"Are you willing to sell your car?"

Don’t get us wrong. Dr. Carl Friedrich Eckhard, the person responsible for the issue of urban mobility at the BMW Group, does not wish to take anyone’s car away from them. He doesn’t think much of banning diesel-fuelled vehicles from urban areas either. The BMW manager simply wants to convince people to change their ways. 

Congested roads, insufficient parking spaces and excessively high nitric oxide levels are already putting a strain on our cities today. This doesn’t seem to worry you. 

Dr. Carl Friedrich Eckhardt: Despite the most diverse challenges we have to face, urban mobility will still improve significantly. Why? Because we now have the chance to radically modernise the urban mobility system. As a result, quality of life in urban areas will also improve. Our major cities will become greener and the air cleaner.

Aren’t you being rather optimistic?

We have every reason to be optimistic. Digitalisation allows us to offer people new mobility solutions: The offer ranges from various different rental possibilities such as car sharing to the organisation of collaborative travel. We are already able to set the course for this today.

This means that cities have to invest?

It is important to have a vision. What do we want? What should urban mobility look like in the year 2030? This helps us think long-term. Because many investments made by municipalities today seem unprofitable at first, but they pay off in the long run. Apart from that, companies are also prepared to make a contribution and invest. For example, in the development of the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.

How do you intend to convince people that they do not need their own car in the city?

People of the younger generation already attach little importance to having their own car. Instead of owning one, they prefer just to use one. This also applies to an increasing number of older people. In the discussions or workshops we organise in many cities, residents realise they have a car but rarely use it. If they had an alternative, they would sell it. In fact, car sharing combines the advantages of an own car with those offered by the public network: A vehicle is available if required – even when busses, subways and trams are no longer operating.

That sounds as if a paradigm change is already taking place in society. Are people already prepared to sell their car?

First of all, we must create the preconditions so that these services are actually used. At present, car owners are still given preference due to regulations such as residential parking, whereas it would make far more sense to reserve some of these spaces for car sharing.  Residents must rest assured that a vehicle is always at their disposal when they need it. Then they will feel encouraged to sell their own car.

So which technical achievements are responsible for the new mobility services?

Digitalisation allows us to offer mobility on demand. Without smartphones, for example, we wouldn’t know which routes people use. This helps us adjust our services according to customer needs. Electrification allowing vehicles such as the BMW i3 to hum emission-free through cities is also revolutionary. And, of course, autonomous driving, which allows people to travel from A to B without a driver – flexibly and without operative costs.

How long will it be before we are able to use all of these technologies?  

We are already cooperating with urban municipalities today in order to understand which challenges they, and residents of course, will be faced with in future. For this purpose we have launched several projects to provide people in cities with car sharing services and electric vehicles. We intend to significantly expand collaborations such as these over the next five to seven years. And autonomous driving will soon become reality. I assume during the next 10 years.  

So taxi drivers will soon have to look for new jobs?

Every change opens up new possibilities. So I am convinced that new mobility solutions will in the long term also make new jobs necessary.

But the change also poses challenges for companies such as the BMW Group. If people buy fewer cars, the company will have to make up for financial losses.

I also see this as a chance for the BMW Group to develop new markets. Of course, we will continue to sell cars, but also provide people with vehicles and services.

The more attractive these offers are, the more money we will earn.

Which cities in your opinion are already pursuing a modern mobility strategy today?

Copenhagen is a good example. The city has commissioned E.ON to install charging stations for electric mobility under the condition that the facilities would be used. So the energy company contacted us beforehand, with the result that the car sharing fleet in Copenhagen now has 300 BMW i3s running entirely on electricity. We have been able to agree on a similar model for Hamburg. The city has arranged to provide up to 1,150 charging points by the year 2019, which will also serve as parking spaces for car sharing services. So the Hanseatic city is creating an enormous incentive for electric mobility, from which the air quality on the Elbe and the Alster could soon benefit considerably.

Elon Musk from Tesla has his own plans. He wants to build a tunnel system under the whole of Los Angeles in which people can travel from A to B at a speed of 200 km/h. He promises to reduce travelling time from 45 minutes to as little as 5 minutes. Do you think this is just a pipeline dream or could it soon become reality?

You never know. But one thing is for sure: urban mobility will change dramatically. And I find it very exciting to be a part of this change!