Innovation is essential across industries, but ASUG research indicates that SAP customers in the automotive sector feel they are still stuck in the manufacturing world of the past. In many ways, the vehicles we build and drive today aren’t that different than the models Henry Ford popularized at the start of the last century.

At the same time, the auto industry has seen dramatic innovations—robotics-enabled manufacturing, high performance electric vehicles (EVs), and cars that are generally morphing into electronic devices.

Enter Frank M. Rinderknecht, founder and CEO of Rinspeed, Inc. If you ask him, the car of the future is not a car at all—it’s an entire rethinking of the way we move people and things. The average person may be most familiar with Rinspeed’s most popular invention: the integration of the radio and other controls within a car’s steering wheel.

But Rinderknecht’s true focus is on more revolutionary innovations.

“In the future, automotive and other transportation will all blend into mobility,” he says. “It will be a new model, a seamless transportation environment based on what’s fastest, most convenient, and most comfortable.”

“Snap”: A Modular Vehicle Concept

Rinspeed’s newest innovation, the “Snap” system, attempts to solve two problems: the amount of time our cars sit unused in parking spaces and the mismatch between the life cycles of cars’ IT and mechanical components. “Snap” frees the chassis, or “skateboard,” to disconnect from the body, or “pod,” of the vehicle so it can continue to operate in other capacities.

ASUG News had the opportunity to sit down with Rinderknecht and ask him to help connect automotive innovation, market pressures, technology, smart cities, and the emotions associated with our vehicles.

Ann Marie: Tell us what Rinspeed does in the automotive industry.

Frank: Well, you could call us a think tank or a thought leader in the mobility industry. Rinspeed does two things. For one, we’re an inspiring partner to companies who want to understand the future of mobility and the possible impact on their services or products. The automotive marketplace is changing extremely quickly, so what makes you money today might not be viable tomorrow.

And second, we are a service to the tier 1 and tier 2 automotive companies. We build concept cars, teaming up with the best of the industry to demonstrate innovation with models that make future possibilities more tangible.

Ann Marie: What inspired you to found Rinspeed?

Frank: I am curious to understand the mechanisms of mobility. Mobility is not only transportation of your body—it’s also associated with a lot of emotions. Those emotions range from perceptions of safety to comfort and so on. It’s most interesting to look at it holistically, from the point of view of the customer.

Ann Marie: Your mission connects mobility with sustainability, among other things. What are some other core principles that guide you?

Frank: Design plays a strong role. Many times, form follows function. With the “Snap” vehicle, to use more of the interior space I must sacrifice a little bit on the design. But people do not want to buy a sustainable car that looks awful. You do not get the recognition as a pioneer if the design is not pleasing.

Ann Marie: How does Rinspeed help companies reimagine the kind of cars that consumers want today?

Frank: Here I would counter with a provocative question: Does the customer really know what they want? Did people 10 years ago know they wanted an iPad? They couldn’t even imagine an iPad. You must guide the customer to what they want or like. It’s extremely difficult for an OEM to retune their employees to what we’ll call Mobility 2.0, because they’re all stuck in Mobility 1.0. At the end of the day, what makes people change is pain. The higher the pain level, the more you and I and the OEMs will change. Right now, this pain may be driven by the new companies popping up outside the traditional industry.

Ann Marie: It reminds me of the Henry Ford quote: “If I asked customers what they wanted they would have said faster horses.”

Frank: Exactly.

Ann Marie: Why do you think everything has changed so dramatically in the past six to eight years?

Frank: From the outside, it’s the issues of congestion and pollution. From the inside, it’s IT. In my opinion, IT is the real game changer. IT enables electrification and automated driving, and that connects back to finding relief for pollution and congestion.

Ann Marie: How is “Snap” helping break the old patterns?

Frank: First is the fact that Level 5 [complete automation] in the automotive industry will redefine transportation vehicles, their usage, and business cases. Level 5 is not just taking the steering wheel and column out of a Chevy Malibu, and here you go. It will be too expensive for that. In early stages, we are talking about $50,000–$100,000 per vehicle to achieve, which automatically eliminates 95% of people as potential owners.

