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The Ride Ahead

How to Respond to Declining Car Ownership

frog’s global survey uncovers who is ready to give up on ownership, and what competitive companies need to offer in return.

With headlines touting the decline of car ownership and the “end of car culture,” automobile manufacturers are on the precipice of the unknown. Reducing personal vehicle ownership can have positive results. Around the world, app-based car services are using data to optimize traffic flow, save riders money, and save lives. Pedestrians benefit from cities that plan and design specifically for the “on foot” urban experience. Finally — and empirically — having fewer vehicles on the road reduces our environmental impact.

But doomsday for car manufacturers is not here yet. frog’s 2015 survey of 1,199 general population participants across China, Denmark, Germany, and the United States shows that personal vehicles are by far the most common and preferred mode of personal transportation.

How-to-Respond-to-Declining-Car-Ownership_1.1When asked to think ahead, however, 37 percent of car owners revealed that they would like to give up their car or that they could get by without it.


Thirty percent of car owners would give up their car before giving up their smartphone, which demonstrates that smartphones have become more useful than cars to one-third of the population sampled.

How-to-Respond-to-Declining-Car-Ownership3.2Given that smartphones have been commonly available for only 10 years, we expect the proportion of people who value them more than their car to grow swiftly and significantly. In our survey three percent expect to be a car owner for less than a year, and another 17 percent report they will give their car up sometime within the next five years. This may suggest that 20 percent of the market could be open to alternative service models within the next five years. If you expand that out to the next 10 years, 29 percent of the market could be ready to make such a change.


As cities grow and services develop, the need for car ownership becomes increasingly obsolete. But cars still have an important role to play. There is an opportunity for alternatives to vehicle ownership, and our research suggests new solutions to date have merely scratched the surface.

The ‘no’wner migration

The migration to non-ownership is underway, but not all consumers are moving at the same pace. We identified four segments of drivers that differ based on demographic and psychographic profiles, as well as attitudes and behaviors toward personal transportation. One segment in particular — the Dutiful Do-it-alls — is most likely to part with their vehicles if presented with the right alternatives. Their multi-faceted behaviors present design challenges and trade-offs but, if framed effectively, reveal a multitude of focus areas for disruptive models.


Designing for ‘no’wner needs

To understand what would prompt the Dutiful Do-it-alls and other drivers to replace their cars with alternative transportation models, we triangulated responses to a variety of behavioral questions about transportation. We found three predominant needs that underlie our attachment to personal vehicles: achieving personal freedom, maximizing productivity, and feeling capable and in control. As companies focus on creating better transportation services, these motivations should inform the development of new offerings.


Transportation as personal freedom

Personal freedom was the greatest and the most consistent underlying desire cited by participants in our survey. When we asked drivers what they would miss most if they had to give up their cars, the most common response was “the freedom to come and go any time I want,” followed by, “the ability to drive anywhere, door-to-door, and beyond the reach of public transit.” Service models that afford people the freedom to come and go on their own time, or create the experience of personal freedom in different ways, will have broad appeal.

For example, transportation options that already lend themselves to personal freedom (i.e., personal vehicles and app-based taxis) should have a brand strategy and competitive positioning grounded in “transportation as freedom.” Constrained modes of transportation such as buses and trains require a more creative approach. Imagine a public bus with permanently open doors and ample open space that customers can get on or off of at any time, instead of being restricted to pre-determined stops. Though seemingly implausible, we apply the principle of freedom to a physical space in order to envision how customers might experience freedom. Provocations like this stretch our thinking to arrive at truly revolutionary solutions.

Feeling productive on the move

Feeling productive while in transit is very important to people, and a lot of room for improvement exists. Fifty-six percent of our overall sample claim they like to be productive in transit. Commuters are significantly more interested in productivity; of those who routinely commute an hour or more (35 percent of our sample), three quarters claim they like to be productive during this time. During transit almost two-thirds of the sample text, email, browse the web, talk on the phone, listen to music or audio books, or use navigation services. Services that facilitate productivity on the move will be attractive to users.

We can imagine a private bus service in Shanghai, equipped with custom newsfeeds, built-in tablets, desks, whiteboards, and noise-canceling phone booths to facilitate productivity for Dutiful Do-it-alls commuting long distances and seeking to make use of that time. Alternatively, a service that uses big data to optimize carpools citywide could increase efficiency. The service could allow drivers to turn their commutes into a source of income and free up would-be drivers to work while getting a ride to the office, with the added benefit of reducing the number of cars on the road.

Capable and in control

Even when we are not actually in control behind the wheel, innovations in transportation should cater to our strong sense of self-efficacy. Two-thirds of people with a car in their household consider themselves to be the primary driver. Of those who use a car, three quarters prefer to be the driver. A third claim to change their own oil, and half consider themselves savvy enough to know how things work under the hood. Service models should be designed and positioned to give users a sense of agency and ownership over their transportation.

For prevalent services, such as maintenance, offerings should empower users to manage their maintenance with a small investment of time and minimal skill. Automotive manufacturers could empower users to do-it-themselves using connected-car technology. On the more disruptive side, a next-generation automobile dealership could allow members to use dealerships’ high-quality tools and technology to perform basic maintenance themselves. In such a setting, certified mechanics could also provide training, which would further appeal to consumers’ desire for control.

Full speed ahead

Our survey results show that some drivers are primed for vehicle non-ownership, and progressive thinkers throughout the automotive ecosystem are taking note. To create meaningful solutions, transportation stakeholders will need to understand changes in behavior as well as the underlying motivations and needs behind customer behavior. Through user-centered design, transportation providers can uncover these latent needs and develop principles for their offering. A safe place to start might be to test the three latent transport needs we found within our general population sample: freedom, productivity, and control. Once principles are identified, innovators should find ways to incorporate them into all facets of the customer experience, from websites and marketing messages to the physical spaces customers occupy. Finally, automotive companies and their partners must design with the greater good in mind. The migration from personal vehicle ownership to non-ownership should catalyze improvements to infrastructure, increased health and sustainability, and more choice for consumers.

For more information about the survey, click here to visit the Study Appendix.


Anthony Gregorio

Anthony helps companies devise strategies for new products and services designed for top line growth.

Amanda Giacchetto

Amanda “Mandy” Giacchetto is a Senior Strategist based in Amsterdam. She flies all over the map to help companies innovate and to find the best brunch.

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