Business Opportunities in, through, and with the Metaverse

Since Mark Zuckerberg announced in Summer 2021 that Meta-turned Facebook would now focus on establishing and expanding the metaverse, shared digital universes have become a ubiquitous megatrend, and one business report after the other promises vast opportunities offered both through creation and utilization of such digital worlds. However, distributed virtual worlds and the related business promises are all but new and – as so often – in order to critically evaluate what the future might really bring, it is worth taking a look back and see what has been already learned in the past. 

Part 1: 30 Years of Hype, Disillusionment, and Lots of Learnings

The Spirit was Willing, but the Hardware was Weak 

It surely was kind of directive that the first to mention and describe the idea of a shared digital world wasn’t a scientist: In his 1984 book Newromancer, SciFi author William Gibson wrote about a Cyberspace, which people could enter via various hardware interfaces in order to cooperate and interact there with each other. People from the most diverse areas were fascinated of this idea. In the following years, Virtual Reality (as the new terminus technicus was) became a real hype and I a research assistant at the School of Mechanical Engineering of Karlsruhe Technical University, where I wrote my PhD thesis on the utilization of Virtual Reality for evaluating 3D product models – an incredibly cool topic for a mechanical engineer working for a machine tooling institute. 

Powerful graphic computers like the Dream Machine from Silicon Graphics, Inc. were almost unaffordable at that time, considering available research funds. Consequently, the virtual production scenarios created to facilitate the planning of real-world assembly lines were mostly represented by simple boxes. The world consisted of cuboids. Further VR equipment such as HMDs (Head Mounted Device) or Data Gloves which are necessary to immerse in the virtual world were heavy and clumsy prototypes. If you looked at the boxes in your virtual world and turned your head, it took a while until the projection on the monitors integrated in the HMD followed, which almost inevitably led to nausea after a couple of minutes. Even during a trip to England, where we visited the most renowned VR research facilities in VR, we were still staring at virtual boxes while slowly getting pale and sick. 

Picture 1: Immersion with Head Mounted Display and Space Mouse 1995 

But on the other hand, those technical restrictions gave place to an almost unlimited forward thinking. Intense theoretical discussions of its future potential made Virtual Reality a typical “one day, we could …” topic across all industries and research facilities. Theoretically possible applications of virtual worlds in almost any area, from architecture through cooperative 3D product design to cybersex (a topic that was covered by almost every magazine at that time and made it sometimes difficult to state that you “were in Virtual Reality”) were analyzed widely and thoroughly. Even the validity of spiritual interactions like blessings or confessions carried out in cyberspace was discussed. 

Technology Goes Where the Money is. But Where is the Money? 

But while what was considered serious research at that time was lacking the money to afford the appropriate hardware, VR technology grew – initially almost unnoticed – somewhere else: At the last day of the aforementioned trip to England, we visited a huge gaming center at Trocadero in London and their new VR games – and here I eventually was felt genuinely immersed in a virtual world for the first time. There were quite obviously much more funds available in gaming than in R&D or production. Alternating between envy and admiration, we looked in their hardware room filled up with the most powerful SGI computers and the best equipment I had used so far. And: In contrast to the research facilities, there were long queues of people waiting to pay five pounds and more for a few minutes of immersion into a virtual battlefield. Still, gaming was not considered a serious field of action for engineering researchers at the end of the 90es. 

It was also a computer game, namely the ego-shooter game Doom, where I for the first time experienced cooperation in a shared virtual environment (even though cooperation might be a strange term for the kind of interaction you have in games like Doom). The possibility to meet and interact with other people from all over the world in a virtual room in real time was breathtaking and so much better than in all the VR environments we were used to work with.

Since then, 3D online gaming has made tremendous progress in multiple dimensions. Advanced graphic processors most notably from Invidia or AMD and VR headsets like Oculus Rift now enable highly realistic visualization of and interaction with all kinds of elements of shared virtual worlds. By playing online games like Fortnite or Minecraft, especially Generation Z is used from the very beginning to almost naturally act and interact in virtual worlds. Gaming has become not only a widespread hobby, but – as more and more people also enjoy watching other people play – for some a quite profitable profession. Ninja, then 20 years old, is said to be the first one to make 12 million dollars a year by playing Fortnite and other games. Looking up to such new role models, thousands of kids worldwide started dreaming of a career as a professional gamer – much to the dismay of their parents and a generation that had no understanding at all for this business. E-sports – as gaming is called today – has become a significant industry and is still the main driver for technological development in Virtual Reality. 

What are the House Rules, if the House is not Real? 

In 2003, one year before Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook went online, cooperation in shared virtual worlds made a huge step forward when US based Linden Lab started Second Life, a commercial multi-user multi-purpose 3D Environment. Represented by avatars, users from all over the world entered Second Life – first for fun, later also for research and education as well as for marketing and commerce. Schools and universities offered lessons and lectures, while companies offered their products and services. Means of payment was a first virtual currency, the Linden Dollar, that could be exchanged for real money. The first truly populated virtual universe allowing social interaction and a very basic form of commerce was born. In a nutshell, Second Life was Internet 2.0 going 3D. 

Picture 2: NPR Science Friday in Second Life 2008 (Source: Wikipedia)

But while focusing on new features and increasing the number users, Linden Lab did not think too much about the related risks. Consequently, users were soon to experience that a more or less unregulated virtual world also nourished negative societal behavior patterns such as hate speech, injustice, copyright violation, spreading of lies, or general indecency. It didn’t take long until the citizens of Second Life, typically strong advocates of freedom and independence, were yawning for rules and regulations and their enforcement. Another learning with regards to legal aspects was the lack of IP protection that people and companies offering services in Second Life were facing. 

Enriching Reality with Matching Virtual Worlds 

While the quality and importance of purely virtual spaces had significantly grown over the years, overlaying and matching of virtual and real world never was too much in the center of attention. Though there were some industrial Augmented Reality applications, where maintenance or logistics workers got additional information to the objects they are handling projected in their glasses, but even the Google Glass introduced in 2014 and intended to widespread AR was only sold for a year.

And it was gaming again, where AR applications broke through. In 2016, millions of Pokémon Go users started wandering around the neighborhoods, virtually looking at the world through their smartphones’ cameras to see their real environment enriched by virtual items they had to catch. However, keeping an eye both on the real and the virtual world was obviously difficult, as you could see flocks of players carelessly crossing streets while looking at the display of their phone.

But what prevailed much more than matching virtual and real geometry data was the creation and utilization of digital twins, digital models representing the current state of real, connected objects in – more or less – real time. Enabled by the worldwide implementation of cloud computing, data lakes were filled with digital twins of connected equipment, machinery, appliances, cars etc. to create Production 4.0 and the Internet of Things. Even though the focus of the digital models used here today is less on 3D geometry than on technological data, they represent cooperatively used virtual worlds that make it possible to represent real objects in virtual worlds in real time. 

