The Mobility Show

  • October 24, 2023

There used to be car shows – annual events at which the car manufacturers would show off their latest designs, to wet the appetite of car buyers.

How about a mobility show, instead?

That’s what the Tokyo Motor Show – which until now was like the Detroit Auto Show and the New York Auto Show – has evolved into. It sounds like a show for the latest devices to assist the handicapped and in a sense, that’s just exactly what they’re showing. Only it’s car ownership – and driving – that’s being handicapped.

“Mobility” is a term that’s increasingly used by what what the car industry was – as it transitions into selling transportation as a service.

As opposed to cars – as a product.

The problem with the latter business model, of course, is that once a product is bought, it’s owned. And the buyer stops paying for it.

That’s a problem for the car industry, paradoxically – because most people don’t need to buy a new car very often anymore, because the car industry learned how to make them run reliably for 15-20 years. This has been so since at least the mid-’90s and it’s why one regularly sees cars from the ’90s still in use today – almost 23 years after the end of the ’90s. It is why it is possible for the average car being driven daily today to be going on 13 years old, which is remarkable if you’re old enough to remember when a ten-year-old car wasn’t just old but looked it and drove like it.

This writer helped his mother get a brand-new Lexus RX300 back in 1998. That Lexus is still being driven – by my niece, my mom’s granddaughter, who is a freshman in college this year. It has more than 200,000 miles on the original engine – and the paint still looks almost new.

This sort of thing is common.

And it’s a problem – for an industry that would like to sell new cars. The problem there, however, is that new cars have become less reliable – due to all the “technology” embedded in them – as well as less affordable, in part because money is less valuable. Everything costs more, so people can afford less. And so they keep what they have already paid for as long as they can.

You see the problem.

Bill Gates pioneered the solution. Don’t sell people a product; sell them a subscription. Over and over and over again. That way, they’re always paying. Microsoft used to sell products, too. You bought the box that contained the disc that had the program – and after you’d paid for it, it was yours. You could give it to someone else – for free.  You could use it on a different computer – without having to pay for it, again.

Bill didn’t like that because there wasn’t enough money in. Or control, the thing Bill likes even more than money. So now you pay serially for a license to use his software, which he controls. 

And that’s what this “mobility” show (and business) is all about.

There are still cars being shown. But that misses the point. There is a reason for the change in name from Tokyo Motor Show to Mobility Show. We use words to convey meaning and by getting us to use different words, they can get us to think differently about things. That’s why they use words such as ask – when they’d rather you not think too much about being told.

You are a customer – which makes you think you’re there to get something you want or need, rather than forced to be there to pay for things you don’t want or need.

Orwell’s 1984 is a valuable book in part because it is a book about etymology – the power of words to shift meaning and thereby, thinking.

Mobility tells you what they’re thinking – if you’re listening.

“Remember that feeling of being excited about what tomorrow holds? The feeling of  dreaming big? We want to recapture that,” the PR release for the Mobility Show reads.

Italics added.

Recapture the feeling? Well, what happened to it? Car people were always excited about the annual car shows; there was no need to recapture anything – because it hadn’t been lost.

Should we be excited about what’s being replaced?

The PR release tries to make the pending transition from owning to renting sound exciting. “In 2023, the Tokyo Motor Show evolves into the Japan Mobility Show, a gateway to experiencing the future . . .”

In italics to emphasize the emphasis on the virtual and ephemeral rather than the physical and actual. One experiences a ride at the amusement park. Each experience costing a certain amount. You do not own the ride and once it’s over, you are left with just the experience – sans what you paid for it.

Transportation as a service – the future of mobility – will work like that. You’ll pay to ride, if you’re allowed.

Are you excited about what tomorrow holds?

. . .

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