Second, you have to bring the life spans of IT and mechanicals together, which means that you have to get value from the expensive components and the time-sensitive components of the vehicle within three years.

In a given day you have two transportation peaks: from 7–9 in the morning and from 4–6 in the evening. The rest of the time, those vehicles sit around. They are used maybe 30% of the time overall. Our idea with “Snap” is to make transportation modular. Modularity allows you to use the mobile parts over the whole day. Now it’s used up to 80% of the day, which means that the life span automatically shrinks because it’s driven more and not sitting around.

Ann Marie: Why do you feel that flexibility is so important to the future of the mobility industry?

Frank: The big question for everybody becomes, “When is L5 happening?” There is no black-and-white answer. It’s not happening at one place and time. And the automotive industry is so afraid of not knowing when it’s coming. You need to be flexible so once L5 takes off, you won’t lose your pace or be left out.

Ann Marie: How does mobility connect with emotion?

Frank: Mobility will not be just a vehicle. Maybe Level 5 shuttles or taxis come in different levels of comfort and connectivity. Maybe new companies enter the world so that a brand like Louis Vuitton has its own vehicles.

I will go so far as to suggest mobility in the future might be free, like Google. You will get a lot of service, but you will pay indirectly because you will have to look at ads. Or, for example, Amazon could enter the mobility market by offering transportation to customers who spend a minimum amount on their Amazon Prime accounts each month.

Or a restaurant will pay for your trips if you order a certain amount of food.

Ann Marie: How do you think these new types of vehicles and urban mobility will change our relationship with the car?

Frank: Fewer people will own one, and sharing will not be for everybody. With Uber, you have UberPool, UberX, and Uber Black. It will still be an extremely segmented means of transportation. Rather than a bus or train, where you have to catch it somewhere, the possibilities in individual mobilities will be much wider.

Ann Marie: If brands like Amazon or Louis Vuitton get into mobility, what will that do for emotion and status?

Frank: If I arrive in a Louis Vuitton vehicle, everybody knows that I’ve spent more money. That’s also why you buy it—to show off that you are doing well. Take airplanes. Obviously, the levels of comfort between first and business and economy are different, but you still get to your destination at the same moment. If this works in the airline business, why couldn’t it apply to individual transportation on the ground? The main idea remains: Mobility will stay emotional, whether you are in your own vehicle or one operated by someone else.

Ann Marie: And with the “Snap” framework, you’re trying to change those emotions, right?

Frank: Yes. To create sensible, sustainable, and efficient mobility, we have to redefine vehicles. The modular vehicle—“Snap”—is one approach. We know that the solution we have made with “Snap” is not yet 100% there, but if you don’t try, you don’t find new ideas. It’s a journey, and journeys are about learning.

Ann Marie: What is Rinspeed’s vision of what mobility looks like in smart cities?

Frank: We will see a different arrangement than today. Today, the city paves the road, they install the signals, they do whatever makes it possible for you to drive and park—but they don’t get a direct benefit. They only get a benefit by you parking and doing business or shopping.

I could easily see a new system like is already commonplace in telecommunication with the auctioning of bandwidth. If I am the mayor of New York City and I know I need, let’s say, 100,000 individual vehicles, I can say, “Okay, I’ll do a tender for a maximum of four companies. I don’t want a monopoly. Those companies that can give the best deal in transportation safety, comfort, and city revenues can serve the people.” The influence of cities could become much stronger than they are today.

Ann Marie: That’s very different than what we imagine the future of transportation to look like.

Frank: At Rinspeed, we try to imagine possible scenarios and their probabilities. If you see a rather big likelihood, you ask, what would that mean? What does that trigger? Then you start to understand. And if it happens, then you’re prepared.

Ann Marie: Fascinating ideas. Thanks for sharing them with us, Frank.

If you’re interested in learning more about innovation and mobility, read how “Data Drives Mobility for Daimler’s Business Shift.” For more discussions on the future of mobility, please save the date for our Best Practices for Automotive event Oct. 5–7, 2020 in Detroit.