city and roughly the size of Bradford) because Google and Blackberry are located there, and you see the thinking behind the scheme. Roll on Silicon Valley, Ontario.
The difference is in the positioning. On the one hand, you have Oxford and Cambridge already established – let’s join them up and fill in the gap. On the other, you have a line extending beyond corporations that happen to hit two points on the map and here’s the money to make them want to stay and attract more of the same. The mission may be the same but there’s a subtle difference between the positions, but an important one. In Ontario the message seems to be consumer-centric: thank you for being here, Google, now we’re going to make it better for you versus the UK, which seems to say; we have these things already so let’s sweat the asset. Watch this space.
There are still a few places on our workshop, Spotting trends and signals: seeing things differently, in September. Book here.
You can see all September workshop dates on our website here or give us a call for old-fashioned talking on +44 (0)20 8144 9800.
Seeing it differently. Future-proofing. It’s what we do.