My first book, The Future of Automotive Retail, has been well received. I continue to be surprised by the number of people who reach out who’ve found the content thought-provoking. Change across the automotive landscape is accelerating, and the timing of the book has facilitated healthy debate around how industry trends are likely to play out over the next 5 to 10 years.
My new book, The Future of Mobility, is almost complete - we’ve entered the near-endless cycle of edits and revisions. The book will be available by the end of the year, to coincide with kicking off fundraising for Automotive Ventures’ Mobility Fund II.
For this month’s Intel Report, I’m including an excerpt of the book as a preview. I hope that you enjoy it.
This book takes on a far greater task, attempting to connect how future advances in mobility (defined by the ways in which we move humans and cargo via land, water, air and eventually space) might help alleviate some of the largest challenges facing humankind.
We will reflect on what human beings have done, and are doing, to the planet, specifically from the perspective of mobility, and propose how technology and innovations in mobility may ultimately be what’s needed to help us to get out of the mess we’ve created.
A BRIEF HISTORY
Not that long ago, humans obtained most of the energy they needed from the animals and plants they ate and the wood they burned, often aided by their domesticated animals. Windmills and waterwheels captured some extra energy, but there was little in reserve. All life operated within the fairly immediate flow of energy from the sun to the earth.
Everything changed during the Industrial Revolution.
Beginning around 1750, an extra source of energy was discovered in fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — which formed underground from the remains of plants and animals from much earlier geologic times. When these fuels are burned, they release energy that started with the sun and has since been “stored” in fossils for hundreds of millions of years.
Then along came batteries, the biggest innovation in history for the non-organic storage of energy.
The first true battery was invented by the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta in 1800. Volta stacked discs of copper and zinc separated by cloth soaked in salty water. Wires connected to either end of the stack produced a continuous stable current.
The lead-acid battery was invented in 1859 and is still the technology used to start most internal combustion engine cars today. It is the oldest and most enduring example of a rechargeable battery.
When modern capitalism emerged in the early nineteenth century in western Europe and in European offshoots in the Americas and Oceania, economists and political theorists Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels predicted in 1848 that capitalism would spread to the entire world.
By the end of the twentieth century, that prediction was confirmed: Capitalism had indeed become global, but only after a tortuous and violent course of institutional change.
Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, technology has seemed near miraculous, dramatically improving the quality of life, human productivity and wealth. Billions of people around the world today enjoy the benefits of industrialization. It has brought innumerable out of poverty.
With energy being more accessible and cheaper than ever before, most of us do significantly less hard physical labor than earlier generations. People today are able to feed more babies and bring them to adulthood. Many individuals vote and participate in modern states, which provide education, social security and health benefits. Large numbers of people enjoy levels of wealth, life expectancy and travel they could scarcely have imagined before industrialization.
IT'S A GREAT TIME TO BE ALIVE
Indeed, it’s a truly great time to be alive. The Industrial Revolution, followed by healthcare innovation, the introduction of the personal computer, the Internet, the smartphone and cloud computing, has had the effect of increasing human productivity, driving economic growth, improving the world’s average standard of living, and lifting generations out of poverty while reducing hunger.
The world population was around one billion in the year 1800. It is now over eight billion. Population growth, coupled with productivity gains, has meant billions emerging out of poverty, and massive growth of the middle class with more disposable income.
Since 1800, global life expectancy increased from less than 30 to over 72 years of age. Every geography has benefitted; in every region across the globe people today can expect to live more than twice as long as their recent ancestors.
BUT CHALLENGES ARE MOUNTING
But, along with progress often comes challenge; the Industrial Revolution, for all of its great benefits, has created colossal collateral damage.
Pollution has harmed the environment, perhaps irrevocably.
Access to cheap and easy foods has meant record-high rates of obesity and diabetes in the developed world.
Rapid population growth strains both access and equitable distribution of food.
Scientists have identified the birth of the Industrial Revolution as one of the tipping points for increased animal extinctions, as desirable species were hunted to the point of extermination and demand for lumber and expanding farmlands and factories meant leveling forest habitats. Pollution killed off even more animals.
