The car is dead. Long live the car company.
Recent trends in urban transportation have convinced us that the Jetsons may have been wrong about the flying cars of the future. In a changing urban jungle, millennials aren’t driving to work anymore – they’re hopping into Uber, Lyft or Chariot shuttles instead. The trend of relying on ridesharing and car-sharing services to get around is quickly catching on, and it’s looking like the families of the future may not own a car at all.
These changes are pushing brands into the 21st Century, which means radical transportation projects that span way beyond the car. At last year’s CES conference, Ford’s CEO, Mark Fields, made it clear that Ford will embrace this shift wholeheartedly when he called the auto industry giant a “mobility company” rather than a car company, as it’s long been. Ford’s kept its promise by buying Chariot for $65 million this past fall with plans to expand routes and provide up-to-the-minute ride scheduling, and this could be the move that stretches the company’s brand to include all kinds of transportation; after all, customers who already trust the Ford brand might be willing to switch out their city bus passes for Ford ones. This keeps the company relevant among all commuters, even those who aren’t interested in buying a car, and it’s certainly not the only one making changes. More and more car companies are opening innovation labs in Silicon Valley and tapping into a flood of technological developments.
BMW, for one, is claiming its place among the movers and shakers of the next generation and getting involved in revolutionary automotive solutions to come. The company opened Startup Garage in 2015, offering young companies advice, and boosting in the industry, with an aim to improve the modern cityscape for all. Now, BMW’s MINI brand is collaborating with Hax Futures to open A/D/O, a public design studio for creative teamwork between cutting-edge urban design startups that will host a startup accelerator called Urban-X.
Luxury car companies are stepping up to the plate, too. Under the Mercedez-Benz innovation division in Sunnyvale, California, Mercedes Boost promises to chauffeur the kids to soccer practice in a sleek, safe and reliable school bus system. Meanwhile, Cadillac is putting forward a leasing service called BOOK that costs customers $1500 a month for access to luxury vehicles at their demand. While the phrase school bus doesn’t exactly bring to mind luxury driving experiences, companies like Mercedes-Benz looking to expand their brands may be able to transform social perceptions of public transportation services, starting with more comfortable seats.
This spirit of innovation won’t likely signal the death of the car, but rather the death of the auto industry as we know it. The cityscapes of the future will include technologies created by auto industry names across the map, as car companies expand their reach to the trains, planes and automotive automobiles of the future. It’s the industry’s way of saying that they’re sticking around the neighborhood, and they’re here for good.
Whether compelled by a renewed sense of social responsibility or simply a growing social pressure to change, the auto industry’s new roots throughout the transportation sector signal major improvements for customers and for the environment. While no one can say for sure what urban transportation will look like in decades to come, it’s sure to usher in faster and easier ways to get around, and the long-overdue death of parking karma.