Mobility: From ownership to usership

by Philipp Kanape
Design Director moodley design group

The entire car industry is built on the business model of ownership, same as the music industry was. What the car industry can learn from the music industry.

User or owner, that is the question

The way mobility has changed over the last decade feels radical on one hand but already so natural on the other. The car industry turned its focus from full fuel to full electric, chauffeur services turned into a platform business and micro scooters or rental bikes are around every corner. At the touch of a button, the user gets access to exactly the kind of mobility that suits the moment.

People are more and more used to not owning the full spectrum of vehicles anymore, which has resulted in a shift from “ownership” to “usership”. But is usership actually something people really prefer, or is it more of an economic issue that forces them to simply use instead of own? With my thoughts on this matter, I don’t want to give answers. I rather want to have a look at the different factors that may have influenced this shift, with a focus on mobility.

Ownership, generally said, is the state of possessing something – like land, the house standing on it, the car parked in its garage and the bikes in front of the house. Ownership can be a personal achievement of a lifetime and subjectively not valuable in money or any other return of goods. The opposite extreme is value-measured ownership, which follows the not-so-romantic goal of building a monetizable fortune or sharing it in return for money (rent, lease, etc.).

In times when mainly physical goods had been dealt with, people handed over something to someone and got paid for the pre-defined value of it, and the goods changed hands. I do remember the times when people bought CDs with the software they wanted to install or the music they wanted to listen to, so they owned their own copy of Adobe Photoshop or the latest album of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.

New needs require new perspectives on mobility

Changing the perspective to here and now, very few people buy their music on CDs anymore. Instead they stream it and sometimes even don’t know the title of the song, album or even the name of the performer. The mobile device on which people are listening to streamed music? It’s probably owned by the telco carrier with whom they have a 24-month contract.

Actually, mobility is going through a transformation that we already know about from the music industry. The design of the business model of an entire industry sector is forced to change because mobility transforms into an on-demand service where the focus is on usage, not ownership.

This doesn’t mean that the car industry is not going to produce cars anymore. It means that the purpose of the car itself will change for different types of people. There are those who are still fans of investing in LPs, and the ownership of an album is an important symbol to them because it is also part of their status and identity. But there are also those people that just don’t see the value of ownership, but identify value in usership and focus on the “in-the-moment” experience.

Putting the user first

Currently, the car industry is focused on a KPI which is not resilient in terms of future growth, with keeping the transformation as mentioned already in mind. The production or delivery of a car will be irrelevant for most of the brands, same as the amount of U2 albums sold became irrelevant for the music industry.

It will be important for the car industry to additionally build its success on qualitative KPIs with the user in mind, that don’t result in the manufacturing line or the handshake after a successful deal is made.

New user-centric metrics will allow the car industry to build additional business models, services and add-ons to stay current with a radically transforming industry that needs to reshape its focus from ownership to usership.

about the author

Philipp Kanape is Design Director of moodley design group with 15+ years of experience. He guides moodley clients and teams in strategically driven brand, product and service initiatives, always striving to understand the needs of both his clients and their customers. When he's not busy traveling the world creating design concepts, Philipp enjoys the quiet country life or holds his breath while challenging himself at apnoe diving.