Looking back at the past year, and seeing what you predicted for it right back at its start is always a fun game. If you want a chuckle, check here for what I was thinking about this time last year. Back to the here and now, what about 2009? It feels very brave-new-world out there, with the effects of the credit crunch, auto bailout and the imminent inauguration of Pres. Elect Obama all making themselves felt. So here’s some ideas on what might, or might not happen in the next 12 months – and some things we’ll be tracking along the way…
Much of the auto industry had a terrible 2008. And while most are predicting things will get worse in 2009, I’m watching for things to pick up. People pretty much stopped buying cars at the end of ’08, but people don’t just change the habits of a lifetime, so I believe we’ll start to see an element of 'pent-up-demand' take effect. Suddenly, after two months of nothing, there's a rash of 58 plate (new cars registered from September 08) all over south-east England. And with schemes such as Hyundai's, designed to give customers peace of mind that if they buy a car on credit and then lose their jobs, that there is a way out, I think customers will be buying again before ’09 is out…
SAAB may not be so lucky though. Word is that GM can’t find a buyer for the brand, but despite the Swedish Government saying they’ll step in to help, SAAB’s days may be numbered. We sincerely hope this doesn't happen - SAAB is a truly great brand, with currently unrealised potential - my hunch says, that given just a little longer, Anthony Lo's design team might turn it around.
Watch for a brand that you’ve heard of before, but not for decades seen emblazoned on the front of a car as a brand in its own right – Pininfarina – make waves with their ‘B0’ electric car, developed in collaboration with French group, come battery maker, Bollore. If it looks as good as the concept in Paris, it’ll be a winner with consumers in Europe who are cost conscious and still up for eco-flavoured cars. Fingers crossed Pinifarina innovative on the selling and recharging network side of things…flogging them from the back of a Fiat dealership just won’t cut it folks.
Although Hybrid sales are currently falling off a cliff in the US, European buyers still seem keen on effective auto efficiency. America’s appetite for Hybrids appears on the wane thanks mainly to cheap oil prices – but there are predictions that won’t last forever, either. Watch for a second-wave of hybrid mania, spurred by a new Prius (in Detroit this weekend), and two possibly even cleverer new hybrids in the form of Honda’s new (bargain?) Insight and Ford's hyper-efficient Fusion hybrid.
Three carriers now fly the Airbus A380 superjumbo in and out of Heathrow, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. With Air France, Lufthansa and others due to get their first double-decker planes this year, the A380 will be a key selling point differentiator… Do you want to spend 20 hours in the back of a 20 year old 747, or in a brand new, uber-quiet, Marc Newson-designed interior, with on-demand entertainment, snack bar and extra legroom?
Speaking of Heathrow, watch for the proposed third runway to finally hit the buffers this year, as Labour MPs vote against their own party, due to sustainability concerns. Much is being made of a potential high speed rail-link to both northern England and continental Europe, instead. Watch to see how that develops as an alternative.
Boeing will finally get the 787 Dreamiliner airborne this year, not that it will go into commercial service until 2010. But the big question is whether they can surpass 1000 order for the plane (currently at 900).
Watch for a rise in on-demand rental systems for vehicles, and for the rise to prominence of the mobility service provider. While Better Place project stole the headline in 2008 for their proposed electric car charging networks, others will come to the fore this year, as smart phone and 3G broadband penetration grows, and the number of people able to quickly and cheaply access information on the move increases.
The drying up of VC money with recessions has doubtless not done a lot to help this future transport sector, and the fact that Zipcar still hasn’t turned a profit might mean things don't look rosy – but one senses that companies such as this, along with Dan Sturges’s Intrago – are due their moment in the sun. Consumers fearing the big money vehicle purchases, and increasingly questioning the running costs of private cars, might find this year the ideal time to try out renting transportation on demand, particularly in developed cities... Or they might just find all sorts of random things to try out on new rental site eronto.
