Lexicon® Blog

Archive for the ‘Brand Name Development’ Category

Why the Executive Suite Must Be Involved in Brand Name Development

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Consumer Research, corporate naming, Naming on January 11, 2017 at 11:18 am

by Lexicon Branding Founder David Placek

executive-credentials

The role of the CEO — to drive growth, create new markets, and lead the process of meeting consumer demand — is inextricably linked to the development of effective, dramatic, and unique brands and the brand names that help to establish them. The difference between narrowly defined words or phrases like ProChip and ReadyMop and brand names like Pentium and Swiffer is dramatic. Pentium and Swiffer both represent platforms to create new markets, new products, and highly valuable intellectual property. While ProChip and ReadyMop merely describe products, Pentium and Swiffer define them.

In general, companies tend to under-value the power of a brand name. Although they look at names such as PowerBook, Pentium, and Swiffer and say “Wow,” they don’t necessarily understand or appreciate the investment of time, strategic thinking, and creativity necessary to create a name like Pentium.

Our work with Andy Grove at Intel, Dirk Yaeger at P&G, and John MacFarlane at Sonos demonstrates that when the CEO is involved, and they respect the power of good brand names, good things happen. Yet, every year hundreds of brand name projects are delegated to assistant brand managers and junior product managers, many of whom have no experience in leading a creative process or have the needed vantage point to understand the true potential of the product they are naming. It’s why we have so many boring, descriptive, and unoriginal brand names in the marketplace.

Several years ago, a company with a very generic name, “Internet Diamonds,” engaged Lexicon to create a new and distinctive brand name. The result of our work was Blue Nile. Consider the potential expansiveness of this simple solution: color, vibrancy, history, richness. The name fires up the imagination of consumers from around the world who are interested in buying jewelry and other gifts from the internet. Today, Blue Nile is the world’s leading online diamond jeweler.

Where would Intel be today if Andy Grove, then the President and CEO of Intel who led the naming exercise for the fifth-generation processor, had chosen the name ProChip? Would the brand ProChip be as well-recognized as Pentium? Would consumers be as brand loyal to a ProChip as they are to Pentium? In short, Pentium gave Intel a very distinctive marketing asset. Research conducted both in the United States and Europe revealed that the word Pentium sparked the imagination of consumers. When naming is driven by leadership, the results are exponentially higher because the CEO has the necessary oversight to see how and where to direct the product, service, or company.

How Lucid Motors Got Its Name

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, corporate naming, High Technology, Linguistics, Naming on November 8, 2016 at 8:30 am

lucid-front-page_copy

With over 25,000 trademarked brand names in the automotive category in the U.S. alone, developing a name for a new car is a big challenge. “In this case, the client made it easy,” said David Placek, the President of Lexicon Branding, who worked with Silicon Valley-based Atieva to create a new name for the company that is building an intelligent, electric luxury vehicle.

According to David, Lexicon started the program with a presentation from then-Atieva that was truly inspiring. Staking a new claim for America in the luxury vehicle category, the client team wanted to recapture the spirit of innovative engineering in the heart of California. Among these soaring goals for the company and the vehicle, the team set a very unique objective for the name: “We don’t want it to sound like a car.” That request, combined with the fact that the vehicle is far beyond the ordinary, opened up creative possibilities for Lexicon way beyond more traditional automotive projects.

With a mission to “amaze customers through outstanding performance, beauty, space, and intelligence,” Lexicon initiated the creative process. Lexicon’s linguists in China, Germany, France, Mexico, Spain, Canada, and Japan began to gather intelligence on the culture of electric vehicles and existing brands of cars, motorcycles, scooters, and e-bikes in each market. Next, three small creative teams were briefed and deployed against a range of creative goals and targets.

