The concept of mobility used to be relatively simple. You need to get from point A to point B? Easy: Rent a car, hail a cab or buy a car. Voila — you are mobile.
Mobility is not so simple anymore. Today, rather than whistle and scream for a cab, we can use our Uber or Lyft apps. Instead of waiting in line for our rental, we can use our Zipcar app to show us where the nearest vehicle is parked.
What about sharing our personal cars? About half of the new-vehicle market — nonluxury, nonpickup, mainstream vehicles — is susceptible to sharing. This makes sense because personal vehicles are used only about 5 percent of the time.
With 80 percent of the U.S. population living in urban areas, it's not difficult to imagine a world in which people share their vehicles as a way to better use that other 95 percent of the time.
Sharing vehicles would also significantly lower each partner's fixed cost of ownership. This is a financially attractive idea, and not just for millennials.
Instead of owning a personal car, imagine a world in which Zipcar lives on steroids. Your shared personal car is one of thousands in a fleet, steps from your home.
As the proportion of shared vehicle assets increases, vehicle ownership will shift from individuals to fleets. Individual owners are relatively loyal to dealers during the first three to five years of ownership, and could become more so as ownership equates more with passion than simple economics.
Fleet owners, on the other hand, are not dealer-loyal. They are interested in the highest possible asset use at the lowest possible costs.
The booster rocket for all of this to happen will be the inevitable introduction of fully autonomous vehicles. This will enable Uber and Lyft to lower driver costs to zero, and make the kind of profits that justify multibillion-dollar market capitalizations.
More fleet vehicle ownership means less traditional vehicle service. Fleets will migrate to lower-cost, higher-use alternatives. Our future highways will abound with shared vehicles of all shapes and sizes.
This is coming faster than we may think, and we need to prepare. The good news is that we've thought through many of the solutions; they are relatively straightforward. It might just require re-prioritizing initiatives.
We need to breathe new life into, and place more emphasis on, a few good ideas that have been pushed aside for too long. To continue to put them off would be a mistake with catastrophic consequences.
These survival strategies will properly position automakers and retailers in two ways. They will give current service customers more of what they really want, so they defect less. And they will better prepare retailers to be more attractive to fleet customers for their vehicle service needs.