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2020-2030: The anticipated impact of disruptive technology in transportation

Global warming calls on us to free ourselves from fossil fuels that emit high levels of greenhouse gases. In fact, the energy and transport sectors will be revolutionised in the next 10 years. In this article, I focus on transport, and how disruptive technology in transportation will likely impact the industrial, urban, and environmental sectors, as well as individual freedom in the coming decade. 

Historically, a major technological breakthrough in this sector occurred with the advent of the automobile industry. In 10 years, from 1910 to 1920, we replaced horses with cars, built new industries, created roads, fought wars, and survived the Spanish Flu. 

Indeed, in 1900, there were no cars on the streets, but horses to transport us. In 1913, there were hardly any horses in the streets of the big cities, but cars whose engine output was measured in horsepower! Here is a disruptive example of technology that has had a huge impact on our societies and even our taste in food. What did we do with horses? We ate them!

Keeping this above example, we can measure the tidal wave of disruptive technology in our lifestyles and in the organization of cities. The question that follows is, can we anticipate it?

Conditions must first be met to enable us to anticipate. For this, the convergence of several factors is needed. Firstly, the technologies must be available and therefore production and distribution must be operational. Secondly, they must be accessible, in terms of price for the consumer and the consumer must accept the idea. Finally, the legislator must define the framework. Another factor, such as an upheaval in the economy can accelerate a technological transition or the development of a new industry. 

What is the situation in the transport sector?

We are already experiencing a health crisis with Covid-19, which is having a colossal impact on our economic models. The air sector is on the ground, and the oil and gas sector is collapsing. 

Over the past five years, investments in research and development in clean technologies have totalled several billion dollars. They are aimed at decarbonizing the global economy. 

The convergence of new technologies, such as batteries, electric motors and driverless vehicles – which have become more efficient than current means – will revolutionize the transport sector. In fact, batteries are available and increasingly compact, and their price has been falling since 2014.

Electric vehicles are cheaper per kilometre than internal combustion vehicles. Recharging an electric vehicle is 10 times cheaper than a full tank of fossil fuels. They require less maintenance and have a longer lifespan. Major players in the e-commerce sector should be interested, as an electric van can travel up to 800,000 kilometres. This is the case of Amazon, which has announced that by 2024 they will have a fleet of 100,000 electric vans for home deliveries.

The trend is for transport to become a service, with the disappearance of the individual car and the growth of a fleet of shared vehicles. The business model will also be disruptive with consumer subscriptions, as is the case with Netflix, for example. 

Autonomous vehicles are an inevitable evolution, one of the obvious turning points in the automotive industry. First, they are 7 times safer than chauffeured vehicles. Second, new entrants in the technological world want to transform driving into convenience and generate revenue through the time freed up during the journey and therefore available to be connected to their services.

Dozens of companies are making huge investments to win this juicy €500 billion deal, according to Boston Consulting Group and AT Kearney. A parallel can be drawn with what happened with the computer or the smartphone: the first companies to develop the technology will dominate the market, a bit like Apple did.

This revolution of the transport sector will have consequences for industrial, urban, and environmental sectors, as well as on individual freedoms, in these 10 years. Thereby, the impact of disruptive technology in transportation will need to be anticipated:

  • In the case of industries, there is, on the one hand, the impact of the breakthrough for thermal vehicle manufacturers, equipment manufacturers, and mechanics. On the other hand, a new sector to be created with a new business model: fleet operators, financing, manufacturers, maintenance.
  • The impact on urban planning will be colossal. Cities and territories must absolutely anticipate and plan for future developments, particularly in terms of infrastructure, with a long-term vision. Road infrastructures will be integrated throughout the world, road networks will be secured, vehicle recharging points will be provided, green spaces, cycle paths, and pedestrian areas will increase, sidewalks will become an asset, parking lots will disappear and land will be reused, new industrial clusters will be created, etc.
  • Environmentally, a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions is foreseeable. However, recycling requires increased investment. Batteries and electronic components will have to be recycled. The research is ongoing, but we do not yet have a real solution, including solar panels to help produce the necessary energy.
  • Concerning individual liberties, the revolution in transport will have consequences on the collection of personal data by market players, who will be able to accurately analyse our lifestyles and habits, consolidate data to create profiles, and monetize them with other players. There is a real risk of infringing individual freedom, and we must be aware of this. The management of personal data, its protection and cybersecurity are sensitive subjects that must be anticipated: who will hold the keys to the temple? 

I don’t think we are going backwards, but I really believe that we have to anticipate the future, because this example of transport shows how much our model is going to change and I don’t feel that people are aware of the overall impact.

At Ergapolis, we care about keeping our planet healthy and pollution-free. If you have any questions or comments regarding the impact of disruptive technology in transportation, do get in touch

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