During a review of dozens of potential solutions, one name received the most attention for its meaning, sounds, and surprising grammatical structure. Lucid, a real English word — an adjective, which is peculiar for a car name — that conveys the notion of intelligence and awareness from its meaning as well as smoothness and simplicity from its sounds. “The name does everything we wanted,” said to David Placek, “It certainly does not sound like a car, but gives you a sense of innovation and intelligence which is what Atieva is all about.” For Placek, whose company coined Subaru’s Outback and Forester, Mercedes Metris, Toyota’s Venza and Scion brands, and GM’s OnStar, the name is certainly a standout. “There was certainly an element of risk,” said Placek, who was quick to point out that without a strong client team with a vision and willingness to take the risk that being truly new requires, Lucid Motors would not exist.

Eric Jackson and Nika Wynnyk

For more on Lexicon’s work and process >> www.lexiconbranding.com/our-work

Building an Informed Brand

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Naming, Naming Research on November 2, 2016 at 9:15 am

Informed: having or showing knowledge of a particular subject or situation

A typical selling process begins with a dialog between customer and brand. There is an exchange of information. If the customer’s functional, emotional and rational needs are met through this exchange, then there can be a “handshake” and a sale.

Success depends on the implicit and explicit information being communicated by the brand to be in sync with the customer’s needs. This is what Lexicon refers to as informed branding. 

Building a wellinformed brand is the challenge if the brand is to win in the marketplace. For the purpose of this discussion, we will assume that the physical product is at par or better than its competition and focus only on what it communicates.

Ideally, brand communication will help carve out a unique niche in an established marketplace, or establish a new space in a new market. Informed branding helps assure that the dialog between targeted customer and brand is a meaningful and positive one.

screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-12-31-21-pm

Informed branding starts with positioning, i.e. how does the brand differentiate itself from its competitors. Where does it ‘fit’ in the customer’s understanding of buying choices? There are surprisingly few fundamental positioning choices. At Lexicon, we have identified only six. A simple audit of the category can help identify which positioning spaces are already occupied by competitors, and which are available and appropriate to the new brand. The decision can also be made to inhabit an already occupied positioning space, if it is believed that the company can do a better job of executing in that space, or that the product being introduced is simply much better than the competitor.

Through consumer research Lexicon has identified the functional and emotional associations consistent with each positioning. We use these associations to inform brand name development by specifying which creative directions are most likely to produce suitable name candidates. Then, on the back end of a project, a winning name candidate or candidates emerge when their associations, determined through research, are the most consistent with the associations known to fit with the desired positioning.

When this is achieved, positioning and brand name are working as one and should be in sync with the functional and emotional expectations of the targeted consumer. These should be supported by packaging, graphics, advertising and promotion all fine tuned to the same associations map.

 -Bob Cohen, Senior Consultant

Automotive Think Tank Final Thoughts: Noah Rucker

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, High Technology, Naming on September 1, 2016 at 4:03 pm

From our Summer 2016 Automotive Think Tank Blog

It’s been quite the journey.

From Changing Lanes to Insuring the Future, the automobile – and the world we live in – seems destined for change. Details as small as the term ‘daily commute’ could shift, evolving from current connotations of negativity to ones of relaxation or even vibrancy. Something to look forward to, not dread.

This Think Tank has been about exploring these possibilities, and it should be noted that the ideas we’ve generated are not just whimsical thoughts or impossible fairytales. Even while writing these posts, notable happenings such as Ford’s Bold Announcement or Tesla’s Master Plan have sprung forth. The Battle for the Backseat is already under way, and Commoditization of the Car Exteriormay soon begin. Quite truly, the future is in motion, and the shifting automotive landscape may be a revolution in the making.

And, as with every revolution, there is the need for guidance. There will be both early adopters and late adopters, as was explored in our post Call Me Old Fashioned, and it will be a brand’s job to steer users smoothly into this new world. As visionaries in the field, Lexicon Branding hopes to give its clients – current and new – the tools to distinguish themselves in this new space.

We’ve all heard that phrase to ‘embrace change’, but we often find ourselves coming up with every excuse not to. But truth is, companies will need to come to terms with this motto, and sooner rather than later. Ownership, aesthetics, even sociability: these aspects could all soon change. And while some of these implications were explored in our posts Sharing is Caring and Sharing Interests, the ideas behind them are virtually limitless.