Capitalism, the driver of the modern economy, is showing signs of fraying at the periphery; blindly pursuing individual self-interest has resulted in increasing inequality of income and wealth in some economic systems. While the standard of living is higher for all, many will be left behind as others become richer.
Demand for minerals has meant child labor and safety issues risking human lives continue unabated.
The rate of change is now so rapid that individuals and social systems struggle to keep up. Depersonalization in the age of mass production has led to increasing alienation among citizens of the West.
Despite capitalism’s progress, great wealth disparities still exist. Millions of children go hungry each day. Children are still being exploited in both labor and the sex trade. We still experience war, famine and hunger, even if not at the same levels of the past.
More worrying: After a decade during which world hunger declined, it’s back on the rise, affecting nearly 10% of people globally. From 2019 to 2022, the number of undernourished people grew by as many as 150 million, a crisis driven largely by conflict, climate change, and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ditto for global life expectancy.
After several centuries where it just continued to increase — life expectancy was only 30 years in 1800; today we’ll live on average 72 years — and after 69 years of uninterrupted increase (from 1950 to 2019) — longevity has dropped in the last three years.
Along with the increased complexity of the industrial system has come heightened fragility.
Industrialization depends on the interaction of many diverse components, any one of which could fail. We know that many of the essential components of the industrial system, and the natural resources it depends on, are being compromised. The soil, the oceans, the atmosphere, underground water levels, plants and animals all are at risk.
It’s not just the physical world that’s in danger.
As we’ve benefited from our daily lives becoming more and more digitized, we’ve made the conscious tradeoff to reveal increasing amounts of personal information to third parties. Our greatly expanded digital “surface area” renders us vulnerable to manipulation, hacking and cybercrime.
The global supply chain, while a technological marvel, is too tightly managed — something that became apparent to anyone trying to buy a car or computer during the Covid years — making it too susceptible to single points of failure.
The challenges facing humanity can be organized into a number of categories:
Climate (and the impact on food insecurity, migration, refugees).
Supply chain (and how Covid exposed weak global links).
Longevity of humans (medical advances, Quality of Life).
Financial security (wealth disparity, social safety nets, pensions, savings, world hunger).
OUR CENTRAL THESIS
This book’s central thesis is that Mobility startups span a continuum of how to remedy some of the Earth’s largest issues, driving efficiencies in transport of both humans and cargo across different modalities: land, water, air and space.
To address these topics, the book is structured into eleven chapters, into which we will weave these main themes:
Land (EVs, trucks, public transportation).
Micromobility (e-scooters, e-bikes, Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, shared assets, subscriptions and the convenience economy).
Air travel (including eVTOLs, supersonic and space travel).
Ag-tech, construction, industrial infrastructure and mining.
Battery technology and chemistry.
R&D and new tech (including alternate fuels such as hydrogen, ammonia and SAF — Sustainable Aviation Fuel).
Autonomy (including robotics and artificial intelligence).
Data and connectivity.
Supply chain issues.
Warfare and security (including drones and policing).
We then wrap with a final epilogue where we align all of this content with Automotive Ventures’ investment thesis and present readers with options to guide their own mobility investments.
I’ve written the book so that you can skip around. Each chapter can stand on its own. So, if one chapter appeals to you, start there. If you want to read the book cover-to-cover in order, I’m confident you’ll get a lot out of it.
Will my predictions come true? “Consumers are predictably irrational,” Mike Granoff, who heads venture capital firm Maniv Mobility told me, quoting Duke University professor of psychology and behavioral economics Dan Ariely, “and none more so than the mobility consumer.”
Caveats in hand, I truly hope that you enjoy the book as much as I did writing it!
I look forward to sharing the finished product with you at the end of the year!
Automotive Ventures invests at the intersection of where startups will solve big pain points across the evolving mobility landscape while delivering outsized returns for our investors.
As a team, we remain focused on identifying the most promising opportunities, supporting our portfolio companies in their efforts to scale and succeed, while generating strong returns for our investors. We believe that our strategy of investing in early-stage technologies will continue to pay dividends in the years to come.
Thank you for your ongoing support. We look forward to working closely together with you to create the future of this industry.