Autonomous car technology could benefit business travel programmes, but will require a massive shift of mindset, according to ground transport experts at a recent ACTE conference in London
The session at this year’s ACTE/CAPA London conference explored the onset of driverless cars and new modes of vehicle usage – such as technology that will enable autonomous vehicles to be booked, summoned and paid for on a user’s mobile device, for use only as and when needed.
Konstantin Sixt, chief sales officer of Sixt Rent a Car, pointed out that with private cars unused for 98 per cent of the time, ownership makes “no economic sense,” and that statistics showed younger consumers and workers are less and less interested in car ownership. Sixt said he sees the vehicle provider sector becoming increasingly a “mobility-as-a-service” model, following the trend in the software industry towards cloud-based services.
Pascal Struyve, global travel and fleet services director at Ingersoll Rand, said autonomous vehicles would offer major safety benefits from a travel management perspective, effectively solving the issue of how safe a traveller is to drive after a long-haul or night flight. “This is something we’ve all struggled with in our travel programmes, but that discussion will no longer need to happen.”
Wider safety implications were also discussed – the World Health Organisation reports that more than 1.25 million people die each year as a result of road traffic accidents, and with more than 90 per cent of these attributed to human error, driverless vehicles could have a major impact on these statistics.
However, Struyve said with a legacy of “status cars” being part of a compensation and benefits structure within organisations, change requires a major adjustment of mindset among employees, and that the speed of change will depend on factors including culture, workforce demographics, and taxation. He said the key question is when will new mobility options become a valid solution – i.e. a global solution, which would be needed for widespread adoption by corporate travel programmes.
But he pointed out that in some more remote factory locations, new car-sharing or vehicle-hailing solutions may not work. “You’ll need a model that adjusts itself based on what’s available and the needs of the workforce. One mobility programme could have a lot of sub-programmes based on local needs.”
Change is happening
Fleet Logistics sales director Stuart Donnelly said: “Autonomous cars are already here,” citing stages of technology evolution such as ABS (anti-lock braking systems), touchless reverse-parking capabilities and this year Volvo’s motorway autopilot technology. The session discussed recent developments such as widespread trialling of driverless cargo trucks on public roads in Europe, and the testing of autonomous ‘flying taxi’ drones in Dubai.
Donnelly said the key issues for progress will be regulatory, around safety and security, insurance and liability. On the supplier side, he said manufactures are working towards goals summarised by CASE: connected, autonomous, sharing, electric. But he said reports predicting ten per cent of all car sales being autonomous and ten to 50 per cent being electric by 2030 may be optimistic, as these forecasts heavily relied on governments putting the right infrastructure in place. “Although I do think it’s coming sooner than we think,” he said. “One thing’s for sure; we will see massive, dramatic change.”
Power of choice
What does this mean for the luxury, style and sports-led models promoted by premium brands such as Mercedes and BMW? “The car-making industry doesn’t know what it means right now,” said Donnelly. “This will change the whole business models of companies that traditionally took a ratio of one car to one person. If you can rent a car by the hour, the day, the month… you don't have to have the same thing on your driveway for four years. It’s really exciting.”
Ingersoll Rand’s Struyve commented: “I can see a time when policy will be more based on a mobility budget than today's company car scenario. A more flexible model, with much more choice for employees – a menu of choices offering what's best for whom.”
The panel discussed how within this ‘mobility’ budget – whether business or personal – people could decide to use more utilitarian vehicles for regular weekday or work journeys, and upgrade to something more luxurious on weekend or pleasure trips. Road vehicles should be seen as just part of an “integrated mobility solution” with all modes of transport converging in a corporate travel programme, the panel agreed.
Struyve also pointed out the productivity benefits of employees being able to work while on the road, as they do in a plane or a train, and he summed up delegates’ expectations of autonomous technology, saying: “It's not a matter of will it come, but when will it come?”