The Global Challenge of Personal Mobility

Brian Clough

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


    Personal mobility offered by the motor car is valued in developed nations whose modern societies now rely on it. However freedom comes at a price. Cars consume natural resources and energy during manufacture and operation of the vehicle. Their emissions also pollute our city air. There are now less than 2000 UK deaths per year from road accidents yet estimates that 50,000 extra deaths have been advanced by air quality degradation. Clean alternative fuels use energy in their production or simply move pollution elsewhere. Many renewable sources consume land and have less energy density than fossil fuels. Different studies predict a doubling of the world motorcar population by 2050. During the same period peak oil is expected to be reached bringing fears of ‘energy conflict’ as nations seek to protect their oil supplies. Car use is becoming unsustainable. Even fuel-efficient and clean small cars weigh 1400kg and too often carry a lone 75kg occupant. Their internal combustion engines pollute at the tailpipe. Car growth has not been matched by increased road space so congestion harms the economy and quality of life leaving big cities close to gridlock. Attempts to make cars lighter for economy are militated by the need for greater occupant safety (with no benefit to pedestrians or other vulnerable road users). The global automotive industry is at a challenging and exciting cusp when radical innovation is possible and indeed necessary but hurdles are not just technical. Legislation must support new approaches to design and safety but more importantly flaws inherent in human nature will have to be overcome to gain acceptance for new and sustainable approaches to personal transportation in wealthy developing countries. This paper will examine critical drivers for change and propose how future designers must prepare society for imperative changes in our attitudes to personal mobility.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2011

    Bibliographical note

    The Global Challenge of Personal Mobility’ – (April 2011)is a conference paper to be presented by B. Clough at ‘Crafting the Future – the 10th European Academy of Design Conference’ at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden 17-19 April 2013. The paper has been submitted for the track ‘Designing Future Mobility’and will be published in the online Conference Proceedings. Author's note: This paper was written specifically for the ‘Crafting the Future’ Conference organised by the European Academy of Design in response to the invitation text:
    “Design is a central field for practice and research in visioning and crafting the future – and facilitating changes that could lead to a better future. Business has realized this to a great extent but also many public organizations have discovered the value of design for developing and communicating services. With the changing role of design, the boundaries of design as well as its practice has changed. When packaged in a process format and language to appeal to managers and large organizations, the core of what designers do is at risk of getting blurred. Designing is about crafting, making, visualizing, and imagining the future, regardless of whether we are involved with products, services, fashion, interactions, or other areas of practice. Have these core activities changed?

    We invite design researchers and practitioners to celebrate the 10th conference of the European Academy of Design with contributions to our conversation on the role of design and designers in crafting our futures. We invite empirical studies that return to the roots of design practice, and theoretical frameworks that help us better explore and understand the role of our practice in business and society”.

    The author had recently undertaken his own study for the MA in Automotive Design and had organised an Automotive Design Symposium at Coventry University. Both activities were closely related to the author’s research interests. The former had generated an amount of new research that had not been recorded in the written MA dissertation but which was presented during the final presentation of the design outcome several months later. This new research only existed in the form of a Powerpoint presentation so the author was seeking to disseminate it further. The symposium was organised, and the speakers strategically chosen, to explore some of the emerging themes from the author’s MA research and from two of the Coventry University research Grand Challenges ‘Low Carbon Vehicles’ and ‘Integrated Transport and Logistics’.
    This paper provided the author with a coherent vehicle through which to capture and disseminate some of the previously unpublished new research that had emerged from the MA project and other related research from the automotive design symposium. The individual elements and concepts are not in themselves new but there is novelty in the relationships between them and their integration into the teaching of Future Designers.
    The opening line of the invitation text was the perfect starting point ,“Design is a central field for practice and research in visioning and crafting the future – and facilitating changes that could lead to a better future”. In direct response this paper will examine critical drivers for change and propose how future designers (and particularly students of transport related design) must prepare society for imperative changes in our attitudes to personal mobility if we are to indeed craft a better future for the generations to follow.
    The full text of this paper is freely available to view at:


    • sustainable personal transport
    • human nature
    • peak oil
    • energy conflict
    • future designers
    • society
    • attitudes to personal mobility


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