Before long, our landscape may very well become unrecognizable. Cities could look different, and personal habits could change. For companies, it’s important to pair these changes with brand names that capture the essence of these innovations and ideas – to truly marry the spirit of the future with the ideas of the present.

At Lexicon Branding, we’ve envisioned how this revolution could play out and how it could give rise to new and distinctive brands. With a cornerstone of our lives on the brink of change, we are at the cusp of this revolution, gazing ahead, spying handholds in the precipice to lead a brand to its peak. And we can’t wait to see what this revolution brings.

Hopefully that drives the point home.

 

*thanks to Think Tank member Sarah Schechter for the images!

Automotive Think Tank Final Thoughts: Eva Epker

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, High Technology, Naming on September 1, 2016 at 9:02 am

From our Summer 2016 Automotive Think Tank Blog

I rode my bike everywhere this summer. A car would have made grocery trips, hill climbs, and city visits much easier than they were, but the responsibilities of gas, parking, and maintenance outweighed the benefits.

In five years, though, if I have to choose between a car and a bike once again, my decision may be completely different. An autonomous car, one that is literally around the corner, would allow me to forego the responsibilities of car ownership while keeping the convenience of having one. The autonomous capabilities of that car would also allow me to read or sleep, ride to and from work with others who share my schedule, and visit local tourist attractions with like-minded people.

Lexicon’s Think-Tank was an opportunity to explore these possibilities and to map out a world that doesn’t yet exist but soon may. For example, Ford wants autonomous cars on the road in the next five years. But getting these cars on the road is just the first step, and this project was meant to explore what could happen next. How will car interiors, exteriors, and insurance companiestransform? How will societies transition from people-driven cars to self-driven ones? Are the cars we know today destined to be only relics of the past?

The past ten weeks have given Lexicon’s summer interns an opportunity to pull on their individual experiences and the knowledge they gained this summer in order to brainstorm possible answers to these questions. This blog is the result of conversations and creative sessions, emails and edits, posts and puns.

Our vision of the future may turn out different from reality, but, by developing our own ideas, we hope to inspire others’ creativity and improve their understanding of the future of autonomous vehicles and automotive branding. That way, as autonomous cars gain popularity, as cities adapt, and as branding changes, our readers—and clients—have an improved understanding of the world around them and of the decisions they may face—even the ones as simple as choosing to store their bikes safely at home for the summer.

Automotive Think Tank Final Thoughts: Kennedy Placek

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, High Technology, Naming on September 1, 2016 at 8:58 am

From our Summer 2016 Automotive Think Tank Blog

No one expected the age of globalization to start when it did. No one thought life in the 19th century would go from rural to highly interconnected and industrialized in a blink of an eye. No one expected the housing bubble in 2006 to burst and bring most of the world’s income to a crashing halt. No one fathomed that ISIS would transform into a terrorist organization that now generates more than $2 million in funds every day. The point is, it is inevitable that the world as we know it will change. And, as humans of this planet, we are mere witnesses of such changes.

We try our best to prepare and anticipate, but ultimately we cannot control every aspect of our ever-changing world. Sure, we have been able to effectively mitigate disasters and crises with today’s new technologies, but for the most part, we have just been in it for the ride, so to speak.

Most recently, however, new innovations and technologies have exceeded our expectations, even surpassing the capabilities of the human mind. With AI and autonomous features becoming part of today’s norm, we may actually be able to accurately predict the future (or parts of it at least).

This is where Lexicon’s Think Tank comes in. Over the past 3 months, we’ve created—based on extensive research and our own creativity—a landscape that reflects the future of the automotive industry. We began this project with our post, “The Road Ahead,” but now each member of the team is taking the time to reflect on how far we’ve come.

With a unique branding perspective, here at Lexicon we have created an entirely new landscape and representation of this space to come, incorporating our insight and expertise in the creative branding industry. Our landscape is not just limited to the changes in the automotive industry, however. Rather, we explored branding implications on several fronts—social, economic, technological, and infrastructural.

