Navigant Research Blog

Innovation in New Mobility Offerings

— June 2, 2015

Rideshare app company Uber is continuing on its phenomenal growth trajectory. In the 6 years since the company launched in San Francisco, it has expanded into 300 cities in 58 countries. What’s more, Uber has raised $5.9 billion in 10 funding rounds. During the most recent funding round, in early 2015, the company was valued at an astonishing $40 billion, and it anticipates a $50 billion valuation in its next funding round. The much smaller rideshare app company Lyft, which operates in over 60 cities, has raised around $1 billion and was valued at $2.5 billion in its most recent funding round.

It is interesting to compare these companies to another company in the new mobility sector, carshare company Zipcar. Since it was founded in 2000, Zipcar has spread to around 250 locations and boasts more than 700,000 members. Although this is not an apples-to-apples comparison, it is interesting to note that Zipcar’s valuation from its 2011 initial public offering (IPO) was $1.2 billion; yet, in 2013, Avis Budget Group purchased Zipcar for $500 million.

Comparing Rideshare and Carshare

Uber is essentially being valued as a tech company, whereas carshare companies are more like a traditional business. This difference may seem somewhat counterintuitive since rideshare apps and carsharing are both part of the growing mobility sector. Both are services that thrive in the digital age. Rideshare services like Uber and Lyft would not exist without the smartphone. These services take advantage of the perpetual connectedness that a smartphone offers, for both drivers and users. Carsharing, on the other hand, is not dependent on smartphones, but it has embraced the ease of use that smartphones offer. While carshare companies can still operate from website and smart card access, the use of a smartphone app to locate and book cars opens up new business model opportunities like one-way service, where the vehicle can be returned to any location. One-way service encourages more impulse usage, with someone realizing that a car might be an easier way to get where they are going based on traffic or weather conditions.

The possibility of more usage is key to the success of carsharing because, in spite of the enormous success of the carshare sector over the past 15 years, companies can still struggle to consistently report a profit. Carshare companies have significant expenses due to vehicle leasing, maintenance, and fueling, as well as parking, which can be very costly. By contrast, rideshare companies don’t bear the costs of physical infrastructure. Fundamentally, what these companies are is a matchmaker service, and this requires significantly less upfront investment. This is part of what has allowed Uber to expand so swiftly. And these services are used much more frequently, with over 1 million rides occurring daily. Carshare companies are more like a traditional business with ongoing physical infrastructure costs that make it harder to scale as rapidly.

What will be interesting is to see how Uber and Lyft can leverage their strengths to create new revenue streams. It will also be interesting to watch carshare companies evolve in this new environment. Zipcar has been rolling out one-way service, while Swiss carshare company Mobility Cooperative invested in sharoo, a company that offers a private carsharing platform. The new mobility space will increasingly encourage these kinds of innovations and partnerships.

 

The EV Could Mean the End of the Brake Pedal

— June 1, 2015

The battery electric vehicle (BEV) will likely remain a small fraction of the overall automotive market for many years to come, according to Navigant Research’s Electric Vehicle Geographic Forecasts. However, spending time with the BMW i3 left me pondering the possibilities for changing the automotive human-machine interface by eliminating the brake pedal.

A recent New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell about automotive safety brought to mind the 2010 Toyota recall crisis prompted by consumer complaints about sudden unintended acceleration. While the automaker replaced the floor mats and accelerator pedal assemblies that could stick, the root cause of most of the reported incidents was determined to be pedal misapplication by drivers. This is a recurring problem for many brands, most prominently Audi in the mid-1980s.

What Does Pedal Misapplication Have To Do with BEVs?

BMW’s 2007 megacity project to investigate sustainable transportation in a world with increasing number of densely populated urban centers settled on electrification as a key component of any solution. BMW partnered with California-based AC Propulsion to retrofit a fleet of MINI hatchbacks, to gather real-world data on how people used EVs.

The MINI E featured unusually aggressive regenerative braking. Previous EVs I had driven had been programmed to replicate the behavior of traditional vehicles with a little bit of creep ahead when the brake was released and mild deceleration similar to engine braking when the accelerator pedal was released. Releasing the right pedal of the MINI E brought on about 0.5g of deceleration, which would be considered hard braking under most circumstances. Real-world driving data has shown that 80% to 90% of stops involve deceleration of less than 0.3g, with most being less than 0.2g.

In addition to electric propulsion, BMW decided to rethink everything about urban driving, including braking. Since the MINI E, many manufacturers have introduced plug-in vehicles, and virtually every one of them has defaulted to the traditional approach for brake control. Most of these vehicles include some form of simulated down-shift that triggers stronger regenerative braking, but most drivers are probably unaware this even exists.

The ActiveE, a second-generation EV prototype came out in 2011, followed by BMW’s definitive BEV, the i3 in 2014. Like its predecessors, the i3 retains the one-pedal strategy, and it makes perfect sense in a vehicle targeted for urban driving.

“I would say that it’s absolutely the most calming car I’ve driven in stop-and-go urban traffic jams. I think the single-pedal drive has benefits I didn’t appreciate,” said John Voelker, editor-in-chief of GreenCarReports.com. “Sebastian Blanco of Autoblog and I drove it together at the Amsterdam launch, and we both struggled to figure out why being caught in horrible, chaotic, European rush hour was just fine. Seriously, the only car I’ve ever been able to call soothing.”

