A glimpse into the future with Georges T. Roos: megatrends and game changers in the automotive and retail sectors


The Swiss automotive industry is undergoing a major change that is not only shaped by new technologies, but also by global megatrends such as climate change, demographic change and digitalisation. But how exactly do these megatrends affect the automotive sector?

Georges T. Roos, a renowned Swiss futurist, puts these into perspective, explaining what mobility could look like in 25 years’ time and how the automotive industry can address these challenges.

‘Imagine a morning in the summer of 2048. The sky over Zurich is getting darker because it’s rush hour. Lots of people are on their way to work in their flying cars. There’s congestion in the air just like there is on today’s roads,’ says Georges T. Roos, who begins his keynote speech at the AutoScout24 after-work session at Kaufleuten in Zurich with this vision. What sounds like a science fiction film could soon become reality. The renowned Swiss futurist is certain that ‘Some megatrends will pose major challenges and fundamentally change the automotive industry.’

Nothing to do with crystal balls

But what are megatrends? And why are they important for future research? ‘Anyone who thinks that futurists like Mike Shiva gaze into a crystal ball to predict the future is mistaken. Futurists base their forecasts on megatrends,’ says Roos. He defines megatrends as overarching developments that are both global and long-term, and have a significant impact on every area of our lives.

The circular economy as an opportunity

According to the futurist, climate change is one of the megatrends with the greatest impact on mobility. ‘If we want to achieve the Paris Agreement climate targets, we need to place a lot more emphasis on climate protection measures. And because transport emits a significant amount of carbon dioxide, it’s particularly effective to address it in this sector. Decarbonisation and the switch to alternative energy will help us do this,’ says Roos. Their use will lead to disruptive changes in the automotive industry. This is because the transition to electric drives not only means a change in powertrain technology, but also in the manufacture and maintenance of vehicles. As the futurist explains, ‘You only need a tenth of the parts to produce an electric motor. Plus, these vehicles require less maintenance. This will fundamentally change the work of car manufacturers and garage owners.’ Roos regards the circular economy as an opportunity to offset the negative impact on jobs. ‘80% of all raw materials currently end up as waste. Returning these to the production cycle could create new jobs, especially in electromobility.’ He is already thinking one step ahead: ‘There may even be compostable cars in future.’

Have they really had their day?

Alongside the trend towards decarbonisation and the switch to alternative drives, the futurist still believes that the combustion engine may yet survive: ‘Biotransformation could create completely new materials. Thanks to this environmentally friendly fuel, petrol and diesel cars may not have to disappear just yet.’ These new materials are made from genetically modified algae and algae absorbs carbon dioxide. ‘So this process has a double effect,’ says Roos.

Faster, better and cheaper thanks to artificial intelligence

Regardless of how cars are powered in future, the fact is that everything in our world is becoming more connected and digitalised. Digital transformation is already in full swing, but Roos predicts an even more profound change within the next 25 years: ‘Virtual and augmented reality, as well as artificial intelligence, will revolutionise the way we work and travel. The idea of smart mobility, where artificial intelligence shows the best, cheapest and fastest route and mode of transport for individual needs, is becoming a reality.’

Autonomous driving in cities

Roos also regards autonomous driving as an inevitable part of the future. In urban areas, private vehicles could even be banned altogether, while a fleet of autonomous shuttle buses, for example, would cater for individual transport needs. This idea of urban mobility without any private cars raises questions about the meaning and necessity of individual vehicle ownership.

Demographic change as an underestimated challenge

Another key megatrend is demographic change. Switzerland’s population has increased by one million in 25 years. However, population growth is occurring almost exclusively in the 65+ segment. By 2040, a quarter of residents will be 65 or older. And the number of 80-year-olds will double. Roos warns against underestimating the impact of this trend: ‘An ageing population and declining immigration in Switzerland could lead to a structural shortage of skilled labour. The automotive industry must prepare for its workforce to be employed for longer and invest more in the training and development of older staff.’ However, the ageing population is not just changing workplace needs, but also those regarding consumption and the demands placed on cars in general. ‘In Switzerland, new retirees are financially well off and can afford a car. But vehicles and the services they provide must suit senior citizens,’ says the futurist.

Overall, Georges T. Roos’ speech made it clear that the Swiss automotive industry is facing exciting yet challenging times. The key to success lies in the sector’s adaptability, on both an environmental and socio-economic level. Innovation, sustainability and forward-looking strategies are the only way for Swiss car dealers and garage owners to shape a successful future.

Brief profile of Georges T. Roos

Georges T. Roos was born in Basel and studied education, journalism and psychology at the University of Zurich. He was a member of the Editorial Board of Luzerner Neueste Nachrichten and the Executive Board of the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute. In 2000, he founded his future institute, ROOS Trends&Futures, based in Lucerne. Roos is regarded as Switzerland’s leading futurist. He is Co-President of swissfuture, the Swiss Society for Futures Studies.

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