The Think Tank was not created in order to claim the automotive future. Rather, it was created in order for us—and our readers—to learn about this exciting time and help prepare our clients for what is likely to come.

We want to guide our clients—current and new—through this increasingly competitive space. We’ve applied our expertise across the board: branding the autonomous cars themselves, their ingredients, experiences, unique interiors and exteriors, and other elements that could emerge as a result. Having reached the end of the road, we are bringing the Think Tank to a temporary close as the summer ends and the interns part ways. This project is not complete, however. The following months—even years—are bound to usher in new and incredible innovations related to the automotive future.  The team at Lexicon will be sure to stay tuned for what’s to come.

Our research-based blogs, source posts, and visuals have combined to develop a broad and thoughtful vision of the future intended to stimulate your thoughts and ideas.

Our hope is that you, as curious readers, fellow creative brand name developers, and clients across all industries can take in our work and think about how you can contribute to the automotive future. While the future may not evolve into what our landscape predicts, our efforts have hopefully inspired you to think beyond the limits of today’s current landscape.

Onwards!

Insuring the Future of Auto Insurance

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, High Technology, Naming on August 29, 2016 at 9:01 am

From our Summer 2016 Automotive Think Tank Blog

Insurance

Robots can be programmed to drive. Humans can’t.

The result, as Burkhard Bilger notes in his New Yorker article, “Auto Correct,” is that humans run red lights, take curves too hard, brake at the last minute, refuse to signal when changing lanes, fiddle with knobs, and take pity on stray turtles crossing the street. These careless human errors account formore than 90% of all car accidents.

But if autonomous cars ultimately replace drivers, the risk and number of accidents should decrease. While current car-owners will probably welcome that news—after all, fewer accidents means lower insurance costs—insurance companies may not feel the same way. Are current auto insurance companies destined to become relics of the past as we transition to driverless cars? If not, how can they rebrand themselves to stay competitive and relevant in this new space?

While the national car insurance rate is $900 on average per year, each car-owner pays a varying amount based on his/her state of residence, marital status, years of driving experience, number of tickets or violations, and his/her car’s model, maker, and year. For example, in California, a single female who has been driving for 9 to 15 years, has only one traffic violation, and covers 12,000-15,000 miles per year will pay about $927.29 annually. A single male with the same background will pay about $929.74 annually, slightly more than his female counterpart.

With autonomous cars, though, car-owners will no longer have to account for human-caused accidents, like being rear-ended or hit by a drunk, drowsy, or otherwise distracted driver. They may have to pay some costs to cover non-crash damage, but their annual auto insurance costs will dip several hundred dollars, if not more. A Usage-Based Insurance (UBI) policy, one that charges consumers based on how often they use a vehicle, could further diminish those costs, especially if individuals use their cars infrequently. Individuals who use an autonomous car 20 times a week would pay twice as much as those who use it only 10 times. UBI is already in effect but could easily gain traction in the future.

Because car-owners could spend less money on protecting their car, they may instead spend more on the car itself or on hailing a luxurious autonomous ride. As a result, products from Porsche and Jaguar, among other high-end car brands, may be more affordable and more common in the future than they are now. The names of their new brands may reflect this new democratization;  Jaguar, for example, could rebrand their Elite-Care coverage as Refuge: a name that represents essentiality and universality rather than high-mindedness.

But, while these automotive insurance brands may succeed, auto insurance companies would still face lower insurance costs and thus a smaller payout. How can they stay afloat in these conditions?

There are two potential options. The first is that these companies can stay in their auto insurance marketplace and calculate and enforce costs for autonomous cars. These prices could be based on the vehicle’s number of years on the road, the average number of miles it covers annually, and its most recent software update. Such a position would allow auto insurance companies to stay in their current marketplace, though they may have a smaller scope and net profit than they do now.

They could also choose to leave the auto marketplace entirely. For example, State Farm, an auto insurance giant, recently filed a patent application to rebrand itself as a “Life Management” company: one that will collect data to make suggestions for your home and health, not your car. This new branding position allows State Farm to adapt to the changing insurance world without losing its reputation as a leader in the category.