Support for this theory comes in the form of the first Auto-maker backed car share/mirco rental scheme, in Ulm. Mercedes has been notable by its absence from the auto-meltdown headlines, and experimenting with an idea such as car2go, which instead of leaving unsold cars in fields, puts them on the street for customers to use on a by-the-hour basis, seems like a potentially smart move. Rumours of Merc being in bed with Tesla – despite the San Carlos company’s up-and-down 2008, is probably pretty smart too.
Speaking of which, have you heard that one of the customers on the waiting list for a Tesla Roadster is purported to be one Porsche A.G? Apparently the company that has just swallowed VW was non-too impressed with the performance of a prototype electric 911 (e-RUF) developed by RUF, and has decided to take a closer look at the Tesla themselves. Obviously, this doesn’t mean Porsche are about to produce an electric car, probably far from it, but it’s an interesting development from one of the most powerful, influential and profitable car companies in the world. So we’ll be watching that space too…
Finally, city-based vehicle networks should get a further boost (in publicity, if nothing else) from Paris’s ‘autolib’ system, which will be the most advanced micro-rental system for cars yet seen. Could it do for the genre what the city’s ‘Velib’ bike sharing network did for city bike rental, now on the agenda in cities around the world – including New York?
Some analysts now believe oil is underpriced, and in recent weeks, its fall in price seems to have leveled off. Watch for it to rise again in 2009, and for one of Obama’s first ‘unpopular’ decision to be the introduction of a higher gas tax levy – we recommend reading Darryl Siry's and Autopia's well-argued pieces to understand why this matters.
Networks + Technology
Twitter – the online micro-blooging site, which gripped us throughout 2008, will go (if it hasn’t already gone), mainstream. Witness it being tipped as one of the sites to watch for 2009 by all and sundry in the press, at present. But as more people join, the ‘fail whale’ already seems to be returning, and the big question could be whether twitter ends up going the way of facebook – dominated by irritating people you thought you’d left behind at high school..! Our hope, and suspicion, is not. Incidentally, if you’d like to follow us, we're @JoeSimpson and @Charmermark, or click through the widgets to the right.
Geo-tagging is one of the things we’ll be exploring in much greater depth in 2009. While many have been utilising the feature for some time (it is the addition of geographical location data to media such as photos), we haven't really utilised its potential and usefulness yet, so we’ll be getting to grips with it, and make the most of it throughout 2009.
Cities and locality
As the recession bites in the UK, cherished high-street names such as Woolworths, have disappeared. So does this mean an increasingly homogenised world, with high-streets full of Tesco locals, and little else?
We hope not, and have long talked about the different undercurrents and trends in each city, which we believe are critically important and of increasing influence in the field of design. With the help of our extended network, and as we move around the world in 2009, we’ll be doing more deep-dive, trend-based research in certain cities. Ultimately, we think there’s value in monitoring and trying to understand how small, subtle changes are affecting large cities around the world, and what trends are emerging where.
And above all…
Without wishing to sound twee, above all we want to critically engage you, our readers, with what we’re doing throughout 2009. Rather than mere broadcasting (which is admittedly what this feels like...) We’ll be focusing heavily on areas like video, and social media tools, to try and have a multi-way conversation – between those we meet who are shaping the future of how we move around, ourselves, and hopefully you, as the reader. We want to know what you think, and what you want to know. So we hope you’ll jump in whenever you like. Suggestions, criticisms, thoughts and ideas all welcome. Comment on the blogs, DM tweet me here, or mail me here.
Welcome to the brave new world, and happy new year!
Posted by Joseph Simpson on 8th January 2009
Disclosure: Ford is sponsoring our Design Research Work throughout 2009. Joseph Simpson leads research on automotive and city-related topics at The Movement Design Bureau. He is also an associate at Car Design Research, a contributor to CarDesignNews.com and a visiting lecture in Vehicle Design at London's Royal College of Art.