Getting around in the future

November 2017

When the writers of Back to the Future Part II presented their vision of life in 2015 almost 30 years ago, flying cars naturally featured. Today, this future is already in the past and, in reality, flying cars are no more than prototypes. Widespread use is not looking likely as too many technical issues simply remain unresolved. However, one thing is certain: How we get from A to B is changing. What does the future hold for mobility? What means of transport will we be using in a few years’ time, given the emergence of ever more new technical possibilities? There is particular potential in the area of autonomous driving and electric vehicle fleets. Many believe they will be especially instrumental in shaping the mobility of tomorrow – provided, of course, that safety risks are eliminated.

For many, the car is more than just a mode of transport: It is not uncommon for a great deal of time and love to go into looking after vehicles, which might be customized and even given a nickname. However, in the discussion about autonomous driving, the car is about much more than that. It is not just about a car simply driving itself. It becomes an extension of living space: Electric, connected and fully tailored to individual requirements. Drivers are recognized and given technical support on the road as required, as well as being entertained with music and news from social networks or other media. Many believe that the concept of autonomous driving will play a part in determining our mobile future: 42% of respondents in four European countries are very or fully convinced that this will be the case. Almost as many (41%) think that self-driving, electric vehicle fleets will strongly influence our mobility behavior. These are the results from the study “On the road again – Global survey on millennials’ attitudes towards current and future mobility”. For this study conducted by the GfK Verein in collaboration with GfK Automotive, more than 7,000 respondents from seven countries – including around 4,000 individuals in France, Germany, Italy and the UK – shared their views on various mobility concepts of the future. They assessed the influence of autonomous driving, shared mobility, self-driving vehicle fleets and air-taxis.

Air-taxis are ranked as the third most influential concept. Of all respondents, 36% envisage that passengers will reach their chosen destination by autonomous flying drones in future and anticipate that this will have a big impact on personal mobility. Incidentally, just over one in three thinks that shared mobility concepts will play an important role going forward. If this proves to be the case, it would be possible to always choose the best transport option from a comprehensive range of public transport, sharing concepts and new mobility services – supported by virtual aids, of course. 

Country comparison: Italians have the greatest faith in new concepts

Looking at the results for individual European countries, when it comes to mobility, significant changes are anticipated by Italians, in particular. Of all countries, they ascribe the greatest potential to all four concepts in this respect. More than one in two thinks that autonomous vehicle fleets will greatly influence transportation in future, while almost as many (49%) consider shared mobility concepts to be especially promising. However, respondents are also optimistic about the prospects for air-taxis and autonomous driving: 44% and 43% respectively take the view that these represent viable modes of transport in the future. On the topic of autonomous driving, people in France and the UK (both 41%) as well as Germany (42%) agree with Italy. Evidently, many consider it entirely conceivable that drivers will have to do less on the journey because the car takes over certain tasks automatically. With regard to the other concepts, respondents in the other three countries to some degree have different opinions. Only 39% in France, 38% in the UK and 36% in Germany think that self-driving fleets will strongly shape the mobility of tomorrow. Opinions are also divided on the subject of air-taxis: 38% of respondents in the UK can envisage this option being an important mode of transport in the future. In France, the equivalent figure is 34%, while only 29% feel the same in Germany. On the significance of shared mobility, respondents in France, Germany and the UK are again noticeably more reserved than the Italians.

It is possible that an air-taxi or fully automated vehicle will at some point become available to all, but would we really want to get in? Which mobility concepts are generally regarded as viable is governed by respondents’ own use intentions only to a limited extent. Respondents in all countries find it most feasible that autonomous vehicle fleets will be used to get from A to B. In fact, 33% state that they would be very or extremely likely to use this option. Ranked second, 26% plan to use air-taxis, followed by 25% for autonomous driving and 24% for shared mobility. However, overall it is evident that the potential influence of all four concepts is generally rated higher than the individual willingness to actually use this service.

Intention to use: Greatest potential for self-driving fleets

Differentiating between individual countries for this question, Italy also comes out ahead when it comes to likelihood of use – for all concepts in the survey. Overall, 40% of Italians see it as very or extremely likely that they will use a vehicle fleet in a few years. The values are considerably lower for France, Germany and the UK, at around 30%. One in three Italians can envisage being picked up and transported by a drone. By contrast, this is only the case for 19% of respondents in France and 23% in Germany. Only Brits come close to the 30% approval rating of Italians. This percentage is also above-average when it comes to autonomous driving: 31% of Italians anticipate that they will be out and about in a car equipped with smart technology at some point. Again, the UK almost matches this figure with 29%, but in France and Germany, only 23% and 16% respectively are excited about this prospect. While shared mobility is regarded as an interesting mobility option for 30% of Italians, this is only the case for 19% of respondents in Germany, 22% in the UK and 26% in France.