Immersion – the Holy Grail of Virtual Reality

One – if not the first – question in debating Virtual Reality has always been whether it was really necessary to be immersed in a virtual world or whether watching it on a monitor would also qualify for “true” VR. And still today, there seems to be no clear answer. Experiencing a metaworld as realistically as possible through headsets and other hardware has advantages but also disadvantages compared to watching yourself (or more precisely your avatar) from bird‘s eye view on a display. In gaming e.g., immersion is chosen by players who just enjoy being in the middle of the virtual scenario while professional players prefer watching the battleground on large curved screens because of the better overview and faster reaction. 

Spending Real Money in Unreal Worlds 

Online payment for products and services rendered in the real or virtual world is quite obviously a necessary prerequisite for doing business in virtual worlds. It surely was Jeff Bezos and Amazon who boosted development of online payment technology for internet purchasing since the mid-nineties. However, it wasn’t before Second Life that inhabitants of virtual worlds could change real money in a virtual currency to purchase virtual products and get access to virtual services. Today, virtual spaces like Metaverse can rely on a plethora of payment solutions, including blockchain technologies to make business transparent and tamper-proof.

Part 2: Metaverse Today 

Well, now what has changed over the years and what can we learn from the past? 

First and foremost: The idea of immersing yourself in a shared virtual world, slip into a new character and personality there, and freely interact with others independently from all the restrictions the real world might impose – be it geographically, legally, societal or individually – still fascinates people, is technically possible, but – though partially implemented – still a vision. 

True: There are – in addition to cooperative gaming spaces like Fortnite, Minecraft or Meta’s Horizon Worlds – generic metaverse platforms available today (most notably Decentraland, Sandbox, Cryptovoxels, Substrata or, Somnium Space), where people meet and interact, attend concerts, or engage in educational events. They pay to pimp up their avatars, get personal advantages, purchase virtual land or NFTs. And last not least, they purchase real computers, headsets and other hard- and software to connect to the virtual world. But even though over the past decades all this equipment as well as enabling technologies have developed dramatically, experience regarding the societal and legal pitfalls has been gained comprehensively, and general openness to live in virtual worlds has grown widely, we are still in the creative phase of “imagine all the wonderful things we could do in a metaverse”. 

So, what are these wonderful things? Where are the unexploited opportunities of the Metaverse? I would like to structure my personal view on that in three types of business opportunities: 

1. Business Opportunities IN the Metaverse: Creating Value in the Virtual World 

a) Creating Products in the Metaverse 

Probably the biggest potential of a shared virtual space lies in the possibility to effortlessly bring together experts from all over the world to co-operatively build and explore “things” such as buildings and whole cities, furniture and interiors, equipment and machinery – only to name a few options – before they are actually brought to existence in the real world. Picture it like a Teams Meeting where the whiteboard is a 3D space, the tools are not restricted to pens and erasers, and the participants are actually part of this space. The result of this cooperation is a digital model (containing geometrical, technological and other data) that can be exported to the real world where it has a certain value. 

From a business point of view, such co-creation in the metaverse makes especially sense if creation and assessment involve a high degree of spatial perception (like buildings, cities or cars and the availability of experts who would be widely distributed in the real world and whose expertise can not be applied through algorithms or AI.

b) Rendering Services in the Metaverse 

While the primary value of “things” created in the Metaverse typically lies in the real world, digital services rendered in the Metaverse have their value there: training courses, educational classes, or entertainment like shows, concerts or especially games, offer experiences that can range from similar to the real world (like a concert performed in the virtual space) to impossible in the real world (like most of the co-operative games). 

Here, business opportunities arise from charging users for using these services in the Metaverse. And as with all digital artefacts, they can be scaled at no additional costs, too: Hosting an event in the Metaverse, e.g., causes the same effort whether it is attended by ten or ten million people. 

Picture 3: Going to the movies in Decentraland 2022

The crucial question however is: What kind of benefit has a customer when attending a metaverse event compared to either attending it in the real world or just passively watching it as a record? If (and only if) interaction with people (via their avatars) and things is significantly better or cheaper or only possible in the virtual world, there will be a market for it. 

2. Business Opportunities THROUGH the Metaverse: Marketing and Selling Real World Products and Services in the Virtual World 

As a connected 3D space allows the visualization, configuration, and realistic experience of a product and related processes, the Metaverse could be the perfect environment for their marketing. 

However, the question to be answered upfront is (again): When does the metaverse have a true customer benefit here – and when is a “normal” website just good enough or maybe even more convenient for the customer to get informed, individually configure a product or look at a product in its intended environment. Is it really necessary or worth to create virtual shopping malls where people’s avatars casually stroll along to enter virtual shops, see virtual products and get greeted by virtual sales clerks (who can be either avatars of real people or bots)? 

Even though you can order pizza in Decentraland today: If you are looking, say, for food or smartphones, and especially for goods you have purchased before, a simple online shop with convenient search features will certainly do it. Looking at clothes and accessories worn by your avatar in Metaverse allows a realistic assessment but doesn’t make much sense in immersive mode (as you want to see how you would look like wearing it, not what you would see when wearing it …). Where immersion makes sense is when it comes to spatial perception, e.g., choosing, configuring, and experiencing an apartment, furniture, decoration – or a car – before buying or renting it. 

Picture 4: Pizza Shop in Samsung’s Decentraland Virtual Experience Center 837X 2022

And if eventually a metaverse happens to be a promising marketing and sales channel for your product or service, another question arises: Will you create additional business here, or just take existing business from other channels. 

3. Business Opportunities WITH the Metaverse: Creating and Selling Hard- and Software to Access and Interact with the Virtual World 

a) Provide Hard- and Software to Access the Metaverse 

In order to step into the virtual world and interact there with things and other people, headsets and controllers are required. The visualization quality, accuracy, and speed has dramatically improved over the years.

Last not least, the shared virtual space itself must be provided as a cloud solution, including vast business potentials for maintenance and governance services. The more metaverses exist and are populated, the more demand will be there for service providers ensuring technically and socially hassle-free virtual living. 

Picture 5: Oculus Quest 2 Headset and Controller (Source Meta)

b) Provide Virtual Items for the Metaverse 

A way of doing business already common in cooperative games is creating and selling (digital) products useful or desirable for the users: Special skins, clothing, or equipment for avatars or pre-designed components for products as mentioned under 1) can only be used in the virtual world and not be transferred back in the real world. Just like with digital services, these digital products can be copied as often as you like. 


I would primarily confirm the potential for marketing and sales of real goods in the metaverse. But visualization, testing, or configuration only makes sense for products and services for which the improved spatial perception offers a real advantage over traditional digital channels. Secondly – and independent from what will actually happen there: The provision, maintenance, and governance of metaverses yield surely the most stable and reliable business opportunities in this context. 

