High Tech Mobility is the Next Frontier

It is said that today’s teenagers are more interested in cell phones than in cars. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, but it does signal a kind of dematerialization that could create major opportunities for sustainable transportation. The triumph of the digital over the mechanical certainly has big implications for the design and use of vehicles.

First, there are the electronics-based improvements to the vehicle itself. Computer control of engines, drivetrain, and auxiliaries is a major enabler of today’s rapid rise in fuel economy, though perhaps a growing obstacle to do-it-yourself car repair. Then there’s the explosion in onboard information and communications technology, which is now a focus of vehicle marketing, especially to younger buyers. These trends feed a car aesthetic of smart and sleek, rather than the pursuit of raw power that dominated the ads until recently.

Moreover, cars increasingly will fit into a virtual, just-in-time lifestyle. That might mean, for example, major growth in on-demand transit services, home delivery, and car-sharing. More broadly, it will probably mean thinking about how to do what you need to do in a very different way. You’ll use a personal logistics app to optimize in real time the execution of the day’s activities with respect to time, money, and comfort. And maybe you will choose a new house based in part on the resources required to get where you want to go.

Matt Horton’s column in the Fall 2012 issue of Green Car Journal captured the spirit of this new vision of mobility. He described an all-purpose service station that provides everything a person on the move needs, whatever the technology, fuel, or mode of transport. Local governments, entrepreneurs, and advocates would do well to stay ahead of this changing mobility landscape and help to create a streamlined, efficient transportation system through the application of advanced technology.

Therese Langer is Transportation Program Director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, www.ACEEE.org