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No market in the world is as impressive not only in size but also in uncertainty about its future perspectives as China. For example, economic growth has slowed down in the past years but is still high compared with that in other regions. Are we going to see those rates stabilizing at levels close to today's rates, or will the next 20 years be shaped by a totally different economic situation in China? The gap between different possible economic future scenarios is extremely large, reflecting the tremendous insecurity in the market.

But not only the economic situation is an important pace-setter for the mobility market of the future: Environmental regulation and other regulatory policy for transportation have the potential to either further promote strong growth in the car market or hinder it. At the moment, we observe mixed signals, with some cities strongly regulating the mobility market and others still pondering such measures. The way public transport systems in urban areas will be promoted in the future will also have a tremendous impact on the way the Chinese mobility market will look in 2030.

All of these factors are much less certain than they usually are in most other large markets. The combination of high uncertainty and market size make China an ideal candidate for creating scenarios on the future of the mobility market. Doing so helps us build a spectrum of different possible development perspectives and thus enables decisionmakers in mobility companies active in the Chinese market to prepare for a variety of possible future developments.


The future of mobility in China is important to decisionmakers. Without some ideas about how and how much the Chinese population will travel in the future, it is difficult to know whether infrastructure will be adequate, whether cars will continue to rise in popularity, and whether policies are needed to manage automobility.

Instead of trying to predict these situations, or extrapolate from existing trends, the research team on the project reported here used a scenario approach to develop two distinct alternative futures for the country. Data were based on expert opinions about the long-term future in four areas: demographics, economics, energy, and transportation supply and constraints.

The Institute for Mobility Research, known by its German abbreviation ifmo, sponsored the research reported here. ifmo has conducted several scenario exercises for Germany and previously engaged RAND to execute a scenario study for the United States (Zmud, Ecola, et al., 2013). The results of this similar study for China should be of interest to policy- and decisionmakers concerned with the long-term future of transportation.

In terms of related work, RAND and ifmo also recently published a report, The Future of Driving in Developing Countries (Ecola et al., 2014), that looks at long-term motorization trends in four developing countries, making predictions based on a variety of possible futures combined with the experiences of developed countries. For the Transportation Research Board, RAND has conducted three other long-term strategic studies, looking at options for adopting alternatively fueled vehicles (Sorensen et al., 2014), incorporating new technologies into the transportation system (Popper et al., 2013), and evaluating the impact that sociodemographic changes can have on travel demand (Zmud, Barabba, et al., 2014).

The RAND Transportation, Space, and Technology Program

The research reported here was conducted in the RAND Transportation, Space, and Technology Program, which addresses topics relating to transportation systems, space exploration, information and telecommunication technologies, nano- and biotechnologies, and other aspects of science and technology policy. Program research is supported by government agencies, foundations, and the private sector.

This program is part of RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment, a division of the RAND Corporation dedicated to improving policy and decisionmaking in a wide range of policy domains, including civil and criminal justice, infrastructure protection and homeland security, transportation and energy policy, and environmental and natural resource policy.

Questions or comments about this report should be sent to the project leader, Liisa Ecola ( This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it ). For more information about the Transportation, Space, and Technology Program, see or contact the director at This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it .

The Institute for Mobility Research

The Institute for Mobility Research is a research facility of the BMW Group. It deals with future developments and challenges relating to mobility across all modes of transport, with automobility being only one aspect among many. Taking on an international perspective, ifmo's activities focus on social science and sociopolitical, economic, and ecological issues, and they extend to cultural questions related to the key challenges facing the future of mobility. The work of the institute is supported by an interdisciplinary board of renowned scientists and scholars and by representatives of the BMW Group, Deutsche Bahn, Lufthansa, MAN Truck and Bus, Siemens, and the World Bank.

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