Picture 6: Overview of Business Opportunities in the Metaverse

50 Years Olympic Village Munich – A Future Oriented Urban Mobility Concept, Far Ahead of its Time

Born and raised in Munich, I lived almost five years in the Olympic Village. Decades after it was built to house the participants of the 1972 Olympic Games, I experienced it day by day as a both very likable and incredibly modern urban settlement. Unlike other residential areas built for Olympic Games, it has not degenerated to a bleak concrete suburb over the years, and until today, I love strolling along its green walkways and surroundings whenever opportunity arises.

Created in the late sixties by architects Behnisch and Partner (who also designed the Olympic Park), the underlying architectural concept was pioneering, future oriented and definitely well ahead of its time.

With regards to mobility, I see four aspects as important: 


1. Split Level Concept

When approaching the Village – as it is called by its residents – from the street, you can see how motor traffic is divided from other road users: Pedestrians and cyclist use ramps to reach the pavement on the upper level, while cars, trucks and motorcycles take the underground entry to the lower street level for access to buildings, parking, deliveries. or waste collection. Such clear separation makes traffic for all road users comfortable and safe.

Elevators and staircases in the buildings go down to the lower level for convenient and roofed access to houses and apartments. Domestic waste can be disposed through garbage chutes on each floor of the apartment buildings and is collected on street level, away from where people live or pass by.

Split Level Access to the Olympic Village


2. Everything in Reach

Various kinds of shops, schools, medical supplies, restaurants, and public socializing areas as well as a church are available in walking distance within the village, reducing primary mobility needs for the residents dramatically. The Olympic Parc with all its sports and event facilities can be directly accessed and serves as an extended recreational area, always good for a walk or run. 

At the same time, direct access to the subway and local busses connects the Village conveniently to the rest of Munich and the world. 

So, while today we discuss the vision of the 15-Minute City, the Olympic Village was already the 5-Minute City 50 years ago. 

Life Together: Restaurant and Community in the Heart of the Village

3. Accessibility

Barrier-free concepts were all but the rule 50 years ago. The Village however, with its wide ramps, handrails and elevators was designed from scratch to make everything accessible without steps. Thus, the Olympic Village has always been a preferred place to live for wheel chair users while this accessibility makes it very convenient for cyclists, strollers, or walkers too. 

Acces Ramps on Upper Level in Strassberger Strasse

4. Livability 

Apart from all these rather factual criteria, the heart of the early architectural concept was making it not another depressing concrete apartment block but a place people would love to live in. How successful this has worked out can be seen and felt until today. The plants and trees you see everywhere make it green oasis. Various socializing areas and pieces of artwork are distributed all over the Village, bring people together, and create a truly livable and lovable neighborhood. 

As cyclists were mentioned above: What I find absolutely remarkable, is the harmonic way pedestrians and cyclists have always shared their way in the Village. Without a lot of formal routing measures or regulations, there has never been a lot of problems from pedestrians and bicycles using the space on the upper level together. In fact, there is something like an undocumented code of conduct based on mutual consideration, that makes them getting along well.

Trees and Artwork in Nadistrasse


Is there a downside? Yes, but one you would’t see at first glance. In a settlement of this size with thousands of people living together, clear rules and responsibilities are needed. However, the contracts made in 1972 for the utilization of the Olympic Village after the games were just peppered with flaws, which put badly needed restructuring measures on hold for decades, waiting for courts to decide who would have to pay for it. When e.g. the concrete structure below the pavement had to be renewed, it took the courts about 15 years to decide which part of it belonged to the upper level walkway (and as such to the the privately owned buildings on its side) and which belonged to the public streets (owned by the city) it covers. 

Last not least: Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Olympic Village is not possible without also remembering the terrible terrorist attack that took place there during the games. The lessons to be learned go far beyond mobility. 

Data Driven Mobility – Improving Mobility Systems Through Holistic Data Utilization

Individual Mobility. What does it take to bring you from A to B?

From an individual’s point of view, mobility simply is the possibility to be mobile, to go from one place to another – no matter where these places are. Typical criteria to evaluate this possibility are availability, accessibility, possible destinations, time to destination, cost, safety, comfort, reliability, sustainability etc.

To do so, you can either walk or use a means of transport – which can be any kind of vehicle from bicycle to car, from boat to drone, from e-scooter to airplane, from subway to cable car or even horses and donkeys.

Dropping the relatively rare (and in the context of this article irrelevant) case that you employ a personal chauffer, captain or pilot and are a passenger in your own vehicle, this leaves you with two options: You must either operate your own vehicle or use one rendered to you through a mobility service – such as public transport, ride hailing, bike sharing, airplanes or whatever.

Infrastructure. What you just expect to be there.

A precondition for the proper usage of these vehicles is a functioning infrastructure. Mobility infrastructure comprises a broad bandwidth of things and services, e.g.:

  • The structure the vehicle needs to operate (such as walkways, bike lanes, streets, rails, tunnels, bridges, waterways or air routes)
  • Means to enter or leave the vehicle (parking spaces, parking structures, stations, ports, airports etc.)
  • Traffic control elements (such as road markings, traffic signs, traffic lights, barriers, access control, traffic and parking surveillance etc.)
  • Energy provision (such as fuel stations, chargers or overhead lines)
  • Structures and services to maintain and repair vehicles as well as infrastructure
  • Data networks (such as mobile internet access)
  • Regulatory framework including legal requirements for vehicles and mobility services as well for their operation, tolls and taxes

In Short: To be mobile, you need your own vehicle or access to a mobility service. And in both cases, you depend on the availability of the appropriate infrastructure.

Collective Mobility. Unfortunately, other people want to be mobile, too.

Securing all these requirements alone would be tough enough, but as we all experience on a daily basis: How well one person can realize his or her mobility needs also depends strongly on the mobility patterns of all others. Jammed streets, overcrowded subways, limited availability of sharing vehicles, scarcity of parking spaces, local and global emission limits keep you from doing what you would do if you would be the only one out there. Why the heck must all others use this road, bus or service when I want to?

How well everyone in a given area can fulfill their mobility needs at the same time is what we call Collective Mobility. Securing and optimizing Collective Mobility is one of the primary regulatory tasks of cities, regions or countries and means nothing less than controlling the interplay of all vehicles being used, mobility services being rendered, and infrastructure being operated and maintained in a given mobility system. And we all know how rudimentary especially big cities handle this challenge today.

From opinions to knowledge. Big Data helps understanding.

A promising strategy to improve in this endeavor is utilizing what I call the “Internet of Mobility”: Vehicles, users, infrastructure – they all are getting more and more equipped with sensors (and hence create more and more data) and become more and more connected to the internet. There’s hardly one person on the street without a smart phone, service systems share their data and most importantly the sum of connected cars out there on the roads, which – from a data analyst’s point of view – represent nothing less than a huge, densely distributed network of powerful, mobile, and somewhat over-motorized sensor clusters constantly transmitting really big data ready to be collected and analyzed.