Because of these changes, we may see a surge of rebranding in auto insurance companies as they attempt to communicate their new values. But, regardless of whether these companies desire to remain in the automotive industry or not, their choices will pave the way for emerging—perhaps entirely new—forms of auto insurance.

-Eva Epker

The Commoditization of the Car (Exterior)

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, Consumer Goods, High Technology, Naming, Uncategorized on August 17, 2016 at 1:45 pm

From our Summer 2016 Automotive Think Tank Blog

interior.png

Cars’ outward appearances will become much more homogenous in the future. Why is this and what will that do for branding?

If you happen to be in a city right now, you can order a rideshare that will pick you up wherever you are and take you pretty much wherever you want to go. And, compared to a traditional taxi service, it’s dirt-cheap. But that’s all that ridesharing really offers because, at this point, there’s barely enough demand to make ridesharing feasible. In the near future however, demand will likely increase dramatically as autonomous vehicles drive down the price of this service.

Though this topic was previously covered in our post, “Sharing Interests, Not Rides,” it’s an important place to start because as demand increases, you’ll suddenly be able to get a lot more out of your ride than simply traversing from A-to-B. You’ll be able to socialize with like-minded people, eat or drink restaurant-style, or catch a ride with your groceries and packages so that you and your orders arrive home together.

As a result, the way cars are branded is going to undergo a major change. Brands will come to represent the experience, rather than the car itself. As more and more niche brands and rideshare interiors are launched—and eventually take the spotlight away from the car exterior—the aggressively styled exteriors we’ve come to know and love are going to fade away.

And why will this be the case?  For one very simple reason: each interior experience will become a modular part that rideshare companies can swap out as-needed to meet demand and support a hyper-segmentation of autonomous transit.

Why keep both a fleet of 1,000 latte-serving CaféCars alongside a separate fleet of 1,000 beer-servingCarBars when they hardly ever operate during the same hours? By swapping out the interior of a single car, you could serve everyone their coffee in the morning and their beer at night with the same fleet of 1,000 cars. You don’t need a degree in economics to know which is more cost effective. Half as many cars cost half as much to buy, insure, and maintain.

It just makes economic sense.

The net effect is that cars destined to be autonomous transit vehicles will, in effect, become mere shells that wrap around these kinds of modular interiors. Think about it: how much do you care what kind of car shows up when you call a Lyft or an Uber? Probably not a lot, and regardless, we’d wager you’re more likely to notice the color of the interior than the color of the exterior. As the interior of the ride offers more and more, riders are going to care less and less about the exterior. We will no longer “consume” the ride from the outside; we will instead experience it from the inside.

Essentially, the exterior of the car will become a shell. And, once branded, each Shell’s technology will cater to certain functional benefits.

A Shell’s ability to protect its users from harm will be a huge selling point for security-minded individuals. Names will draw on future technologies that might include Premonition braking systems or Insulome nano-fibers designed to absorb impacts in the event of a crash. Combining these components could result in a CrowsNest package that could cut your likelihood of injury due to a reckless driver by 90%. That way, you’ll know you’re choosing the lowest-risk ride possible.

Tomorrow’s autonomous shells may strongly resemble bullet trains or other types of elegant public transit that we currently have today. Car brands like Oyster will necessarily signal a sleek exterior—like the smooth lines of a bullet train—but with a luxurious, perhaps even complex, interior.

Shells that interface with their infrastructure could provide clear functional benefits, just like trains and other means of public transit. Where will Amtrak or other commuter trains stand in this mix? Specific Shell packages could offer the ability to interface with existing forms of long-distance travel. Traveling from San Francisco to Los Angeles or traversing the East Coast? Make sure your Lounge Deck interior is fitted with a Shell featuring Amtrak’s Caboose Technology, allowing you to by-pass traffic by commuting on train tracks instead of the highway. Not only might the great American railway system offer an excellent way to loosen up gridlock for interstate travel, but also could provide access to the nation’s most incredible scenic routes that are currently inaccessible by car.

