x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Trend-spotting: car sharing

Soon, we’ll be in a world where app communities and smartphone enabled locks will enable any passer-by to jump in an unused car with the owner’s permission, drive it as they need, and return it.

Abu Dhabi is a city built around – built, really, in homage to – the 20th century’s defining innovation. It’s a city built for cars.

So for one glimpse of the future, it could pay to look at another city built around the age of automobiles: Los Angeles.

For decades, it’s been received wisdom that it’s impossible to live in the Californian city without owning a car. But now, a nationwide trend is starting to affect even this traditional bastion of automobile worship. As National Public Radio reported this summer, the young citizens of LA are turning their back on car ownership, labelling it uncool, inconvenient and even stupid.

They’re far from alone. Across the US, there’s been a significant drop in the number of teenagers applying for a driver’s licence since 1980, according to University of Michigan research.

For decades – ever since the introduction of mass-made, affordable models – the car has been a radically potent signal of personal freedom and owning one has been a key indicator of success. So why are Millennials turning against car ownership?

The thing is, it’s not car ownership, really, that Millennials have a problem with. It’s the whole idea of ownership as it’s currently understood; the entire economic model that sees us all buy objects, sit them on our driveways or in our houses, use them when we want and let them stand idle the rest of the time. Instead, Millennials are turning to a new model. You might call them Generation Share.

When it comes to cars, people under 30 have proven the most enthusiastic customers of car-sharing services such as Lyft and Zipcar: businesses that park fleets of cars across cities that customers can jump in and out of at will. Why own a car, when you can simply access one as and when you need it?

But the sharing model is not just set to change the way we drive. It’s being applied to almost any consumer product that you can think of and could fundamentally reshape our economies and the way we live.

From Sweden’s ToolPool, which let’s users share their tools, to the US based SpokeSwap, which allows users to share audio equipment and consumer electronics, to Pleygo, a rental platform for Lego sets (yes, you read correctly), the age of ownership is giving way to the age of access. It’s a picture that throws into question the very nature of our economic lives. And yes, it’s led by Millennials, but older adults are following in their wake.

What’s behind this sudden outbreak of sharing? It’s the network. The online space has made it possible to advertise our own unused assets and instantly make contact with peers who have something – a car, a hammer, a dress – that we need.

So it turns out that networked societies can be radically more efficient when it comes to allocation of resources. For decades, most cars, most of the time, have sat unused on driveways and in parking lots. Soon, we’ll be in a world where app communities and smartphone-enabled locks will enable any passer-by to jump into an unused car with the owner’s permission, drive it as they need and return it. Theft will be unlikely: every car will be part of the internet of Things, and instantly traceable by police (or, indeed, anyone). Call it capitalism 2.0.

So, are you ready to start sharing?

David Mattin is the lead strategist at trendwatching.com

artslife@thenational.ae