Such data is already available und used today, but at comparably low quantity and quality, and we are only at the beginning of holistically utilizing it. To picture what you get from conventionally connected cars compared to having digital twins: Most cars out there today leave you a little sticky note at the fridge door saying, “I drove 54 kilometers today, my tank is half full, all doors are locked, and I am generally doing fine.” However, cars with state-of-the-art connectivity have you on the phone 24/7, telling you constantly about each and every feeling and perception they have.

It is this increase and improvement of available data and especially the consolidated analysis of vehicle, user, and infrastructure generated data that allows the holistic optimization of mobility systems in the future. Here, I see mainly five main dimensions:

1. Improve Vehicle Operations

Real-time knowledge of infrastructure conditions and availability

  • facilitates parking and fueling/charging,
  • enables the early detection and even prediction of mobility-inhibiting factors such as traffic jams, potholes, slippery road surfaces or any other hazards, and
  • is the basis for any kind of autonomous driving.

2. Improve Mobility Services

Time- and location-based knowledge of user behavior and service utilization allows providers to

  • select the optimum vehicle and features for their service offers,
  • optimize both number and distribution of the vehicles used in their sharing or ride hailing schemes (including public transport), and especially
  • make mobility services as a whole more attractive (e.g., than driving your own vehicle) by optimizing the interplay between various offers (e.g., ride hailing, public transport and parking structures).

3. Improve Vehicle Condition

Real-time knowledge of all vehicles’ technical condition allows

  • detection of technical problems and thus facilitation of their solving, and
  • prediction of maintenance or repair needs and thus keeping vehicles smoothly running whilst avoiding breakdowns.

4. Improve Infrastructure Operations

Environmental data provided by connected cars allows

  • detection and prediction of infrastructure maintenance needs (e.g., broken traffic lights, worn road markers, damaged streets, bridges, or structures),
  • detection and prediction of general traffic capacity overload.

5. Improve Mobility System as a Whole

Combining and analyzing data rendered by all users, infrastructure and vehicles in a given mobility system allows the responsible authorities to

  • monitor, predict and control traffic flow and emissions,
  • decide targeted measures to improve the mobility system with regards comfort, safety and costs based on the received insights, and
  • detect and follow up on traffic violations.

As with all other forms of digital transformation, this approach comes with a twofold challenge: Firstly, the technical realization of the data utilization cycle (generate, transfer, aggregate, analyze, act, measure). Secondly, the persuasive and convincing efforts required to get all people involved supporting this change – sometimes letting go processes they are not only used to for years but have helped to establish and thus are personally attached to.


You think you really understood digital transformation …

.. but you still have such a weird feeling that your future son-in-law says his job is being a blogger.

… but you still don’t believe anyone can make real money from playing computer games.

… but you don’t understand how digitalization could ever change your customers’ expectations.

… but you wonder why the brand you successfully established twenty years ago suddenly has competitors you didn’t even know last year.

… but you still expect your employees to always do their jobs perfectly.

… but you still feel somehow intellectually superior when you scroll through your printed daily newspaper in the morning.

… but you still want to keep your CD collection.

… but you still think your kids can’t hurt themselves on the internet.

… but you still wonder how the formerly isolated madmen suddenly all come together.

Are we really as digital as we think?

Of course, we all feel like we are at the forefront of the digital transformation: we don’t write letters anymore, we chat on WhatsApp instead of making phone calls, we no longer go to the department store but order online from Amazon, book parking and bus tickets with our smartphone, pay casually with our AppleWatch at the supermarket checkout, and, thanks to Netflix, now hardly need grandparents’ TV programs.

In job and education, Covid 19 has led us to be able to conduct business meetings, lectures and school lessons almost confidently online (even if the latter certainly still have some catching up to do here). And some people are already analyzing their production and sales data with AI tools and thus get new and often surprising insights.

Nevertheless, the question remains: have we really understood what the current digital transformation means? How does it differ from the digitalization of recent decades, what opportunities and risks does it entail? But also: what cultural and social change does it bring? And are we prepared to join these changes, or are we not secretly trying to at least partially maintain the status quo we are so familiar with?

What is so different now?

is the transformation of existing products and processes through digital technologies – across industry, business, politics and society – which can range from their simpler application to the enrichment of content and functions to their complete replacement by radically new solutions.

In retrospect, the creation and editing of texts, tables, images, drawings, music and videos on computers can be seen as the first stage of digitization. The worldwide connection of these computers, first stationary, then also mobile, represents stage two and three of digitization and has led to completely new dimensions in communication and cooperation. As a fourth stage, the landslide-spreading of smartphones has not only led to their users being able to access the internet anytime, anywhere; above all, they have enabled behavioural and location-related offers through their cameras, microphones and position sensors and the mass upload of the data generated by them.

Each of these stages has not only produced new solutions and new players, but has also heralded the end of many long-established products, companies and professions. Victims of the first stage include, for example, the manufacturers of cameras, tapes, typewriters or anything necessary for technical drawing. The second and third stages have severely restricted conventional postal services, faxes or long-distance calls, completely abolished services such as telex and rendered data carriers such as floppy disks, CDs or DVDs superfluous. Stage four has dug the water out of many conventional service providers via Location Based Services, such as the taxi companies through app-based ride-hailing services.

The fifth stage we are currently in (which does not mean at all that the previous stages would be even halfway completed) is technically defined by the ability to collect and structure huge amounts of data continuously provided by the growing number of computers, smartphones, connected vehicles and other things (so-called “big data”) and then analyze it with the help of AI-based analytics tools to come up with valuable information: What conditions really depend on whether a particular product is purchased? Which functions of a vehicle are actually used most often – and which are not? Which content of a website is attractive and leads to online purchase – and which ones are not? On the one hand, customer- and requirement-based offers can be derived from such analyses (such as the well-known “customers who have purchased product X have also purchased products Y and Z”); on the other hand, advanced analytics tools make it possible to predict the behavior of people and technical systems with ever greater accuracy. This applies to the experience-based forecasting of traffic jams, maintenance requirements of networked machines, plants or vehicles, or even of human misconduct. In medicine, data analysis supports the early identification of diseases, in finance the prediction of market or price movements. And some online retailers even claim that they can not only predict their customers’ future needs by analyzing their buying behavior, but also, for example, predict a divorce by comparing behavioral patterns, before the parties have even made the decision.

