Episode: #30 Autonomy: "Change Is Really Driven By Policy-Makers"

Guests:  Ross Douglas, Founder and CEO of Autonomy Paris & the Urban Mobility Weekly


Find transcript here


Summaries of Key Takeaways:  

  • Policy-Driven Change: Ross Douglas emphasizes that meaningful change in mobility and environmental sustainability is largely driven by policy-makers, not consumer behavior.
  • Trends in Mobility: The transition from combustion to electric vehicles, a shift towards multimodal transportation, and the gradual progress in autonomous vehicle technology are identified as significant trends.
  • Event Impact: Douglas discusses how events like the Autonomy Expo facilitate the creation of a sustainable mobility ecosystem by bringing together various stakeholders.
  • Challenges in Urban Mobility: The discussion highlights the challenges cities face in reducing car ownership and managing congestion, even with the shift to electric vehicles.
  • Future of Urban Living: Douglas advocates for a future where cities prioritize space, human interaction, and health over car-centric infrastructure, aiming for a more sustainable and enjoyable urban life.


“To you, what is a Smart City?”

Ross Douglas: “Um, you know, I, I don't think a smart city is a connected city. I mean, obviously all cities will be connected. Um, and, and that's, you know, that's, that's inevitable. I, I think a smart city is a city that's able to attract a lot of talent. Um, you know, what we are seeing now is that, um, cities are competing for talent because what talent does is talent attracts capital and tr talent creates job opportunities for other talent to come. And when you see a city like Berlin or Paris or London, you just see this abundance of talent, money coming in, ideas becoming businesses, other people getting jobs, a lot of them leaving to start their own business. And you're just getting this kind of roll on effect, that sort of snowball effect. Um, and that's really what a smart city is. It's, it's, it's a city that has the ability to attract the talent. Um, and there's not a lot of talent in the world and there's not a lot of money in the world. And so it's highly, highly competitive. Um, you know, and that's really, you know, what, what happens with cities, you know, we work with London and partners with Choose Paris region with Berlin and partners with all these city agencies, and they all, you know, have the same objectives. How do we get the best entrepreneurs, the best venture capitalists to our city as opposed to the the nextdoor city? Um, and if you attract talent, you are able to figure out the problems of the day and, you know, figure out the opportunities of the day. Um, and that's, you know, that's gonna be the big race is to, is to attract the best talent from the world. Um, unfortunately a lot has gone to America and San Francisco, um, and you know, I think Europe in the last five, six years have done quite well in pulling a lot of talent back to Berlin, Paris, London, um, but they need to keep going. And you see cities like talent just, it's just an extraordinary amount of talent. I mean, at autonomy today, you have six, seven companies from talent, you have Bolt, you have um, uh, Elmo, you have Liu, you know, all disruptive, uh, base track, all disruptive, highly, highly clever tech companies. Um, talent is a small city, but it's able to really attract and nurture talent.“ 



  • Change is driven by policy-makers and not by consumer behavior

"I thought incorrectly eight years ago that consumers would read newspapers, get alarmed by climate change and start changing their behaviors radically. But really what actually happens is lawmakers get together and say, 'Look, we need to reduce carbon emissions'. [...] 
So, you know, the leaders in this space that brings about change or the change-makers are actually the policy-makers, not the consumers. So once a policy is set, then companies start adapting to that policy, by making electric vehicles or whatever the case may be, to reduce their emissions. And then consumers adapt last of all." - Ross Douglas

  • We need to build ecosystems and networks to create sustainable mobility solutions

"If you look at combustion motor cars and that community and that ecosystem, it's been around for a hundred years and all those relationships (the oil companies, the motor car companies, the tier one suppliers) they built up that ecosystem over years. [...]

Now you wanna try and replace that with a more sustainable mobility ecosystem. Well, those players need to get together and start building that ecosystem because it doesn't exist. [...]

And what you see at an event like Autonomy is software and hardware companies talking together and saying, 'Look, we've got the hardware, you've got the software. How do we work together to provide an alternative to car ownership for the commuter?'." - Ross Douglas

  • Car ownership is declining in Europe

"You've got this very strong political word from cities to get rid of car ownership, and the industry has to respond to that because is car ownership has just gonna become impossible in most cities. [...] It's very important that the mobility ecosystem understand the political environment they're operating in. [...]

So, you know, you start seeing a bunch of different companies starting to offer very good alternatives to car ownership. And in Europe particularly, we are seeing car ownership reducing, we're seeing car mileage reducing, we're seeing the average age of a new car buyer increasing. So basically young people do not want cars as much as their parents generation." - Ross Douglas

  • Electric vehicles are a means and not the solution

"Many cities still need to be built. If you have to build those cities for electric car ownership, you're just gonna have a massive carbon footprint coming from the construction costs because you need so much steel and concrete. So we mustn't see a motor car as a solution, we mustn't see an EV (Electric Vehicle) as a solution, but as a tool. The solution is really the mobility ecosystem that we need. And an EV should be a vehicle of last resort. [...]

I think we often get, you know, stuck with this idea of a clean energy utopia that is extremely resource-intensive. [...] What you need to do is to try and say 'How do we build cities that are places that are fun, exciting, have space, and can bring together creative, clever people?'" - Ross Douglas