Coffee Shops or Cars: What’s Driving Urban Mobility?

New lecture series hears from Volkswagen and SEAT

02/06/2015 Barcelona

“Our vision for the future of mobility is grounded in the three “C’s” of connectivity, convenience and community,” Wolfgang Müller-Pietralla, head of Corporate Foresight at Volkswagen / Photo: iStock

Coffee shops mean more to Generation Y than cars because they connect people.

So says Wolfgang Müller-Pietralla, head of Corporate Foresight at Volkswagen. Speaking at the inaugural session of a new IESE lecture series on the Future of Urban Mobility, he pointed to the different priorities of people born in the 1980s.

"They are concerned about the environment; they use mobile technology; they like to experiment and like to form communities. For car makers, this presents a big challenge," he added. "Our vision for the future of mobility is grounded in the three "C’s" of connectivity, convenience and community."

Innovations in digital technology will create increasing connectivity between people, vehicles and infrastructure, such as roads and traffic lights, said Müller-Pietralla. This connectivity will allow for greater efficiencies in the transportation of people and goods.

Where Is Urban Mobility Headed?

Looking at the next 15 years, Müller-Pietralla predicted the following developments:

  • Vehicles of a much greater variation of sizes, adapted to specific tasks and market segments.
  • Ever-increasing communication between vehicles and infrastructure. Traffic lights will adapt to better regulate flows, drivers will be able to adjust their routes based on current conditions and self-parking cars will be able to make best use of available spaces.
  • Self-driving cars and trucks will come into common use, first on highways and later in cities.
  • Car sharing and cooperative use of vehicles will become more prevalent.
  • Traffic systems will have a greater predictive ability. They will increase transportation efficiency by anticipating usage.

Current projects in development that make use of connectivity include Volvo’s interactive helmet for bicyclists. This can communicate with other vehicles, and warn the rider and nearby drivers of their respective trajectories to help them to avoid accidents.

Müller-Pietralla also mentioned a parcel delivery system that is being jointly developed by Audi, Amazon and DHL. It will locate a customer’s car and provide the delivery person with a one-time access key to its trunk, allowing the customer’s purchases to be delivered directly into the vehicle.

Self-Driving Cars: Ready to Hit the Road?

Google attracted publicity earlier this year when it unveiled a prototype of its Self-Driving Car project in San Francisco. The tech giant announced plans to have the cars on sale by 2020 but Müller-Pietralla said that he felt the date was overly optimistic.

"I am not sure if Google’s project will be successful," he said. "We believe that autonomous driving systems will not be present in cities before 2030 because the urban environment can be extremely complex."

According to Müller-Pietralla, Google’s system may require special roads. This would mean that Google cars would have to be segregated from other vehicles, something that would be impractical in cities.

Müller-Pietralla mentioned that Volkswagen’s own R&D engineers had begun working on the concept of self-driving cars 10 years ago and that their working prototype has now driven completely autonomously over more than 900 km in California.

"It had been seen as science fiction, but now it is a competitive issue and there is a huge battle coming up between traditional car companies and new ones," he said, adding he felt that Volkswagen is in a good position. However, he noted, Chinese companies are poised to make dramatic advances in this area in the next few years, so there is much work yet to be done.

Values Driving Innovation

Returning to the theme of urban mobility and the future, Müller-Pietralla reflected on the importance of values in innovation. He underlined the importance that new developments should be based upon the needs and ambitions of people.

"The future is about our values, not the values of governments or automotive companies," he said.

Müller-Pietralla was joined by IESE Professor Marc Sachon, who chaired the lecture together with Dr. Christoph Waeller of SEAT.