In addition to all these technical possibilities, however, digitalization also brings with it a significant social change, especially at this current stage: the growth of a “digital culture”, the work and lifestyle of a generation that has grown up with digitization (as well as some older people who have adopted this style) and which differs significantly from the usual – as the following examples are to illustrate . :

  • Low product and brand loyalty. Those who buy quickly with “one click in” are also gone with “one click out” just as quickly. Loyalty is not expected to be rewarded. New entrants to the market are viewed with interest and enthusiasm rather than with scepticism and doubts about quality and reliability. This also applies to loyalty to their employer.
  • Broad level of information: Customers are not only fully informed about the products and services they are interested in, but also about their suppliers. Often no purchase advice is required, because the customer has informed himself so well in advance that he knows more about the product in question than the seller. Digitals are value-oriented, bright, and sensitive: those who are associated with the exploitation of local workers or the cause of environmental damage in internet forums are quickly out of the running despite having attractive offers.
  • Feedback culture: Digitals are used to getting and giving feedback quickly and easily. A like here, three out of five stars there. The fact that the experiences of a dissatisfied customer are published in internet forums and networks around the world just minutes later, and how best to govern such cases, is still new territory for many established companies.
  • Transparency: Those who want to use digital data should not hope for their quick approval, but should clearly highlight the added value they gain from the transfer of their data. In the same way, if you want to lead digitals as their manager, you should express your expectations clearly and stick to agreements.
  • Benefits instead of owning: Those who have grown up with streaming services instead of their own CD or DVD collection also have less need to own things like tools, cars or bicycles. Digitals are much more receptive to all types of “X as a Service”.

Why is this so relevant for companies: because they are confronted with these digitals in four different ways today: as enlightened customers of their products and services, as sophisticated and not unrestrictedly loyal employees and executives, as factual politicians and legislators who set the legal framework for digital products and processes, and last but not least as critical and rather thematic than partisan voters of these politicians. Dealing intensively with the content and impact of digital culture is therefore a strategic must for companies.

What are the opportunities, risks and changes?

The ability to predict the behaviour of people and systems obviously offers a variety of entrepreneurial opportunities: those who know exactly what the market wants, how their products are actually used and what condition they are in, and thus can offer their customers individual service and product offerings, are not only clearly at an advantage of competition, but can also be able to improve their entire value creation process from development to production and distribution to service and recycling, and thus plan and deploy their capacities in a much more effective and efficient manner:

  • Targeted product management including individual product and service offerings
  • Design to factual requirements (no over- or under-dimensioning)
  • Early detection of design and production defects
  • Individual forecasting of maintenance requirements
  • Detection of repair needs
  • Managed return / recycling procedures at the end of life

Precisely because this increases the attractiveness of the offers for customers so enormously, competitors who fail to enter these technologies and exploit their potential will lose touch relatively quickly. One aspect often overlooked in the euphoria about the obvious opportunities, which can not only slow down the desired digital transformation in the company, but in fact stop it, is the corporate and management culture. While digital change is already relatively broadly anchored in society, executives and employees of established companies often still struggle with it. The use of big data and AI and the associated digital transformation are seen in part as a massive threat to their often laboriously worked-out role and importance in the company, with three aspects of fear in the foreground:

  1. Devaluation of personal success: Many executives and specialists see the established – and indeed successful – products, processes and procedures of the past as a one of the main reasons for their personal success, and possible changes as an attempt to devalue them, as well as a betrayal of their own values.
  2. Loss of “dominance knowledge”: The basis for the use of big data and analytics in the enterprise is the merging of all available data into a data lake or digital twin accessible to all parties. But it is precisely this disclosure that is seen as a danger. “Only my department and I determine the exact sales figures. If you want to know how many of which products were sold in which markets, you have to come to me and ask me to do so. I will certainly not make that data available to everyone now. In addition, our mistakes would be immediately transparent to everyone.”
  3. Rationalization of one’s own workplace: As in manufacturing through automation, the use of big data and analytics also eliminates the need for jobs in other areas – but here those of specialists and executives. The assessment and forecasting of sales or usage data, for example, has long been the responsibility of highly specialized and highly regarded departments in the companies, whose expertise can now be increasingly replaced by powerful analytics tools – which also generate the required forecasts at the touch of a button, at any time and in a comprehensible manner.

What to do?

If the digital transformation is to be successful in the long term, it must never be limited to the introduction of advanced IT technologies, but must also drive forward the necessary change of internal processes and corporate culture in the sense of a change program prescribed and demonstrated by the companies upper management. This includes creating understanding and perspectives, and supporting the personal change of each person concerned individually through qualification. However, this also includes consistently dealing with those managers who are closing themselves off from change for personal reasons and thus ultimately fail to take the decisions necessary for change and the long-term maintenance of competitiveness.

Comparing Apples and Apples – Objective Sustainability Assessment of Vehicles and Mobility Services

“Electric vehicles are much better than other cars because only they have truly zero emissions.”

“Completely wrong, think of all the stuff going on during battery production and especially the emissions of the power stations.”

“There isn’t any, I use 100% renewable energy only.”

“But you have to build up all the solar panels and wind turbines first and put that on the bill. In total, diesel is still much better.”

“Then you must include building all the oil wells, docks, ships, pipelines, refineries as well. That’s a lot.”

“No, I don’t – because they are already there.”

“But not forever, and this infrastructure can’t even be used for hydrogen to run fuel cell electric vehicles.”

“Then make that hydrogen from your renewable electricity.”

“That’s nonsense. You would need five times more electric energy than for a battery electric vehicle.”

“But fuel cell electric vehicles give you a much higher range.”

“If it’s about range, plug-in hybrids are still the best solution.”

“Certainly not. They need two drivetrains and energy infrastructures in parallel, and most of them are never driven in electric mode.”

“But the market proves that plug-in hybrids are what customers really want.”


Sounds familiar? When arguing about which mode or drivetrain may be the most sustainable and promising choice for future mobility, we see even experts comparing not only apples and oranges but all kinds of fruit and even vegetables these days …

So it is certainly worth trying to structure this and cut the sustainability elephant into clear slices. As the fictional conversation above shows: to quantify and compare costs, emissions or social impact (the three pillars of sustainability), looking solely at a vehicle’s utilization profile and powertrain technology is certainly not enough. They are off course important but only one part of the system that is to be assessed. But what are the other elements of this system? I personally recommend adding the following five aspects of the life span to the basic vehicle or service usage:


1. Vehicle Provision

As development determines the properties of the future vehicle, we primarily hold them accountable for “their” vehicle’s impact during utilization phase – especially its emissions. But the development phase itself has a direct impact too, even if comparably minor. Replacing hardware prototypes by virtual ones e.g. significantly reduces not only time and costs but also emissions; choosing less complex technical solutions (such as a battery electric vehicle instead of an internal combustion vehicle) reduces the required testing and validation including its side effects; digitalizing work processes allows both globalization and teleworking and thus adds up to social responsibility.

In the same way, the direct impact during marketing, sales and finance is certainly smaller than the one that is caused during this phase but actually happens later on: At the end of the day, it is salespersons who have the biggest leverage on customers’ decision which car they purchase or which mobility mode they select. In relation to that, the sustainability potential during the marketing, sales and finance phase itself, e.g. shifting to online sales and marketing, is comparably low.

While development, marketing and sales play only a minor role, vehicle production certainly fills each vehicle’s backpack with ecologic and social impact stemming from manufacturing and logistics processes. Here, the complete value chain from material mining to delivering the complete vehicle or service must be taken into account.

