Monday, February 14, 2011

Detroit Motor Show 2011 and Future of Mobility

The Detroit Motor Show typically kicks off the year and sets the tone for rest of the year. After taking 2 years of bashing and undergoing a turmoil, this show marked the solidarity of automotive industry in general and three American automotive companies – General Motors, Ford and Chrysler in particular. They have removed a few brands but have emerged leaner and healthier.  European automakers  understand the subconscious need of American customers - maintaining the carmaker’s identity yet be seen as American. Volkswagen valued that and presented an all American Passat model. Hyundai stamped their mark by stunning designs and new concepts that are likely to become legends. The show is abuzz with all new models on the showcase trying to wow the customers. It was a  motorshow as usual, unless you notice the small undercurrents that point towards future of mobility.

It is widely belived that mobility is on the verge of a great revolution. It is going to change far beyond recognition from what it is today.  At Frost & Sullivan, I am heading a global program called Global Urban Mobility Tracker. In this year long tracking program, we understand the issues and challenges in Urban Mobility by talking to over 26,000 commuters in 23 cities across the globe. The findings are indeed very interesting.
We calculate Journey Experience Index (JEI) based on speed of travel, timeliness, comfort and overall experience. This Index indicates how satisfied the commuters are with their current mode of transportation. The gap between JEI for individual transport (such as Cars) stands at 71 and that of public transport at 42. There is over 30 point gap between both of them. This indicates that car owners are happier with their mode of transport than the public transport commuters. This is in spite of average expenditure on car is significantly higher. Our data suggests that average travel time does not reduce drastically because of car. In fact, car usage introduces further delays and wastage in travel time as significant time is spent on searching for parking, accident, breakdown and repairs. Despite all this, commuters love the comfort and convenience offered by the car, which reflects in the JEI.

Urban Mobility tracker also has some findings about car commuters that set you thinking.

  • Globally, average speed of travel within cities is 28 km/hr only

  • Close to 60% of the commuters travel alone.

  • 8% of the time is wasted to search for parking globally

Travelling by car leads to wastage of time and Journey Experience in Publich transport is below par.  The latent need for a new mobility solution is quite obvious here. Detroit Motorshow 2011, also presented the alternatives. They did not attract the media attention they deserved. But for me they are the first footsteps of revolution in mobility.

  • Ford occupied the centerstage with a track for test driving electric vehicles. Ford Focus electric which was displayed in other motorshows was present. The other model being test driven was “Transit connect”. The name itself suggests that Ford has started thinking about multimodal transport and how they can create a product that can dovetail into the new mobility world.


  • GM displayed working model of EN-V. This is a futuristic concept of a travel capsule which is one fourth of the size of the car and weighing less than 500 kg. It is an intelligent mode of transport. It can sense obstacles and avoid collisions by itself. The maximum speed is about 40 km/hr which is well above the average speed within cities. This mode of transport is expected to provide the last mile connectivity that is required for a sustainable mobility solution.


These are some of the notable mobility concepts that were on display in Detroit. Modern Mobility concept are taking baby steps and making their presence felt as a sci-fi to real life. If the trends emerging out of Global Urban Mobility Tracker are to be believed, these concepts would become reality sooner than we think.

More than 100 years ago, the automotive industry in Detroit had revolutionized urban mobility globally, by mass-producing cars, when the conventional mode of transport was horse carriage. Can Detroit do the same trick again by inventing new mobility solution when the conventional mode of transport is a car?

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