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The future of mobility

Why individuality still matters for car brands

Lukas Hartmann

Strategy Director & New Business Director

thjnk AG



They say individual mobility is vanishing, and not just because carmakers have been at the sharp end of international criticism over their emissions. The greater challenge to traditional ways of selling cars is the new generation of consumers known as millennials.


These young consumers have entirely different priorities when it comes to mobility. They are far more concerned about technology and the environment than older generations, and are no longer buying cars as status symbols. But the biggest difference is this: for millennials, cars and mobility are no longer synonymous. Mobility – getting around – can mean a combination of different options that gets someone from A to B, of which a car (perhaps shared) is only one element. The need for individual mobility – having your own car – is losing relevance.


Technological and infrastructural innovations such as electrification, connectivity, car-sharing and autonomous driving are changing the range of available options for mobility and at the same time changing the way people think about mobility. And that means carmakers need to think differently about what they produce and how they communicate.


But it’s not yet a done deal. Nobody doubts the long-term impact of this mega trend. But humans as a species are prone  to confuse trends with fate. Let us be clear about one thing: trends by their very nature are shaped by communication. Their destiny is not predetermined.


When we read headlines like „The market for new mobility services will reach US$2 trillion by 2030“1 we tend to think the days of individual mobility are numbered. But don’t forget that numbers like these assume that traditional carmakers will not adapt their communication strategies to account for consumers’ changing needs and priorities.


The bottom line is that the decline of individual mobility is not an autonomous process; it depends on consumer needs, and while this challenges carmakers, it can also provide them with opportunities.

And change may not be as fast as we imagine. Research shows that 84 percent of German drivers say they don’t see car sharing as an option for them in future. This may change, of course, but it means that now, there’s chance to shape future consumer preferences and mobility concepts.


For brands in the business of individual mobility, we have some recommendations on how to stay relevant while moving with the times.


1. Realize that a car can be a magical thing to its owner

For the new generation, cars are more than a tool to get from A to B. Security and harmony become central to what a car can offer over the alternatives, and for young people, vehicles are highly emotional. They are the tools of explorers, hiding places for lovers, and even mobile homes and „safe havens“ to some. They are a private space, almost as intimate as the home. It’s where you keep your spare lipstick; your phone charger and your music are there. From a communications perspective, the range of potential messages to consumers is therefore huge. Consider the role of the vehicle as an intimate part of people’s lives. Try to express the deep potential of individuality for the definition of mobility itself. This area is currently underexplored.


2. Understand the difference between consumers

In urban areas, individual mobility is losing its relevance faster than in rural areas, but city-dwellers are not all alike, either. The future of mobility in cities will depend on population density, wealth and local governance capabilities. Future mobility in New Delhi will look different than new mobility in Berlin. Communications must be tailored to these different spaces and the people who live in them.


3. Integrate cars into the digital life-world of your consumers.

Cars are not only part of the transport infrastructure, but they are also part of a system in people’s minds that helps them to make sense of the world around them. Another important mental system of this kind is the increasingly relevant digital world. People can make much more sense of how a vehicle integrates into their world if it is networked with other digital systems, such as smartphones or smart homes. Such integration embeds cars deeper into consumers’ mental structures.


4. Explain your mind-blowing innovations clearly and make them relevant

Throughout the years we have seen mind-blowing innovations within the car industry. But don’t for a second think that your consumers will understand how essential certain innovations are. They are not engineers, so don't explain your innovations as if they were. Show them in a different light. Surprise them!

The upshot of all this is that the world of mobility is undergoing significant change. But this does not mean that individual mobility has no future. Carmakers should not fall for the hype; the opportunities that remain for individual mobility might be bigger than they imagine.