During a 90-mile round trip drive to a meeting with the i3, I could count the number of times I touched the brake pedal on my fingers, and once I became accustomed to it, I found it worked extremely well. When considered from a safety perspective, dropping the brake pedal would immediately eliminate instances of pedal misapplication since a driver only has to release the pedal to stop. Fewer accidents mean less congestion, wasted fuel, and time. Since all new vehicles include electronic stability control, the ability to tie brake application to movement of the accelerator pedal already exists even for non EVs. It seems like only a matter of time before the brake pedal follows other anachronisms like the manual transmission and the foot-operated high-beam switch into the annals of automotive history.

 

More EVs Might Mean Changes to Parking Garages

— May 27, 2015

The adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) seems to be unstoppable. In Electric Vehicle Market Forecasts, Navigant Research estimates that plug-in EVs will make up 2.4% of total worldwide light duty vehicle sales by 2023. EVs will thus have a profound impact on the electrical grid, but how will they affect buildings?

Currently, the most visible impact has been the proliferation of electric vehicle charging stations. Driven largely by LEED requirements and state-level incentives, many commercial buildings have dedicated parking spaces for EVs. Indeed, in some markets, EVs have enough of a presence that commercial buildings are installing charging stations in response to demand from the market. But, increased adoption of EVs may necessitate new paradigms for the design of parking garages.

The Solution to Pollution Is Dilution

Parking garages need ventilation. In addition to the carbon dioxide that contributes to climate change, internal combustion engines also emit a lot of other pollutants that are terrible to breathe. Parking garages need to exhaust these pollutants and replace them with fresh air in order to be compatible with human life. Building codes dictate the amount of air that needs to be exhausted based on the worst-case scenario: if every car in the garage was running at the same time.

This approach made sense when sensors and controls were expensive and difficult to use. However, with the sophistication of modern systems, demand-controlled ventilation (DCV) is becoming an attractive alternative to reduce energy consumption. DCV uses sensors to monitor air conditions and match the delivery of ventilated air with the actual need of the space. DCV saves substantial energy because the airflow that a fan provides has a cubic relationship with the power needed. As a result, halving the airflow of a fan reduces the power consumption to one-eighth of the full airflow. Some systems can reduce peak kilowatt-hour demand by up to 95%.

Unlike internal combustion engine vehicles, EVs do not create emissions that need to be exhausted (that happens at the power plant). So, in a future with all EVs, garage ventilation requirements can be drastically reduced. But, in the meantime, the presence of EVs in parking garages translates to greater savings through DCV operation.

 

Do Shared Vehicles Need Standard User Interfaces?

— May 14, 2015

Personal mobility is in the early stages of the most significant transformation since the birth of the Ford Model T more than a century ago. A shift from personal ownership to shared use of vehicles is expected to accelerate as an important means of enabling mobility while alleviating the negative aspects our transportation ecosystem. Navigant Research’s report, Alternative Revenue Streams for Automakers, projects that there were will be more than 26 million members of carsharing services by 2023. Automakers recognize the threat this change represents to their business model, and they are scrambling to adapt, but what about the drivers constantly exposed to changing user interfaces every time they use a different vehicle?

As thousands of engineers from across the globe gathered in Detroit recently for the SAE 2015 World Congress, one of the more surprising topics of discussion was whether vehicles should adopt a common human-machine interface. While politicians like to point at the rise of cellphone use in vehicles as a cause of driver distraction, more fundamental design issues can be just as problematic. As more functionality comes to vehicles, controls are needed. Anyone using a new vehicle for the first time is likely to be overwhelmed trying to figure out basic functions like climate control. Manufacturer’s desire to differentiate their products just makes things worse.

Taking Action against Distraction

When Apple introduced the iPad in January 2010, late-CEO Steve Jobs said that anyone that knew how to use an iPhone already knew how to use an iPad. A big part of Apple’s success over the years has been the consistency of its user interfaces. They evolve over time, but they stay consistent enough that users can migrate from one product to another. The same cannot be said for most automobile features, which often vary widely within an individual brand’s lineup.

David Acton, managing principal of P3 North America, suggested at the congress that all vehicles should have a common user interface to help avoid the distraction. This may actually be a step too far considering the technologies available now and in the near future. For example, the Tesla Model S already features a 17-inch touch screen display in the center console for the various controls and displays with another reconfigurable display screen in the traditional instrument location ahead of the driver. As a virtual control interface, these displays can be reprogrammed to suit a driver’s needs.

Google’s Chrome browser and ChromeOS automatically save a user’s settings to the cloud, reloading bookmarks and extensions whenever that user logs in from any computer. Logging out can delete those settings from the machine. If every manufacturer were to include reconfigurable control and display surfaces in their vehicles, a driver could set preferences and then immediately save them either to a cloud account or locally on a phone they connect to the vehicle. From then on, every time they get behind the wheel of a new vehicle, they could connect their phone or log in to instantly retrieve their preferred control layout. Preferences could even include physical settings like the seat and mirror positions.

Best of all, these virtual control surfaces could be integrated into surroundings that still leave flexibility for designers to differentiate their products. The combination of virtual controls and connectivity could enable a blend of personalization and familiarity that reduces complexity for drivers as we make the transition toward a more shared transportation ecosystem that reduces urban congestion and energy use.

 

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