"A very pragmatic generation"
Trend researcher Sven Gábor Jánszky, head of the renowned 2b AHEAD think tank in Leipzig, on the worldview of Generation Y, the mobility-related preferences of digital natives and their disruptive effects on the transport systems of the future.
Mr. Jánszky, Generation Y covers those who are now between 16 and 35 years old and are the first so-called digital natives. How do the thought patterns of people who have never known anything other than the digital world differ fundamentally from those of their elders?
Sven Gábor Jánszky: In the main, I see two key points. Firstly, Generation Y has a significantly more pronounced sense of the almost unlimited possibilities that digitalization offers – and of the enormous freedom for individuals that this entails. In contrast, many members of previous generations experience digitalization as more of a curtailment of personal freedom. A possibly even more momentous difference could be the ratio between the number of accessible options and the time available to take advantage of them. Generation Y no longer seeks to maximize their options for action, because they already have more than enough – for them the limiting factor is time. And this is exactly why time is the relevant criterion in all their decisions.
How will the extremely high importance that digital natives attach to the time factor change the world of mobility?
Sven Gábor Jánszky: Fundamentally. Previous generations assumed that they had no way in which they could save much time when it came to mobility. That is why they wanted to make the many hours spent on the road as pleasant as possible. Hence the automotive industry developed the car we know today: as fast as possible, as safe as possible, as comfortable as possible. But the core of this automotive world view was always the presence of an active driver. Digital natives do not share this view. This begins with the fact that they consider physical mobility as a kind of evil that is no longer necessary and should be kept to a minimum.
And how exactly will people travel if they do not really want to be ‘on the road’?
Sven Gábor Jánszky: When digital natives have to be mobile, they at least want to use the time for another fruitful activity in parallel. This in turn only works in a vehicle that does not need an active driver, in which the users can take the role of mere passengers and get involved with other things such as working, eating, playing with their children, exercising or sleeping. Ideally, cars should adapt flexibly to meet the users’ particular wish for parallel use at each moment, while taking them quickly and safely from A to B. So we are confronted with very different requirements that will lead to very different products – and ultimately to very different business models.
And what does this mean for the classic car manufacturers?
Sven Gábor Jánszky: In my view, car manufacturers need to accept as soon as possible that in the foreseeable future they can no longer earn money from the sale of vehicles. Because the more self-driving cars will be out there and available at all times for everyone via a smartphone app, the less sense it will make for individuals to own a car. The automakers must develop into mobility service providers. However, we should have no illusions about one thing: Tomorrow's mobility market will be more aggressively fought over than ever – with significantly more competition and rapidly falling prices. A look at the development of commodities such as electricity or telecommunications certainly gives us a good idea of what will happen. By the way, this is something that digital natives consider absolutely normal for any service or product that is permanently available.
When it comes to competition, are you thinking of newcomers like Uber, Lyft & Co.?
Sven Gábor Jánszky: Yes, but by no means just them. For example, we will also have to reckon with car rental companies and companies from other mobility areas such as airlines or railway operators. Even companies from right outside the sector, such as department stores or supermarket chains, may think about offering the hitherto idle capacities of their fleets to the open market for passenger or goods transport.
A recent trend study came to the conclusion that public transport will have to reinvent itself. What might this process look like?
Sven Gábor Jánszky: The most important factor is that the transport operators should look very closely at the questions of whom they will be competing against in the future, and for whose custom they will be fighting. Digital natives are of course going to make up an ever larger proportion of the target group for transport operators, and they are being courted by an increasing number of market players – with very affordable and highly individualized offers. In this scenario, it is important to find conclusive answers. I would, for example, offer products that provide users with time benefits. In general these offer very good prospects of success.
What about the emotional state of digital natives as regards mobility? Is the car no longer a status symbol for them, and driving no longer a badge of freedom, individuality and sovereignty?
Sven Gábor Jánszky: In this respect too, Generation Y has a quite rational attitude – and also a highly differentiated one, as shown by their understanding of "freedom", for instance. In metropolitan areas, personal freedom is actually increased by not having your own car, so young urbanites see no reason to buy one. In rural areas, the opposite is true. In such places, there are probably no providers that will bring a vehicle to the user's door within a maximum of ten minutes after it has been ordered via smartphone. So in rural regions, even digital natives will certainly continue to own cars.
20 years ago, people’s characteristic fear of new technologies would still have been a high hurdle to overcome before autonomous cars could be introduced. Not anymore?
Sven Gábor Jánszky: Technophobia basically only occurs with technologies that are new to our lives, not those that were already there when we were born. Nobody is a technophobe when it comes to their TV sets. Digital natives are just as technophobic as all other generations, but not towards the digital technology with which they grew up.
According to your vision, in which direction would modern transport technology need to develop to get fit for the future?
Sven Gábor Jánszky: Technology providers would have to recognize and develop the role they want their products to play within innovative, intelligent and intermodal mobility networks. How can technology integrate the numerous subsystems with which the new transport providers will control their autonomous fleets? How can it use the available sensors to make the overall system even faster and more efficient? Technology providers may also consider whether to profit from their own extensive know-how and themselves become players in the mobility market, for example by offering their own smart mobility wizard.