In a series of ocean waves, it has been widely observed that the seventh wave is much larger than the waves which precede and which follow it. Metaphorically, this phenomenon can be applied to disruptive innovations. Such developments in the marketplace are often perceived as surprising or unprecedented, but upon closer examination are seen to have been developing for some time.

The products which characterize the seventh wave of innovation themselves have evolved over time, and are the result of a build-up of expertise and a process of problem-solving. The seventh wave is the full-flowering of the process, and can be likened to the enhanced technology that, in fact, disrupts the marketplace.

The seventh wave: From personal transportation vehicle to personal mobility

We have witnessed a product evolution for at least two decades that has positioned the golf car-type vehicle for playing a major role in urban transportation solutions. The PTV product has advanced from a privately-owned golf cart with minimal accessories and a DC motor to a vehicle with AC technology, hydraulic disk brakes, rack and pinion steering, a wide range of engineering improvements, more automotive features, including improved seating, heat and air-conditioning systems, and other automotive features and styling. Lithium battery power offers the promise of greater distance, faster charging, and a much longer life cycle.

All is in readiness for the application of self-driving technology, vehicle interactivity, and significant market expansion. Market expansion? Doubters will point out that the NEV/LSV landscape is littered with the remains of moribund companies that thought the time for market expansion had come. Such are the likes of Dynasty, Miles Electric Vehicle, Electric Transportation Systems, and Stealth. Indeed, survivors in the LSV, personal transportation space are those vehicles produced by major manufacturers as part of a much broader product line, wherein the LSV accessories are added for those consumers and commercial users whose need or necessity for travel on public roads may be necessary, but is quite limited.

Why is it (or may it be) different this time?

The words, “quite limited” are key. For the PTV to become the prototype of a large global market, there must be a significant change in the environment in small vehicles operate, such that the need and necessity for them are quite substantial. That change is not yet present, but it is, in fact, being intensively studied and developed. So, what is that change?

Problems of urban mobility provide the game-changing context.

The anticipated change has to do with transportation systems that service both residences and business establishments within an urban complex. This transportation system will involve, experts believe, not only systems of public transit, but individual transportation modules operating as privately-owned vehicles or fleets. Thus the transition from PTV to the broader concept of persona mobility.

Concepts of future transportation systems became an important topic in policy discussions in the mid-2000s and gained momentum in the context global warming, which, in turn, led to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in November 2016. The Obama administration signed on to the Agreement; the newly elected Trump administration withdrew barely six months later. While transportation is a key focus for those advocating policy in context of climate change, urban transportation issues are hardly confined to carbon emissions and global climate change.

In fact, it could be argued that an even more pressing consideration is the growing congestion seen in urban traffic patterns. Traffic congestion constitutes a major hindrance to the efficiency of a city’s reason for existence. This is hardly a secret, but what has changed is the urgency of dealing with the problem. As populations throughout the world, in the process of development, congregate in cities, the potential market for efficient solutions to traffic congestion, grows exponentially.

Moreover, the problem of pollution does not go away. One can perhaps argue that air pollution is not a global problem, it is clearly a local one. And the “local issue” has a large and growing number of urban sites. According to New Geography, an authoritative source of population statistics and urbanization trends, 53% of the world’s population now lives in urban areas of 500,000 people or more. Over the next 20-30 years the number of mega-cities (over 10 million in population) will grow as will the percentage of the population in urban areas. This growing concentration of populations spells increasing problems of congestion and pollution.

In response to these current and impending issues experts have been discussing new means of urban transit with increasing intensity for at least a decade. Currently, commentary and conferences on the issues are much in vogue. Consulting giants Arthur D. Little and McKinsey & Company have been weighing in with articles and analysis on the subject, The Future of Transportation World Conference will take place in July (2017) and the Urban Mobility Conference took place just a month earlier in Montreal.

Technology advances and new platforms in urban mobility

In the past, futuristic urban solutions have mainly focused on public transportation systems. Two technological advances have altered this perspective: 1) On-call privately-owned vehicles activated via smart phones; and 2) Artificial intelligence systems which lay the groundwork for connected vehicles capable of interacting independently with the environment. The former is already in large scale commercial operation and the latter is well on its way.

Independently-operated and owned fleets, such as Uber and Lyft, provide what public transportation systems can only approximate, and that is, point-to-point individual transit. Not only do they provide this additional and important convenience, but also serve the purpose of greatly reducing the number of vehicles that would otherwise be operating in cities.

A variant of this system is one-way car-sharing, in which unused vehicles in a would-be driver’s vicinity are located via smart phone, accessed, driven to the desired destination by said driver, and then parked, awaiting the next user.

The next step up–interactive, driverless, and SMALL

The next step up would be fully interactive, self-driving vehicles. In terms of physical presence, these vehicles are likely to be small and electric powered with no more than 10 kilowatt motors, and fully-enclosed. The frame and drive train would be much like present day PTVs, but the open air upper carriage would be replaced with a solid (not curtained) enclosure for year-around operation.

These vehicles answer all four of the issues involving urban transit:
• Reduce congestion: a small physical size and on-call, opportunistic use;
• Reduce urban pollution: electric power;
• Increased safety: the benefit of inter-vehicle connectivity;
• Convenient: Point-to-point personal conveyance.

Thus, to amplify the point made previously, specifically regarding PTVs, the opportunity for a much wider market occurs only when the overarching environment changes in a favorable way. And in this case, the change is centered at the interstices of urban transit and self-driving technology. These developments are well underway. The seventh wave approaches.

If they are not already, golf car manufacturers and others should be following these trends very closely and preparing their PTV products for a breakout into a much larger market than we currently see and for that matter are projecting in this report.