Now, this is not to say that car exteriors will become meaningless in the automotive landscape of the future. They will simply no longer be the main selling point because they will be sidelined by the various inter-changeable and highly specialized interiors soon to be offered. Although ingredient and exterior branding will continue to be critical factors, interior branding will offer a whole new dimension: it will holistically capture the ride experience and potentially become a defining feature of autonomous vehicles . Interiors will no longer be confined to type of leather, color, or technology. This new, apparent limitless space creates the opportunity for companies outside of the automotive industry to make their mark in this territory by launching—and branding—unique interior experiences.

Aaron Snyder

Ingredient Branding: An Automotive Essential

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, High Technology, Naming on August 11, 2016 at 8:31 am

From our Summer 2016 Automotive Think Tank Blog

ingredient

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification has changed the way we see buildings. Any building, from private homes to corporate headquarters, without LEED’s stamp of approval is a public sign that it is not resource efficient. Originally considered the benchmark in green building, LEED has since trickled into the automotive industry. Cars can now be LEED-qualified if they are fuel efficient or low emitting. Consumers overwhelmed by a dealership’s sea of cars can look for a LEED symbol on the car’s exterior to help make their final purchase decision.

But what if we went beyond LEED certification for cars? Sure, a car can be eco-friendly, but does that necessarily guarantee it’s passenger friendly, too?

With a lingering distrust—perhaps even a fear—of autonomous vehicles, automotive companies will need to launch new vehicles that assure consumers they are not only energy efficient, but also safe and reliable. This opens the doors for new types of certifications and ingredient brands—such that meet new safety requirements, communication standards and convey efficiency and eco-friendliness.

Ingredient brands and certifications have the potential to revolutionize the industry and become game changers in consumer decision-making.

Ingredient branding has been in business for decades, and whether we are aware of it or not, it has played a critical role in elevating brand value.  A brand itself serves to distinguish products in like categories, however ingredient branding pushes the product even further by giving it its own additional value. Dodge is a classic example of using ingredient branding to elevate its collection. Its 2004 campaign, “Does it got a Hemi?” created a new playing field. Previously, average car buyers did not think to ask what type of engine was in a car. But Dodge’s campaign prompted buyers to ask this unexpected question that Dodge’s competitors did not want to answer.

Later on, Pantene revolutionized hair care with its launch of “Pantene with Pro-V.” Its effective marketing campaigning of the Pro-V ingredient led to Procter & Gamble’s most successful launch in its 175-year history, leading to the fastest recorded growth of a P&G brand and highest sales for Pantene.

Now take Teflon, Gore-Tex, and Intel’s Pentium (a Lexicon credential). These three distinct brands share one thing in common: they are all ingredient brands. And, each brand has become part of our everyday language. Consumers no longer settle for regular pans or rain jackets; they seek out the products made with Teflon and Gore-Tex because they know they will perform the best.

So what if ingredient branding were applied to cars (outside of engine type)? How can we go beyond a simple LEED certification?

As autonomous vehicles begin to replace—even dominate—the automotive space, ingredients inside them will matter more than ever before.

In addition to using energy efficient power, autonomous cars might offer ingredient packages that contain specific features. These packages can serve to create new standards across the board—in energy, technology, and safety related are just a few ways they can do this. To comfort autonomous vehicle users, they might contain Securo, a safety package that includes early warning alerts, back-up cameras, and an enhanced form of computerized ABS break systems.

Passengers prone to heart attacks or seizures would no longer have to worry about having an attack on the road. They can purchase a feature like Pulso, a health and fitness package that includes seating that constantly measures your heart rate and senses changes in behavior and wellness. That way, it can adjust accordingly to rising stress levels and can even take you to the nearest ER if needed.