But why do people often still have reservations about new mobility concepts, even in Italy? It is above all safety aspects that cause consumers to be reluctant. Of respondents who would be very unlikely to use autonomous driving, air-taxis and the like, 33% identify possible dangers for passengers as a reason for their rejection. For 29%, fear of a possibly losing control while driving is the reason for their skepticism. One in five state that they do not trust the technology and 16% even regard it as frightening or doubt that it even works. Alongside these aspects relating to safety, other possible disadvantages are mentioned as arguments against these mobility concepts. Just over 20% of non-users do not see any real benefit or suspect data protection problems. For 21%, the potential extra cost plays a key role. Slightly fewer respondents (15%) feel it would restrict their decision-making freedom or criticize the fact it would make driving less enjoyable. On this question, Germans appear to have bigger doubts than average across the board: For eight of the ten most-mentioned barriers, Germans are above the average for all European countries in the survey. Concerns are seemingly much greater for the topics of safety and data protection, in particular. Skepticism towards new technologies is also comparatively high. Germans only take a more relaxed view of any potential additional cost or loss of control when driving, on a par with the European average at 21% and 29%, respectively. 

Barriers: Consumers show reluctance due to safety aspects and fears about a loss of control

The aspects that particularly worry this group of potential non-users vary from concept to concept. Air-taxis often come off worse than other mobility ideas, especially when it comes to aspects relating to safety. Accordingly, 44% of non-users see safety shortfalls in the use of flying taxis, presumably because their development is still at a relatively early stage. Respondents also particularly suspect a loss of control for air-taxis (36%), while an above-average percentage (29%) simply regard this mode of transport as daunting, which is hardly surprising, given the notion of transporting people in a fully automated way. A lack of trust in the technology is a reason for continued opposition for 29% of respondents. One in four also thinks this mobility concept will simply not work. In this regard, systems on autonomous driving do noticeably better (12%). However, concerns about data protection are greater: 27% give this barrier as the reason why they will probably not use autonomous driving in future. From the perspective of non-users, the belief that a mobility concept will not offer any clear benefits above all applies to autonomous driving and shared mobility. The latter is also regarded as having a detrimental impact on the freedom to make decisions by an above-average share of respondents (23%). A lack of driving enjoyment and worries about additional cost principally appear to be a hurdle for automated driving.

Regardless of the hurdles that individual mobility concepts still need to overcome, everyone is excited about one thing that might materialize in future: The extra free time while traveling. Instead of having to concentrate on seemingly endless traffic jams or idly standing on a crowded bus, people could do something better with their time. When it comes to autonomous driving, most respondents would use the time gained to look around and enjoy their surroundings. Across all countries, this was the top alternative to attentive driving, chosen by 36% of respondents. This is revealed by answers to the question asking how the available time would most effectively be used. Just as many would listen to music, the news or audio books, while 33% would surf the Web and 32% would use that time for a nap. While on the move, a little less than one third of consumers could envisage eating or drinking, reading or chatting to others. Communicating with others via email, SMS or WhatsApp would be an option for 25%, while 24% would be most likely to watch films and videos. Almost one in five would use the time in an autonomous car to take a break and 18% would like to have a massage.

What to do if there is less time on the road?

Respondents in all the countries in the survey therefore above all wish to have free time for entertainment, communication and relaxation in their stressful everyday life. However, some would also use this time to work: 18% would dedicate this gained time to their job and 16% to video calls with colleagues or friends. In addition, 15% could envisage playing games. This time would also be a good opportunity for some body care: Though styling hair, doing make up or having a shave are only mentioned by 9% of respondents, while 8% would do some exercise at the wheel. Finally, a not insignificant share of people would concentrate fully on driving, even if they were in an autonomous car. In fact, 19% could not imagine doing anything else with the time they have gained.

Spare time in the car: Surf, listen, enjoy

On this question, too, people are not always in agreement between different countries. For Germans, leisurely gazing at the world around them is not the top choice, as they would rather spend the time gained online (34%). Thoughts on how this time would best be used are also different in the UK when compared with the European average, with 42% most interested in listening to music, the radio, news or an audio book while traveling. In Italy and France, enjoying the surroundings is number one, with 42% and 39% of respondents respectively.

Are these ideas and wishes just visions of the future? Not necessarily. The UK government recently committed to extensive investment in autonomous cars and is aiming for driverless cars to be on UK roads by 2021. Autonomous vehicle fleets are also no longer a work of fiction, with Uber planning to establish a fleet of this kind. Shared mobility concepts that smartly combine various modes of transport are already conceivable today. What about air-taxis? This is where there are likely to be the greatest obstacles, especially in view of technical and safety aspects. Though evidently they are not impossible to overcome. In September, a passenger drone was sent on its maiden voyage in Dubai, albeit without passengers on board. Perhaps the Back to the Future Part II writers will be right after all, with their idea of the future involving flying cars. After all, other developments such as video phones, flat screens and portable telephones were predicted rather accurately.

Data source: On the road again -  Global survey on millennials‘ attitudes towards current and future mobility (GfK Verein and GfK Automotive), October 2017

If you have any queries please contact Bettina Saffer, GfK SE. Contact person for queries about Compact: Claudia Gaspar. (e-mail to