2. Energy Provision

Gasoline, diesel, e-fuels, hydrogen, electricity – every form of energy must be generated, stored, processed and distributed before it is available in the vehicle and converted in mechanical performance. And all these sections of the well-to-tank-process – i.e. electrical power generation, distribution and buffering on one side, oil or gas extraction or generation, refining, transport and storage on the other side – contribute to a vehicle’s sustainability balance.

In addition, accidents in power stations, oil rigs, tankers, pipelines or hydrogen filling stations as well as political and military conflicts over resources and energy dramatically demonstrate how well-to-tank processes do not only have a direct impact, but also bear especially ecologic and social risks.

3. Maintenance and Repair

Wear and tear require service, technical complexity and errors lead to problems that must be fixed, accidents cause damage that must be repaired. In any case, occurrence and impact of these measures depend largely on the vehicle concept and utilization mode: As electric drivetrains have dramatically less parts and cause less thermal and mechanical wear than combustion engines, their impact in service and maintenance is significantly lower. On the other side, vehicles used in mobility services show significantly higher wear, accident rates and even vandalism than privately owned vehicles.

4. End-of-life

At the end of their usable lifespan, vehicle components or complete cars are collected, analyzed and disassembled. Whether parts can be reused or recycled or must be scrapped significantly adds up to the quantitative sustainability indicators. E.g., remanufacturing engine parts or reusing degenerated EV batteries in battery second live applications help reducing the end-of life impact.

5. Infrastructure

Last but certainly not least: Infrastructure is often forgotten because it is considered “already there”. But a fair comparison of technical concepts must also include the economical, ecological and social impact of providing, maintaining and eventually removing the facilities, equipment and IT-systems required for all parts of both the provision and usage phase. In this sense, creating hydrogen from electricity by electrolysis might look emission free at first glance but a look at the impact of providing and maintaining the required plant shows a different picture. The impact of infrastructure has to be looked at over a longer period of time. Developing electric vehicles for the first time e.g., might require building up a new test facility for lithium-ion-batteries but may also make unnecessary the renewal of an existing test facility for diesel engines at a later point in time.


In a nutshell, this approach requires looking at both processes and infrastructure for every phase of the product or service life cycle. The table below gives a very basic overview of the emerging tree model. Eventually, extending the system boundaries in this way allows comparing apples and apples again.

Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast. The true reason why change fails …

We all know this – of course only from friends and acquaintances, not from own experience: The New Year’s resolutions, which are off course fixed and irrevocable, such as eating healthier or doing more sport, are torpedoed by the inexorably breaking power of habit at the beginning of February and then die a quiet and pitiful death. What remains is persistent frustration and the monthly debits of the gym’s annual contract.

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The resolutions of companies, called strategies in technical jargon, all too often suffer a similar fate. These, too, do not usually fail because they lack sense, consistency or necessity, but – quite the contrary – because they are so reasonable, coherent and necessary from the point of view of those responsible that their comprehensive implementation is seen as granted and any further intervention as an unnecessary effort and thus as superfluous. And just as on the cold Sunday morning in February, when a sudden feeling of mild pain in the back is reason enough not to run in the park as planned, habits strike mercilessly here too, this time in the form of the corporate culture, which has often grown over years and decades.

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“We have now derived everything cleanly, agreed and communicated to everyone. Everyone said they understood what to do and why. Why on earth it is not happening now?”. In the current situation days, this can be life-threatening. A company that, in times of change (such as current in the areas of digitalization, mobility or sustainability) is prevented by consciously or unconsciously retarding forces from adapting quickly enough to the constantly changing framework conditions and rules of the game, inevitably loses its connection and is then suddenly “out of the game”.

The ability to really know the culture of one’s company on the one hand and, on the other hand, to be able to influence it in a targeted manner if necessary, is therefore an essential prerequisite for the sustainable implementation of strategic goals. What sounds simpler than it is, because corporate culture does not mean how enthusiastic the employees of a company are about its brands and products, but the sum of their individual attitudes, desires and feelings as well as the common norms, values and behaviors arising from group dynamic interaction. And this makes it a critical factor for the desired sustainable implementation of change needs: Are these communicated comprehensibly and well-founded down to the lowest level and their implementation maintained, or is this prevented by a middle management level acting as an impermeable clay layer? Are the employees responsible for the implementation really behind the strategies, or is there rather the view that “those up there” have again come up with something new, but as with the last times, this time again it won’t be eaten as hot as it was cooked?

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A positive corporate culture in this sense connects all levels of the hierarchy and creates a fundamental openness to change through trust. An important detail here is that “together” includes all partners involved in value creation, not only employees in the legal sense. Culture does not stop at organizational boundaries. And: Corporate culture cannot be captured by one-time online employee surveys and certainly not changed by executive decisions overnight – not even with the help of specially appointed and in the end even externally recruited cultural specialists. A long-term, bi-directional and honest interaction between management, executives and employees is a prerequisite for successful and lasting change in corporate culture. And not so much – as is often misinterpreted – out of pure philanthropy (although a decent and respectful treatment of employees and executives, which is a side effect, is certainly welcome), but primarily simply for the benefit of the company.


Making Connected Cars Work. The Next Dimension of Automotive Development.

Automotive Development.

From product development’s point of view, a passenger cars certainly have always been one of the bigger challenges. In contrast to the majority of other product categories, their customer relevant functions and properties (e.g. agility, passive safety, cabin comfort or exterior and interior design) are not fulfilled by one specific vehicle component (such as engine, body, seats, drivetrain or chassis), but by a complex interplay of mostly all these components. Over time however, the boundaries of the automotive system to be considered during development have gradually expanded.

Level 1: When cars were just cars. The classic art of complete vehicle integration.

Development of a premium passenger has always been carried out as a sequence of development cycles. Starting from the initial vehicle concept, each of these cycles included dimensioning and designing the components, testing and optimizing them using virtual or real prototype parts, and then merge them into a complete vehicle – again virtual or real – in order to test and optimize it. This vehicle integration process includes the proper positioning of all components within the complete vehicle in consideration of available space and required clearance (so-called geometric integration), validating manufacturability (so-called production integration) and last not least ensuring the desired vehicle properties and functions mentioned above (so-called functional integration).

Both the electric components (such as lights, window lifters or power steering) and the very few electronic devices (such as engine control units, navigation systems or anti blocking systems) were separate systems, sharing power supply but running independently. The conventional cars that came out of this first level vehicle development process were highly integrated and optimized “systems of electromechanical components”.

Level 2: System integration. How to develop computers on wheels.

This approach proved itself very apparently insufficient when after the millennium premium automakers made almost every component software controlled and interlinked all these electronic systems to a “system of systems”, however without including proper validation of the electronic functionality in their development processes. As a result, these systems lacked the appropriate technical maturity, and early customers regularly despaired of the rather unpredictable behavior of their vehicles. Especially the luxury class flagships, filled up to the roof with the latest electronic features, surprised their owners by suddenly and unexpectedly opening windows and sunroofs, switching wipers on and off, or stalling the engine.