In conjunction with ingredient branding, the rise of autonomous vehicles in the market will open the door for new endorsement brands. The American Dental Association (ADA) for example, currently endorses certain brands that meet their health requirements. Major brands like Colgate and Arm & Hammer benefit from this kind of endorsement; their packaging signals to consumers that their products are ADA accepted. A similar form of endorsement can be launched for autonomous vehicles—perhaps even in the form of an American Autonomous Vehicle Association.

Though these are only a few examples, it is apparent that ingredient branding is about to take on a much greater role—that simply cannot be ignored—as autonomous cars launch in today’s world.

– Kennedy Placek

Paving the Road with Good Intentions

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, High Technology, Naming on August 3, 2016 at 8:30 am

From our 2016 Automotive Think Tank Blog

Paving

The Roaring Twenties were an iconic time in American history. A time of economic and social change, they quite literally paved the way for the age of the automobile. Between the Federal Road Act of 1916 and the Federal Highway Act of 1921, opportunities abounded for cities to embrace the change and grow alongside the booming auto industry. One city in particular did just that: Los Angeles set out to brand itself as the city of the automobile.

At the turn of the century, Los Angeles was much younger than the centuries-old cities of the east coast. Towns like Boston had been built around horse-drawn carriages and pedestrian traffic and thus could not adapt their streets for cars easily or efficiently. Los Angeles, however, could expand alongside—and in conjunction with—the automobile. The rapid incorporation of the car into LA’s identity allowed for car-centric retailing to explode in the area. Not surprisingly, LA soon became the city of angels, drive-ins, and roadsters.

The 2010s may be like the 1920s in terms of automotive revolution. Autonomous cars are just around the corner, ride-sharing is booming, and many individuals are moving away from car ownership altogether. Will the city and state governments of today take advantage of this change in the same way LA did nearly a century ago?

Many places are doing just that.  In 2011 Nevada became the first state to grant licenses to autonomous vehicles. As a result, Google began testing their self-driving cars there, and other companies soon followed. Even European agencies are bringing business to the state in order to test autonomous prototypes. With this accommodating regulatory structure, Nevada has shown its willingness to welcome innovation and change and, by doing so, has attracted companies and stimulated economic growth.

In contrast, Detroit spent the first decade of the 21st century in economic decline. Both General Motors and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy during the recession, and unemployment soared. The same companies that laid off workers a decade ago, though, are now developing self-driving cars and launching ride-sharing apps like GM’s Maven. Similarly, Amazon has opened a new corporate office in downtown Detroit: a symbol of the company’s commitment to Detroit’s rapid growth, in and outside of the automotive industry. The city is promoting its base of well-educated residents alongside low residential and operation costs. Recent reports have shown that Detroit is on par with Silicon Valley in tech job growth, and it’s branding itself as such.

Unlike Nevada and Michigan, certain places in Europe are moving in the opposite direction and distancing themselves from the automotive industry. Cars are viewed as detrimental to society because of their high carbon emissions and congestion of city streets. As a result, many envision the cities of the future to be completely car-less. Such cars were never necessary, and some cities never adopted them in the first place. Venice, Italy, for example, has always thrived without them.

Oslo, Norway, is leaning into this idea and has recently announced that cars will be banned from the city center by 2019. The city plans to promote walking, cycling, and taking public transport to enhance local businesses. Lanes once reserved for cars can be turned into public spaces which would knit the city together and contribute to Oslo’s brand image: green, safe, and community-centered.

Autonomous vehicles, however, will introduce new challenges. How will cities fund themselves to keep abreast of this changing cityscape? How will they pay for public safety programs without the steady income of parking and speeding tickets? How will public transportation fare? As the price of autonomous ride-sharing drops, the middle class may abandon public transportation, resulting in a struggle to fund the bus or rail routes still needed by lower income households. In order to transition seamlessly into the future and to improve both their image and brand, cities will have to understand and solve these issues before they even happen.

Efficient and forward-thinking transportation will forever be the hallmark of a thriving city, and cities that capitalize on these ideas will be the ones that pave the way into the future. If successful, they will set up potentials for economic growth, social reform, and citizen safety. The question is: which city will come out on top?

 

– Sarah Schechter