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The Future of Urban Mobility

Opportunities in the Design of New Products and Services
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José Luis Martín-Oar Ripoll

Business Strategist Lead

The Future of Urban Mobility 

There is no doubt that the future of urban mobility is based in three fundamental technological developments; connectivity, electrification and autonomy. All are in very different phases of maturity, each following its own particular innovation curve.

The development of mobile connectivity has already favored for some years the appearance of new business models and property that has transformed the way in which we travel in the public, private and public/private sectors. The electrification of vehicles is already a reality, with the first 100% electric, plugin rechargeables circulating around the city. It appears probable that vehicles of Level 4 autonomy (entirely autonomous) will arrive, according to experts, by 2025-2030.

This gap between the three innovation curves and the intimate relationship they have, make their convergence in the mobility sector experience the most important technological revolution since the invention of the car. During this period of change, we are witnessing the entry of new competitors that are altering the status quo of an industry previously reticent to change. Only time will tell who comes out the victor of this revolution and who will end up experiencing a “Kodak moment”.

In this article, we focus on the electrification of vehicles and specifically the impact they are having on urban mobility.

Brief History of the Electric Vehicle

“Range Anxiety”, developing the recharging infrastructure, changeable rechargeable batteries, and pricing by distance traveled…are innovative concepts with which we are familiarizing ourselves today. However, you may be surprised to know that the golden age of electric vehicles was at the beginning of the 20th century when they were first developed.

The Flocken Elektrowagen produced in 1888 until the beginning of the 20th century, generally considered to be the first electric vehicle, had great success and it’s estimated that in 1900 around a third of all vehicles on the road were electric. 

With the development of infrastructure, the increase in the distance that could be traveled and the finding of large oil reserves, electric vehicles progressively lost market share against the combustible engine to the point of primarily being used only in very specialized circumstances.

Why Today?

The renewed interest in electric vehicles is owed to two fundamental factors; the technological advances in batteries and added regulatory pressures that are being brought forth by international, national and local governments. 

It may seem strange to think that the rebirth of electric vehicles is linked to our mobile telephones, but the reality is the improved efficiency and reduction in price of these batteries has lead the way for an incredible increase in mobile devices, particularly smartphones. McKinsey estimates that within the space of five years, the price per kWh decreased from 1000 USD to 350 USD. With new mobile device technological applications that make use of stored energy arising daily, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that this process will only accelerate at an even faster pace.

Another fundamental factor to take in to consideration is pollution due to gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect and suspended particles. Governments are implementing stricter and stricter measures to reduce emissions by imposing taxes and traffic restrictions. The worries over pollution and sustainability are only exacerbated by projections of increased urban development. According to the United Nations, in 2030, 60% of the global population will live in urban regions as compared to 54.5% in 2016. It is foreseen that of this 60%, at least 27% will be concentrated in cities with populations of more than 1 million inhabitants and (of this 27%), approximately 8.7% (730 million people) will be in cities of at least 10 million inhabitants. 

The infamous Volkswagen “diesel gate” sped up the vehicle “electrification” of many manufacturers. In the case of VW, a few months later they sent out the message that diesel didn’t have a great future. They announced the production of 30 new electric/hybrid models during the next 10 years and a profound restructuring of their workforce.  

Another important movement in the automobile industry, and the electrification of vehicles, was protagonized by Volvo when they announced in June 2017 that all of their new 2019 models would have electric motors (solely electric or a combination of electric with another type). According to Volvo, the announcement represented one of the most significant that any manufacturer had made in recent years and highlighted the decline combustible engines are going to suffer as a transition is made to a new chapter in automobile history.

Search for Efficiency and Diversification

Electrification makes even more sense if it simplifies and reduces the massive volume of vehicles. An example of this is the many types of electric vehicles that are appearing on the market.

Under the premises of searching for a more balanced mode of urban transportation in high-density cities, electrification will be given a push by regulatory changes more so than the needs of consumers.

This “forced” electrification that will occur in the next years, aided by the developments in connectivity and new shared consumption models, will lead to a paradigm shift and polarization of commercial models where the majority of passenger vehicles will be owned and managed by public and/or private organizations – urban transportation 100% as a service. 

This transformation of urban transportation to a service, and reduction of private vehicles, will without a doubt promote multi-modality. The future of urban mobility will depend not only on the compartmentalized connectivity of new shared consumer models promoted by private organizations, but also the more efficient connectivity of the different public-private systems in order to achieve a system that responds to the new “on-demand” economy. 


It is necessary to make in-depth observations and keep an open mind to the factors that are involved. The context is wide-ranging. Designers are specialists that observe contexts, analyze them and reflect on them in search of insights and opportunities that allow us to define innovative solutions that support them. The solution to the urban mobility question is not to take a Golf and add a battery. It has to be more profound and rigorous. May things should be taken in to consideration. Should there be five seats? Should it weigh 1500 kg? Trial by error takes more time and a great deal of money, and can be avoided by applying design methodologies.

The diversification of vehicles opens the door to contemplate new possibilities. There is a richness of new sources, new technologies and new pushes for change, and the consequence is a richness of opportunities. All of this permits a variety of vehicles better adapted to the specific needs of consumers and businesses. 

The future of urban mobility in already well-established cities, and in developing countries, calls for continuous innovation in shared vehicle consumer models and ultimately the creation of new electric vehicle typologies that are more efficient and respond specifically to the needs of each user. 

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