In the “WEffect” sustainability series, the BMW Group highlights the sustainable contribution made by a wide range of people in the company – and the motivation that inspires them. Today: Ulla Ahlers.
Sustainability has many facets at the BMW Group because we are using this term to harmonise business, the environment and society. If we are to successfully put these high standards into practice, we need our employees’ commitment. Everyone can play their part in making the BMW Group sustainable.
So, who are all these colleagues who make sustainability part of their everyday work? What drives them to roll up their sleeves throughout the company? In the new “WEffect” sustainability series, the BMW Group introduces employees who play their daily part in the broad and responsible further development of our company.
In this edition of the series, Ulla Ahlers, Head of Mobility Products at the BMW Group, explains how we can avoid permanent traffic jams with digital advances.
Ulla Ahlers, you have been with the BMW Group since 1997. Back then, IT was just making its way into vehicle control systems; today, a wide variety of digital products support journeys from A to B. However, your role and the work of your team extend far beyond digital applications in the vehicle. What exactly is it all about?
Ulla Ahlers: It is about mobility in the broadest sense, about new mobility products and advances we use to shape the future of road transport. We ask ourselves: where is the journey leading? We work together with the strategy department to plan the concepts, think them through further. And we are developing mobility products so that our customers can reap the benefits of these new advances. In other words, products that give our vehicles the right technological infrastructure. One example here is the control units and digital services that a vehicle needs so it can be used in a car sharing fleet. We have several million car sharing customers. On-demand mobility is already here in society as part of the solution – at least in cities.
Car sharing is already very successful and is therefore taken up well and with enthusiasm. What are the topics that are currently on your mind?
Ahlers: A real problem today is constant traffic jams, especially in city centres, in conurbations and on certain routes. We develop digital services which will enable us to guide customers along the best route to avoid traffic jams – at the same time reducing the load on the route. We are now trying to find ways to motivate the customer to take an alternative route – such as a voucher for toll roads. We are moving beyond the confines of navigation systems because we want to interact directly with the drivers. Our goal is to avoid permanent congestion in the first place – and thus prevent air pollution and certain areas of cities getting clogged up. We are working with municipalities such as Antwerp, Berlin and Munich to test intelligent, digital concepts for this. The digital services and products should offer a range of options, in other words, actively suggest suitable alternative routes and incentivise drivers to take the ‘new’ route. They can point out parking spaces or also show public transport connections. And, of course, offer combined solutions. We are currently using the BMW Group’s mobility app, Urby, to test whether and how people will accept this. Users can earn leaves – virtual bonus points – in exchange for using greener and healthier options to get from one location or building to another. We incentivise them to do this through the reward system.
What is your overarching goal? What drives you?
Ahlers: I want to develop mobility so that it slots into today’s world. The BMW Group with all its vehicles is part of the mobility of this world. But that also makes us part of the solution. Nowadays, we see that cities are starting to exclude vehicles or charge very high tolls and parking fees. We offer people solutions so they can still be mobile. And I am doing my part by bringing the technology to achieve this into the vehicle. Of course, we and the company are always asking ourselves: is that important now? Is that the right way to go at this precise moment? And when do we implement this? If an issue is then seen as less important, we can slow down. Projects that support sustainability and bring about less CO2 pollution currently have a tailwind. That helps us a lot, of course. And we are already seeing real successes: we have just delivered electric vehicles to pilot customers to test bi-directional charging. The aim is to link vehicles, charging infrastructure and electricity grids for the first time with a holistic approach. Regeneratively generated energy is promoted and, at the same time, security of supply is increased. This can also increase the proportion of renewably-generated energy in total consumption in Germany.
You focus very intensively on mobility issues in your job. Does this have an effect on how you drive in your life away from work?
Ahlers: I am already more selective and conscious about which route I take and how, why I choose which alternative in which situation, and whether and how it could be easier, faster or generally more sustainable. New ways, new solutions can always be found with a little commitment and imagination. We just need to think outside the box and get creative.
So when is it enough?
Ahlers: When we all get from A to B safely, comfortably, flexibly, quickly and with minimal emissions, at any time and in the best way for our needs. But that utopia is still a long way off.
In the upcoming portraits from our “WEffect” sustainability series, committed colleagues will also describe their motivation and explain the contribution they are making to sustainability within the BMW Group.