To quickly come out of this rather embarrassing (and costly) situation, automakers hurried to enhance their existing vehicle integration process by a system integration process to comprehensively validate hardware and software together – first on component level, then on domain level, and eventually on complete vehicle level. While control software changes on component level had typically been executed uncontrolled before, they now had to abide by a strict release process that led to thoroughly validated hardware-software sets (so-called integration levels). Ultimately, the desired system reliability of this “computer on wheels” was secured before the car left the manufacturing plant and was handed over to the customer.

Level 3. Connected cars. Things in the internet of things.

Even though no one never called it so, car radio was the first data based feature provided in vehicles. Having a working component installed was not enough, a car radio could only fulfill its duty, when broadcast stations continuously provided their service. And just like carmakers never had a contract with filling stations obliging them to deliver fuel and oil, they just trusted in the radio stations to keep on delivering appropriate data.

Decades later, data transmission in the other direction, namely from the car to a backend system, was used to indicate imminent service requirements. First via diagnosis cable, then via mobile internet connection. But as these teleservices apply to manufacturers or dealers rather than customers, their reliability has been considered rather uncritical, and their development went not as part of but in parallel to the vehicle development.

However, when data based vehicle features (such as audio streaming, traffic flow information or remote control via smart phone) are rendered to customers, they must be developed as a part of it. But in addition to the electronic systems on-board the vehicle, these data based features also require off-board elements, i.e.:

  • Data provider delivering the required data (e.g. traffic flow or weather conditions).
  • One or more backend servers, where this data is collected, stored and if necessary processed.
  • A mobile network to exchange data between cars and backend servers.
  • Additional connected systems that exchange data with backend servers or cars (e.g. smartphone apps or internet portals).

By this expansion of the system boundaries, cars become connected, become “things in the internet of things”. To ensure its functionality, first of all the respective development process must cover these off-board elements. Then, just like for any other component, quality criteria for data and their provision process must be defined:

  • Data availability: Data must be generated, transmitted and aggregated in a reliable and timely manner. Providing e.g. 10 minutes old data in a traffic flow information system makes it useless at that time and certainly leads to major customer dissatisfaction. Responsibility for data availability lies with data providers, but also with mobile network and backend operators.
  • Data quality: Getting stuck in a traffic jam in a road that was indicated free by the traffic flow information system or realizing that the parking structure the connected parking system has guided you to is fully booked are only two examples for what can happen to the customer if data is available but of poor quality. Here, responsibility lies with data providers.

To safeguard proper function of data based features, the automotive development processes for connected cars must include the appropriate methods, sub-processes and milestones that ensure robust provision of functional data for as long as the respective data based feature is used.

From producer to service provider. The almost unnoticed transformation.

The truly radical change for automakers though stems from the fact that in contrast to conventional vehicle functions, where their job is normally done when the car passes end-of-line inspection at the manufacturing plant, dependable operation of connected cars and their data based functions requires permanent efforts and support over the whole vehicle lifespan. For manufacturers, it is not sufficient anymore to hand over cars and – if required – provide repair and maintenance services, their role now includes continuously operating the vehicle’s features.

This is especially true for autonomous vehicles. In order to safely steer through traffic under all possible conditions, their control systems (which can be considered the most complex data based automotive feature by far) must continuously exchange a tremendous amount of data with their backend, and someone (i.e. the manufacturer) has to ensure that this functions safely and reliably.

At the end of the day, organization and processes must adapt to that transformation. As interaction with the vehicle increases “after sales”, companies have to clarify responsibilities for the ongoing operations of data based features as well as the management of their quality. The classic silo structure – development, production, sales and aftermarket – does not seem to be the right answer here anymore.

First published on LinkedIn on 8. October 2020

Talkin’ Bout a Transformation …


Whether eagerly yearned for or grudgingly conceded: By now, you have probably accepted that electric cars are inexorably on the rise. And even though you are sure that at least in some places there will still be cars with combustion engines on the road by 2050, it surely looks like EVs and Plug-in Hybrids will prevail in the cities. However, what you still find far less clear – even though you witness more and more public chargers around – is how EV drivers will be able to cope with the limited range of their vehicles in connection with the perceived scarcity of charging stations. And while at the same time some nerdish engineers reiteratively broadcast that fuel cells and hydrogen will solve this problem for ever, you still cannot get rid of this uneasy mental image of a huge crater stretching over a highway after a car crash with a poorly maintained hydrogen vehicle involved.


Then, as you read through your business strategy journals, you are told over and over that car ownership, the century old mobility pattern number one, is in rapid retreat. Urban teenagers, whose fathers were dreaming of fancy sports cars when they were their age, don’t even go for a driver’s license anymore. If train, bus or bicycle is not an option, people would not buy or lease cars but rather share a car or call a ride hailing service like Uber, the affordable and app-steered successor of what has long time been known as a taxi. But what is worrying you even more is that new digital service providers are said to take over the complete mobility business soon, with automakers being downgraded to basic hardware providers and public transport companies begging for contracts.


On top of that, automakers claim they will soon bring autonomous vehicles on the road. Not just something like an extra-advanced driver assistance system, but cars with neither steering wheel nor pedals but lots of extremely expensive sensors and software that must be extensively tested and meet standards initially developed for military aircraft. And while in spite of all confidence in engineering you still wonder how these cars would ever make it safely through unsecured road works or snowstorms and – even more significant – who apart from ride hailing providers would actually want to buy them, you witness the heralded date from which on these robocars should populate our cities’ streets being postponed year by year.


And as if all this wasn’t bad enough, some of the young guys around you, the ones wearing sneakers, a full beard and watching e-sports, tell you that data is the new gold, that big data means even more gold, and that your company should work agile, fail fast, provide something you would call completely unacceptable but they call minimum viable product, scale and ultimately indulge yourself in a so called digital transformation. All that of course independently from whether you are in automotive, mobility services, energy, public transport, insurance, law, or whatever. After thinking it over, you are left with the feeling that this is not all new but still kind of frightening. If only you would understand all these fancy IT buzzwords.


If your work was related to mobility for the last couple of years, all of the above probably sounds familiar. The battle-hardened manager, now somewhat disoriented and undetermined in this overgrown jungle called mobility of the future. How do all these bits and pieces fit together? The good news is: No one has ever been brought from one place to another by software alone. But the fact that vehicles and smartphones send and receive an exponentially increasing amount of data, that they are connected to back-end servers and with each other, and that artificial intelligence can create astonishing and valuable information from this data, will not only improve vehicle and service functionalities but dramatically change the way they are developed, produced or rendered, marketed and sold – and especially how vehicles and their private or corporate customers are served after sales.

