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Besides the growth of elders as a demographic segment, automakers have powerful incentives to design cars that meet older people's needs. It is an established fact that young people are increasingly choosing new mobility solutions over the traditional car ownership experience.


COURTESY FORD MOTOR COMPANY - Ford has released a new Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Development Vehicle. This car offers more sensors and computing power than prior test vehicles, in a less obtrusive package.You're going to hear a lot about autonomous cars and "new mobility" at this year's Portland International Auto Show. New mobility is a catch-all term for any transportation that is not a traditional driver-owned car or public transportation. When people talk about new mobility today, they usually mean streetside car rentals like ReachNow or ride share services like Uber and Lyft. But very soon new combinations of self-driving cars and direct rentals will create new business opportunities for improved mobility services.

These new services will be especially useful for the elderly, disabled, or anyone who needs a little extra help. We recently met with Jody Holtzman, Senior Vice President of Market Innovation for the American Association of Retired Persons, and asked him to comment on new mobility and its potential benefits.

"Right now, there are 110 million Americans over the age of 50," Holtzman points out. "Both the total number of seniors and their percentage of our total population are expected to rise in the coming decades."

Besides the growth of elders as a demographic segment, automakers have powerful incentives to design cars that meet older people's needs. It is an established fact that young people are increasingly choosing new mobility solutions over the traditional car ownership experience.

"People over 50 are the best market for automakers," Holtzman argues. "They've got the money to buy a more expensive car and culturally, younger people are less interested in owning a car. Once you start to get experience with on-demand transportation, you start to think that maybe you don't need to own a car, or have a garage, and pay for all these things. If you live in the city, it makes more sense. "

At the same time, new mobility solutions and autonomous cars are making strong inroads with seniors. Especially those who desire to stay independent longer in their homes.

"When you ask older people what's the thing they least want to give up, it's the car keys," Holtzman explains, "because they represent freedom and independence and control."

All major automakers are promising to market fully autonomous vehicles by about 2025, with the first semi-autonomous cars hitting the road by 2020. But it's important to realize that any large-scale shift to self-driving cars will happen slowly, with at least 20 years of autonomous cars sharing the roads with traditional human-driven vehicles.

That means that when Holtzman or the automakers look ahead to the future of autonomous cars, they're not really talking about today's seniors. They're talking about a future for people who are now 30-50 years of age, and every generation beyond that.

Whether people of any age choose to own a car or simply request a ride, the most important value is maintaining the ability to go where you want, when you want. The network of streetside rentals and ride-sharing may not work for people who live in suburbs, small towns, or rural areas, and what works for singles and couples may not work for families. Even a fully automated service may not meet all needs, so we can expect a variety of mobility services to be developed over time.

"There is no one-size-fits-all solution," Holtzman says. "There are age segments, geographic segments, and lifestyle segments, so you're going to have a multiplicity of trends. I think the key is that the consumer has to be at the center of innovation. Older people and those with disabilities have to be front and center in the design phase, because if you have designs that work for them, the designs will be even better for everybody else."

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