Autotech future will be led by start-ups, not auto industry

3 Feb 2016

Is car ownership reaching its twilight hours? According to Comtrade’s VP/GM of mobility and travel, Marko Javornik, it’s not just the days of private ownership that are under threat, but the auto industry itself in the face of great technological upheaval.

When it comes to seeing what the latest advancements in autotech are, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything particularly groundbreaking coming from the major established corporations like General Motors or Ford.

If there is any innovation, it’ll be that perhaps it’s adding a hybrid or electric engine to one of its established model of a car, or kitting out its interior with an improved car entertainment system like Apple’s CarPlay or Android Auto.

But when you ask yourself which companies and organisations are likely to affect how the next 10 or 20 years play out for transportation, we are looking to the big names in tech like Apple, Google and relative newcomer Uber.

The latter is known as the sometimes-controversial ride-sharing company, which has its sights firmly set on getting rid of human drivers altogether and replacing them with autonomous cars.

IT company Comtrade’s go-to person for all things autotech and the digitisation of the industry is Marko Javornik, a man who travels to many of the centres of the largest automakers to see what’s going on in an industry in the midst of considerable flux.

Recently, Javornik compiled a study for Comtrade online that looked at much more than simply what cars we will be driving in the future, but also how all the other forms of transport – cycling, buses, trains etc – will be integrated into a single, efficient digital platform accessible online from wherever someone is in a city, commonly referred to as mobility-as-a-service (MaaS).

Auto industry as a Nokia in a world of Instagram

Speaking to, Javornik says that in an era when competition for online services is fierce, the car as a status symbol and something you own is not a long-term concept.

“Today, you’re locked in with your investment you make [by purchasing a car] over a couple of years,” he says.

“For every trip, you’re voting with your wallet or mobile app. Do I choose Uber, bike or something else? This will enable some completely new kinds of services that we don’t even see today.

“We [at Comtrade] are kind of trying to expect the unpredictable and build the tech that will allow fast deployment of new mobility services integrated into a system that will allow ease of use for the end users.”

And it is this competition, Javonik says, that will pit them against one another to develop the technologies required for a more advanced, digital autotech in ways that the traditional auto industry – and even the giant tech companies – just have no way of undertaking in the long-term.

Comparing it with the decline of Nokia, Jovornik says: “There’s more and more consensus that it will be a dramatic shift from where it used to be and that there will be new ‘Nokias’ around, so companies that have a market share will lose it because they will not be able to adapt.

“There will be new Instagrams and Facebooks and so forth … we are in the middle of an earthquake.”

Future autotech Comtrade

VP/GM of Mobility & Travel at Comtrade, Marko Javornik. Image via Comtrade


City infrastructure struggling to cope

Based off Javornik’s own research, at least, it does appear that the privately-owned car and major cities just don’t mix, with the average person using their own car only about 5pc of time, with an average of 1.2 people in it during a trip.

“In most cities, the road infrastructure is running at capacity and in a future where two trends are population growth and urbanisation,” he says in the report, “it’s not clear how much longer it can continue.

“There’s simply no way to build significantly more parking spaces and more roads. Consequently, privately-owned cars in cities can’t give us the individual freedom of mobility that we hoped for. With average speeds in the big cities below 16km/h, and 30pc of the driving time associated with searching for parking spaces, the value that we get is far from ideal.”

What’s clear from his perspective, though, is that local governments in major cities around the world need to loosen their grip on their control of public transportation infrastructure.

The biggest obstacle apparent, seemingly, is the European attitude towards public transport being limiting to innovation.

“If you look at Europe, most of the cities are actually subsiding public transportation, because of this it is impossible to easily contribute with innovation because they simply cannot make the money on the market.

“In the US, it’s not like this. In the US, the role of public transportation is much lower, which means companies like Uber and Lyft are aggressive and disruptive, which promotes innovations and makes very good business sense.”

Shifting gears from private car ownership

Similarly, the sheer necessity to create more digital options for people in countries with huge and ever-growing populations in Asia, like China, will see even greater innovations made.

Although it will prove a considerable struggle to dissuade the now estimated 172m private car owners in China to either ride-share or ditch their cars eventually altogether and replace them with autonomous vehicles, for example.

This attempt to dissuade private car ownership, Javornik says, will make or break the more efficient future Javornik and Comtrade are envisioning, but both he and the company feel that the younger generations just don’t have the same attachment to owning a car as their parents might have.

“It is proven that mobile phone is becoming now the first status symbol instead of the car as it is with my generation,” he suggests. “Things change from that perspective.

“The other thing is that, of course, we need to build platforms and the technologies so that we give a viable alternative and we need to create awesome user experience and sexy interfaces and so forth and this is also very important.”

With expectations that 66pc of the world’s population will live in cities by the end of the decade, the decision to move from private transportation to a MaaS option might not just be a better option, but a necessity.

City from above image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic