Smart Mobility: What Germany can learn from the “Start-Up Nation”

Smart Mobility: What Germany can learn from the “Start-Up Nation”

Since the early 2010s, Israel has been working diligently to position itself as a frontrunner for smarter and cleaner means of transportation. To that end, the Prime Minister’s Office launched the Fuel Choices Initiative in 2011, a governmental program for advancing alternative fuels and means of transportation. 

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An international forum for innovation in transport

Since the early 2010s, Israel has been working diligently to position itself as a frontrunner for smarter and cleaner means of transportation. To that end, the Prime Minister’s Office launched the Fuel Choices Initiative in 2011, a governmental program for advancing alternative fuels and means of transportation. 

On October 29-30th, the Fuel Choices and Smart Mobility Initiative of the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office launched its 6th Annual Smart Mobility Summit in Tel-Aviv. The 2-day event not only gathered international political and industry leaders in the fields of transportation, energy and innovation, but also showcased the latest achievements in terms of e-mobility, autonomous driving, biofuels, and innovative business frameworks. Speakers notably included executives from major automobile and tech companies (including Tata Motors, Porsche, Hyundai, Waze, Hertz, and Daimler). It also offered a platform for hundreds of Israeli start-up companies to demonstrate the viability of their products, software, and services to large multinational firms, as well as representatives from national and local governments looking to integrate smart solutions into their future mobility plans. In total, the Summit attracted over 4000 participants (1000 of whom came from abroad) and enabled 500 formal B2B and B2G meetings between Israeli start-ups and potential international clients and investors.

On the evening of the first day of the Summit, a gala dinner was also organised to award the 2018 Eric and Sheila Samson Prize for Innovation in Alternative Fuels for Transportation. The first of two laureates this year was Gordon Aurbach, veteran researcher in electrochemistry at the Bar-Ilan University, recognised as one of the influential minds behind the recent technological advancements in electricity storage. The second award winner was Lars Peter Lindfors, senior vice president of Technology at Neste, credited for his ground-breaking work on developing bio-diesel fuel from organic waste materials, which has already contributed to reducing climate emissions by 8,3 million tons. On that same night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also delivered a speech strongly advocating for innovation and sustainability in transport.

Smart Mobility in Israel and elsewhere

Since the early 2010s, Israel has been working diligently to position itself as a frontrunner for smarter and cleaner means of transportation. To that end, the Prime Minister’s Office launched the Fuel Choices Initiative in 2011, a governmental program for advancing alternative fuels and means of transportation. The initial motivation behind this program was to guide Israel to a future in which the economy is no longer dependent on oil imports. Given the government’s objective to reduce oil consumption by 60% as of 2025, the initiative’s mission is to develop and strengthen strategic technologies, industries, and collaborations, both within and outside Israel’s borders. However, the initiative quickly broadened its scope by integrating the concept of “Smart Mobility” into its activities (and its name). In 2017, the government established the National Plan for Smart Transportation which has considerably strengthened general efforts to further drive the sector towards greater sustainability and innovation.

Smart mobility is defined as encompassing several overarching trends driving the transport industry, the most important being alternative propulsion systems (electric vehicles, alternative fuels), driverless and connected cars, and the shared economy. These trends are expected to give rise to new business models as well as new policy frameworks that redefine the relationship between users and mobility, while also addressing key public policy problems such as congestion, pollution, risk of accidents, and access to mobility. Technology companies like Mobileye and Valens and mobility service providers such as Waze and Gett have their roots in Israel and are driving growth in this sector. These examples are also signs of a larger trend, as the digitization of mobility (such as object recognition and tracking for autonomous driving, as well as mobility behaviour projections for shared ride services) has largely benefitted the Israeli tech sector which has developed specific skills in the past, often targeting military defence applications or big data applications for intelligence services.

The concept of smart mobility also plays an important role in business practices elsewhere in the world. Large car manufacturers are drastically increasing their efforts in developing new electric and autonomous car models. This is particularly visible in the case of Tata Motors, India’s largest car manufacturer and parent company of Jaguar and Land Rover, which recently announced a strategic agreement with Microsoft to bring together Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities to create a smart, clean and safe driving experience for its newest car models. Perhaps more importantly, we can also observe a general movement among the world’s largest computer and tech companies (Intel, Microsoft, Amazon, Google) towards the field of mobility, as big data and machine learning are expected to play a central role in the transportation systems of the future. It is also worth noting the deployment of car-sharing business models in various parts of the developed world, including Paris (with its public Autolib’ system) and several German cities (Car2Go, DriveNow).

The need for regulatory frameworks and the way forward for Germany

Given these new developments, whether they are driven by large conglomerates or small-scale start-ups, it is indispensable that governments around the world develop the necessary frameworks that integrate these new mobility solutions into their medium and long-term strategies and put in place the right conditions for the development and scalability of future technologies, fuels, and business models. Singapore’s Smart Mobility 2030 strategic plan aims at implementing new solutions based on an intelligent and integrated transport system to improve commuters’ travel. This strategy places particular emphasis on infrastructure spending, for instance on expanding the country’s driverless Massive Rapid Transport system. Other strategies may be less resource expensive: in recent years, many pilot projects have emerged in the Netherlands thanks to the country’s efforts to collect and analyse very large datasets.

While Germany is often hailed as the frontrunner for energy transition policies, it is important to distinguish the tremendous progress achieved in the power sector (with the fast deployment of renewable energy technologies) from the slow progress made in the transport sector. In fact, carbon emissions from transport have stagnated since 1990. Although this has been recognised as a problem by German policymakers and several local initiatives have been put in place to encourage cycling, car sharing, and new mobility services, a comprehensive national strategy that integrates both the aim to decarbonise the transport sector and the necessity to provide a regulatory framework for smart mobility solutions is still lacking.

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