The rapid growth of electric vehicles is a social and industrial phenomenon with far-reaching implications.
In around five years, the e-vehicle has moved from being an expensive statement of green credentials for Hollywood stars to the first transport choice for individuals and fleet managers.
The evidence is everywhere.
In China, there are driving restrictions on vehicles that use fossil fuels, while e-vehicles can be driven seven days a week. Across Europe, local authorities are building municipal transport models based on electric buses and are looking to smart driverless systems for the future. In the USA, where personal freedom and gas-guzzling were until recently seen as basic conjoined rights, the link between petrol and patriotism is changing forever.
This movement is not just the result of viable battery technologies, engine efficiency and rapid recharge.
It’s not even the result just of a growing sense of individual and institutional environmental awareness or indeed in its role as perceived catalyst to economic growth by government.
It is also a consequence of genuine changes in the operational vision and in a willingness to explore new business models in utility, manufacturing and public-sector organizations.
From theory to practice
Consultants and futurologists put the willingness to embrace new business models at the heart of their message. Every day, we read that sustainability and success will depend on our continuing ability to reinvent the ways we do business.
With the e-vehicle revolution, we are now starting to see entirely new business models turning from theory into practice.
Last year, we held a joint development workshop in Paris with guests from many sectors to consider the wider implications of e-vehicles.
We welcomed experts from many sectors and professional backgrounds. Utilities and automotive companies were naturally represented. So too were experts in transactions and payments; in urban transport management; in fuel cell technology; and in information analytics.
One key point of consensus emerged.
All participants agreed that open collaboration and innovation are going to be key in developing opportunity. We agreed that the four-way convergence between utility infrastructure, transport infrastructure, data and telecommunications infrastructures now becomes the foundation of smarter and greener mobility for both goods and people.
Changing models – Changing behavior
This fluid collaboration between industries and sectors that have previously kept largely within traditional boundaries also becomes a driver for fundamental change in social behavior.
Just consider vehicle ownership, for example.
Until relatively recently, the automotive industry was built on a belief in ownership. Sure, there were plenty of variants according to lease, outright purchase, financing and fleet – but with all of these, for the automotive company, the vehicle sale underpinned everything else.
Now that’s changing. In crowded urban environments, for example, it becomes more important to think about journey models than vehicle ownership. Citizens want access to the service, not ownership of the means – a trend which is pretty much reflected across all sectors, including our own!
The road ahead
This fundamental redefinition of traditional business models certainly impacts the utility companies.
Until now, customers paid for what they consumed and that was it.
Developments such as local generation, smart grids and storage, things get more complicated.
In a world in which the service provider can end up paying the consumer, utilities need to think creatively about these changing relationships.
When, for example, journeys can be measured in both kilometers and watts, how can a utility company make transport part of their client proposition? When customers make regular journeys, such as taking kids to school during term times, how can partnership between the utility, the local authority and local transport providers compose joint propositions which are cleaner, greener and more efficient?
We are at the start of a new era of innovation in which digital intelligence makes an essential contribution. The fact that you can even consider “vehicle to grid”, by which stored electricity in stationary vehicles could be used to feed-in to meet spikes in power requirement would have been beyond imagination just a few years ago.
One of the real privileges of working with a company of business technologists like Atos, is the ability to help bring together forward-thinking professionals from across our client base.
We are keen to take these initial explorations into the social and industrial impact of e-vehicles forward. No matter whether you are from financial services or insurance, from logistics and freight, from automotive or indeed utilities, these are going to be some of the hottest and most inspirational topics in an age of digital transformation.