The key for survival and success is embracing change. At the end of the day, the question is neither if you should proactively engage in a digital transformation nor when you should do it (the answers are yes and now). The sole question is how – and can usually not be answered sufficiently by the people who brought your company to where it is today …


First published on LinkedIn on 5. August 2020

Surrounded by Idiots – or Can the Mobility Change not be Looked at in a More Differentiated Way?

Mobility moves emotions too

A look at the comments on corresponding posts on LinkedIn or elsewhere proves: The change in mobility affects each individual very directly – and is accordingly emotionally documented. Comparable to issues such as nuclear energy or migration applies: anyone who takes a different opinion from myself and that opinion – whether actually or only assumed – threatens my own circumstances, attacks me personally, and I shoot back accordingly quickly and sharply. A factual debate often falls by the wayside.

It is obvious that the right solution for everyone does not exist, indeed cannot exist. In terms of mobility, it not only has everyone’s own individual preferences and priorities, but also everyone has to cope with their own framework of individual and general constraints – be it the personal life situation including the available financial resources, the local availability of certain mobility offers, including the necessary infrastructure or the applicable legal situation.

So anyone who asks the family man, who on the daily commute from his home with garage in a quiet community to his workplace in the nearby business park never had to stand in a traffic jam let alone worrying about a parking space, to think about giving up his car, will hardly find any understanding. Conversely, if you live in the city centre, where the monthly parking space rental in an underground car park is in the range of the leasing rate of a mid-size car, and you come to the office from your apartment in less than 15 minutes by subway, you are probably glad not to have your own car and to be able to use alternatives such as car sharing or ride hailing if necessary.

Change, yes, of course. But where to where? 

It is undisputed that driving your own car has been the standard in mobility for decades, and accordingly all other forms of transport have been referred to as mobility alternatives – despite the fact that some of these alternatives have been available for much longer and are also used by far more people than owned cars, especially in the big cities. The fact is, however, that the traffic situation resulting from this standard in the cities is perceived by the people living there – both by motorists and by other road users – more and more as a massive, multidimensional problem: on the one hand, due to traffic jams and parking shortages, on the other hand, by deterioration of air quality, increasing emissions of greenhouse gases and noise, deterioration of road safety and occupancy of the scarcer public space. The fact that more and more people want to move to the suburbs and want to be mobile there with their own car is constantly exacerbating the situation.

All those affected agree that the traffic situation needs to change. However, opinions differ clearly on how the problems could actually be solved and how a corresponding change should look like: those who want to continue driving hope for more roads and parking facilities, whether by expanding the existing transport infrastructure or by switching to mobility alternatives as possible. If you care about reducing emissions, you want the continuous replacement of internal combustion engines by electric drives. And if you want to have more green spaces and space for alternative mobility in your area, you might want inner cities without private cars.

Extreme positions of individual mobility

In the end, the real mobility situation is always the result of the sum of individual decisions made within a framework of personal possibilities and preferences, market-side offers, available infrastructure and last but not least regulatory/political conditions. The individual not only decides on his or her personal mobility mode, but also regulates the supply of mobility products and services via demand and also influences the promotion or rejection of different solutions by means of regulatory requirements through the election of a party or a delegate. The change in mobility is thus supported, at least in democratic conditions, directly and indirectly by the will of the majority – and is therefore often difficult for the individual to understand and endure.

In this situation, on the one hand, many people today have the impression that politics and society are interfering in more and more things that used to be a purely private matter. Of course, everyone is allowed to smoke – but not everywhere for a long time. Of course, everyone is allowed to wear whatever they want – but they are also confronted with the conditions under which their garments were made at the other end of the world. In principle, everyone is allowed to eat what they want – but they have to accept questions about fair trade, environmental protection and animal welfare. The same feeling now arises in terms of mobility: Can I not even drive a car now?

On the other hand, there are people with different personal values and priorities who, for example, attach great importance to ecologically and socially sustainable life and action, cope wonderfully without a car of their own and feel affected by the mobility behaviour of others in their quality of life. From such a point of view, it is often incomprehensible why someone wants to hold on to their own car around everything in the world.

How do we get to sensible and majority-capable solutions here as citizens with mobility needs, as mobility providers or even as politicians, despite all differences of opinion? An indispensable prerequisite for this is the fundamental assumption that people with an opinion other than their own do not generally represent them out of stupidity or malice, and the willingness to deal with conflicting points of view in a factual and differentiated way in a consideration of the overall system. A look at the motives from which extreme positions are represented helps. In this sense, figures 1 and 2 show different reasons, for which the positions “I drive with my own car and want to continue doing so!” and “I don’t own my own car and don’t want one!” are taken – each descendingly ordered by how easy alternative can be found.

In addition to the understanding of the “opposite side”‘s reasoning, this analytical analysis also reveals the shortcomings of one’s own reasoning or supply: those who want to sell cars would do well to understand why some people do not or no longer address this offer, and with which vehicles or services customers could be held or recovered. Those who offer alternatives to owned cars, on the other hand, should look very carefully at what drives people to continue to drive their own cars in spite of everything.

Let us not be under any illusions: in the end, this approach will not lead to a result that everyone is happy with. But it makes the debates on mobility change noticeably more constructive and thus leads it clearly towards an overall optimum.

Coronavirus and Mobility: Every Cloud has a Silver Lining …

Most of the measures taken to solve the problems caused by mobility aim to improve or enhance the available choice of mobility options, e.g. by designing electric cars with lower or no emissions, enabling autonomous driving, creating alternative vehicle concepts, generally improving publictransport or offering innovative mobility services.

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Few measures however focus on the actual root cause of these problems, namely the individual mobility needs. Apart from the tremendously long-term and costly political efforts to transform monocentric into polycentric cities in order to keep people in their neighborhood and thus shorten the average trip distance, a short-term and effective measure is to reduce the overall number of trips by replacing on-site gatherings through means of tele-cooperation, e.g. tele-working, tele-learning or tele-diagnosis. But while the required technology has been available for many years, its application often stalled due to rather irrational hurdles: IT had not installed the required hard- and software, associates were reluctant to stay back home, managers were afraid to lose direct control, professors didn’t want to give up personal interaction with their students, patients were reluctant to measure blood pressure, pulse or body temperature by themselves. And after all, the pressure and need for this transformation has obviously not been considered that urgent.

But now, as the measures taken to staunch propagation of Covid 19 lead to companies having their associates work from home whenever possible, schools and universities closing down, doctor’s appointments being postponed, and face-to-face meetings being generally reduced to a minimum, tele-cooperation undergoes a true boost. As there aren’t any more alternatives, people get enabled, use the technology for the first time – and then realize not only how easy and comfortable it works but also how much time they can save that they formerly spent traveling. And furthermore, it becomes clear that hard- and software for tele-cooperation are part of the so-called critical infrastructure and that its availability and performance should be secured accordingly.

Aside from all the severe and worldwide impact the Coronavirus pandemic will have for a while, the boost of tele-cooperation and its positive side effects for mobility are certainly here to stay.


First published on LinkedIn on 15. April 2020