When COVID-19 hit, it immediately shed a light on the contradictions that the automotive world at large was faced with.
Re-purposing the cities
Restrictive lockdowns in many countries led to heavily reduced vehicle traffic levels. As a result, large parts of the global population began to (re-)embrace walking or cycling, while so-called ‘Open Streets’ initiatives surfaced in cities across the USA, but also in Germany. So while private cars were seen as a safe places, they were nevertheless reduced to a cameo role. One of the immediate effects was a noticeable reduction in vehicle accidents.¹
So even though the Original Equipment Service/replacement component market suffered, lower vehicle usage rates also imply that vehicles might last longer, and therefore eventually require more maintenance and spare parts. Lower traffic levels also led to significantly higher (and often illegal) vehicle speeds, causing more wear and tear.
And while a massive rise in work from home meant a significant decrease in commuting, individual travel seems – after an initial sharp decline in March and April – to have reached new highs in August before declining again, according to route request data by Apple². The reason? Public transport was perceived as risky and contamination-prone. While some public transport providers announced a temporary drop by as much as 90%, at least Munich’s MVG was able to return to close to 70% of the pre-pandemic passenger numbers³:
Family matters are car matters
At the same time, Chinese data suggest that continued confinement in small spaces leads to an increase number of divorces and with it a rise in demand for a second family car. At the same time, working from home options motivated many families to forgo living in cities in favor of a home in the countryside. That meant less requirement for commuting, but longer covered distances (VMT – vehicle miles traveled).
Another hard-hit sector turned out to be Mobility-as-a-Service. Ride-hailing and car sharing businesses like Lyft and Uber released data suggesting a drop in demand in between 85 % and 80 %.1 So far consumers around the world have been abstaining from MaaS apps and have been returning to the perceived safety of the personally owned car or bicycle. Will this new-found reliance on personally owned cars continue, therefore presenting a fresh opportunity to vehicle manufacturers? Or will MaaS bounce back in the wake of the growing success of food delivery and bicycle-sharing activities, propelling the development of robo-taxis and automated driving alternatives?
Automated vehicles (AV) may be the short-term winners of COVID-19. Yet, instead of people transport solutions, AVs in 2020 were predominantly robot-shuttles carrying COVID-19 test samples and/or equipment within hospital campuses, autonomous robots disinfecting offices and metro stations, or contactless delivery robots for essential food supplies. These novelties were highly visible in Wuhan and other Chinese metropolises, facilitating people’s lives and gaining very high trust levels among the Chinese.
What’s up, e-mobility?
On another level, historically low oil prices during the pandemic caused some initial setback to electric vehicle (EV)penetration (depending on geographic region and fuel-efficiency regulation) and the pandemic’s wake challenged EV affordability. Further policy support such as ‘green’ scrappage schemes may be necessary to further address this. Yet overall, the COVID-19 pandemic led to improved air quality, less traffic, and more active mobility. So we can gradually expect more consumers to put EVs on their shopping list in the mid-term by 2030.
It takes a community to tackle a pandemic
It seems that predicting the impacts of COVID-19 on mobility is as hard as forecasting the pandemic’s course. It seems to have come to stay for a while. Why not use the combined power of MQ! participants to work on the smartest way to adapt our mobility solutions to the many challenges it presents us with?