The New Era of the “Consumizen”

The automobile business is one of the most consumer-focused industries in the world.

The automobile business is one of the most consumer-focused industries in the world. But as we begin to develop and sell sustainable mobility solutions, I think we are going to need to communicate with the “citizen” as well.

Like most all large industries today, the automotive industry rarely communicates to citizens. I remember watching as a teenager the Sunday news show “This Week with David Brinkley” with my grandfather. Big companies advertised on that show, but they were not speaking to consumers. Rather, they seemed to speak of the value of their company provided to society. It was a very different message. Then on Monday morning, the barrage of ads to buy a car or truck to consumers would begin again. For every 1,000 ads reaching a consumer, the citizen only gets a few.

I began thinking about this situation years ago, when working on our small electric vehicle start-up. I’d sit in marketing meetings, where I heard a lot about what the consumers wanted. I’d hear that consumers want this and they wanted that. But our vehicles would deliver benefits such as reduced emissions, improved parking, and other ways to make city life nicer–that many citizens would appreciate. So for me, the term “consumer” seemed incomplete–as most consumers are also citizens.

Both consumers and citizens pay a lot for their transportation. The consumer pays for the vehicle, insurance, and other services. But the citizen pays to build and maintain the roads, maintain access to transportation fuels (through the military), and is on the hook for any upcoming major environmental problems.

 As I continued to think about this, where we are selling comprehensive mobility solutions that benefit both consumers and citizens alike, I wondered if there might be a new term for this consumer-citizen. So I coined the term “consumizen” (con-soom-i-zen). Admittedly, it is not a catchy name.

I wonder if any person who buys an electric car cannot be thought of as a consumizen? A buyer of a Tesla is not only receiving personal benefits, but their community and city are benefitting as well. They are consumizens.

Now it’s clear citizens don’t act as directly as consumers. The citizen needs to vote, to select elected officials that will work towards the improvements they seek. But while the average citizen has had little to say about the future of the transportation business, I expect this is about to change.

As we move into this new disruptive mobility future, cities around the world will be deciding on what their mobility future will be. All of the streets in a city are the public’s right of way. They are essentially under the control of the people of that city. Any major new shared autonomous mobility service will have to seek approval to operate on the public’s streets. Should one new mobility company seek to create a monopoly in a given city, I expect the city will respond and limit that company’s services. I further expect major mobility companies to be regulated just as many large utilities are today.

Recently I’ve run across a growing number of traditional transportation leaders who fear traditional public transit will be eliminated by new shared autonomous mobility services and the lowest income residents of a city will lose access to mobility. But when we think of the people of the city being the owners of the streets, I wonder why a city would ever allow such a situation? If Waymo, Cruise, Uber, Lyft, or another new service provider played a significant role in a city, I’d expect the city to demand that the provider works with (or integrates) with the public transit agency, and that those with the fewest dollars will need to be offered appropriate mobility services if they want a contract to work in that city.

I will be interested to see if any major mobility companies begin to build on their communication with citizens? There is obviously less experience with this, but it may be an important strategy to gaining access to large world city markets and being a global market leader.