James Carter is a mobility futurist, thought leader and influencer, who is the principal consultant at Vision Mobility and a co-founder of ACTION Events. He grew up around cars, raced go-karts and went on to join Toyota Australia following university.
He was interested in future products and markets in the automotive sector and soon realised electric vehicles (EVs) were the next step after owning several combustion engine vehicles and hybrids.
At ACTION Events he focuses on breaking down barriers for electric vehicle adoption in Canada for both consumers and fleets. He also consults with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) on new mobility.
James is now one of the most influential commentators on the subject and regularly writes on the subject. He is a leader on the subject on LinkedIn and last year had over 14 million views on his posts. As a consequence, he now works with companies that match his beliefs, to help get their message out there.
EDs: You started the Motorsport Association at your university. Did you always know you wanted to work in the automotive industry?
That’s a blast from the past. Growing up, I always loved cars, consuming everything car-related I could find, observing different makes and models and making friends with anyone who had something interesting.
Growing up on a farm, I learned to drive very early on. I could drive a manual transmission at eight years old. When I was 16, my dad and I started racing go-karts (Yamaha KT100S class), which I did through to about 21. While I did okay, it was pretty obvious I wasn’t going to be the next Ayrton Senna, although there were useful skills here for vehicle dynamics evaluations at Toyota.
At University, I noticed that there wasn’t anything motoring or motorsport related, so I started my own club to hang out with people who had a common interest.
Interestingly, when I was 16 and in high school, I entered a public speaking contest called Lions Youth of the Year, with a speech on the review of the Australian car industry at the time.
I made it through to the state championships where the president of a tool and die company that made tooling for OEMs heard my speech and invited me to tour his company facilities with my parents.
From then on I knew where I was going.
EDs: What initially brought you into the product planning side?
About six months after I finished university, I joined Toyota Australia in their sales and order planning side. Frankly, I hated it but it was a foot in the door. While I learned a fair bit, I knew deep-dive spreadsheets weren’t my thing.
As soon as a job came up in product planning, which was aligned well with my interests, I jumped over. It was quite obvious that this was where I was supposed to be and Toyota asked me to continue doing this in Japan at TMC a few years later.
EDs: What appealed to you about the emobility sector in particular?
I’ve always been interested in future products and markets in automotive, and it became soon became obvious that electric vehicles were the next step. I had a bunch of hybrids that we either owned or I had for company cars and the efficiency was always excellent compared to gas models.
When you drive a hybrid you find yourself driving for efficiency, trying to keep it on electric as long as possible. The obvious question was: “What if it was just electric?”
When you combine this with growing government incentives and the early rise of Tesla, the direction for me was obvious, even back in 2015 when I left Toyota.
EDs: You worked at Toyota for many years, why are some of the legacy OEMs so slow to jump on board with the electric vehicle revolution?
The difference between incumbent OEMs and new OEMs is company philosophy and culture. Toyota, and many others, are focused on “Kaizen” or continuous improvement. This is both for their product now or assessing new changes and competitor models.
They are also very much an engineering/manufacturing-focused company. It’s about efficiency, no waste and step-by-step process, not breakthroughs.
The big exception here is Prius and hybrid technology, however, this was a product that was conceived and developed from the engineering side for the Japanese market to drive fuel efficiency.
The Toyota distributors then saw it and said they wanted that as soon as possible There’s such a great environmental story here. After a couple of years delay, it went on sale globally and the distributors knew how to get a lot of marketing mileage out of this new technology. In some ways, Toyota’s hybrid leadership happened almost by accident.
EDs: Is the step-by-step appropriate for future emobility?
This step-by-step approach is not so well suited to future mobility. Musk challenged Tesla employees to throw out everything they had learned and start from the ground up, from first principals.
This is a fundamentally different approach to Toyota and other OEMs, and it manifests itself in breakthrough products for Tesla. That lack of process focus for Tesla also has a detriment in areas where process is essential for build quality, good delivery process, etc.
For Toyota, pulling away from successful philosophies of the past and adopting new thinking is a real problem that is not helpful in a new mobility world.
EDs: What do you do in your role at Vision Mobility?
At Vision Mobility, I work as an independent consultant focused in four areas:
- Consulting on new mobility for OEMs, automotive organisations and startup/growth-stage companies, usually in partnership with others. Most of the work here is in customer experience, product planning and business planning.
- Annual Global Mobility Study – we partner with CuriosityCX and LEK consulting to deliver one of the largest and longest customer based studies in new mobility that focuses on key trends and direction for the industry.
- ACTION events – we partner with Electric Autonomy to focus on breaking down barriers for electric vehicle adoption in Canada, both for fleets and consumers by bringing in all stakeholders right across the industry and creating dialogue that can lead to real change.
- Content and influencer – I started off writing and publishing on LinkedIn to grow my consulting opportunities, however, it developed to a much greater extent than I had imagined. Last year I had over 14 million views on my posts and now work with companies that match my personal beliefs in new mobility to help get their message out and tie what they’re doing into the greater industry picture.
EDs: You’ve spoken on social media about the importance of deepening consumer knowledge when it comes to electric vehicles. How can we best go about doing that?
People have been familiar with how to operate, fuel and drive an internal combustion engine (ICE) car for generations. As it’s a new energy system, switching to an electric vehicle throws much of that upside down and it takes a real mental shift to prepare and educate yourself for electric vehicle ownership.
Some people can do this easily, others can’t. Change is a threat for many but everyone I’ve spoken to has said that once they’ve taken the plunge, electric vehicles are far easier to live with.
The key is to keep pounding the message that shifting to an electric vehicle is not something to fear. We can improve this process by making sure education is consistent, easily available, easy to digest and have processes in place that make it all very easy for the customer.
To date, this hasn’t been the case and if electric vehicles are going to break through into the mainstream market, this needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
EDs: Are there any major advances in emobility that you’re expecting to see in the next five years?
There are three main areas that will propel emobility forward:
- The adoption of electric vehicle technology in more models, with greater supply. More of this means more sales.
- The development of infrastructure: The two biggest problems here are ensuring that “garage orphans” have easy access to charging near their house. Apartments and street parking are the big ones here. The second area is the seamless and reliable operability of out of home charging infrastructure. Only Tesla do this well today, while all others need a lot of catching up to be friction-free.
- Batteries: This is key, both from performance and supply. New technologies are making significant inroads to improve energy density, battery life, cost, cold-weather performance and other areas to ensure continuous improvement.
EDs: What might these changes mean for consumers?
Simply this means electric vehicles will be easier to recharge, last longer and become cheaper.
EDs: What do you love about your Tesla and perhaps not love quite so much?
When I first drove a Model 3 I couldn’t believe how much better it was than the BMW 3 Series we had before. It was a revelation.
In many years of being in and out of many different cars, this was one of the few that was head and shoulders above its competitors. Two and a half years later it’s obvious this car has some strong points, and some weaker points, with much of it coming down to what drives these companies.
The good points include brilliant technology implementation, efficiency, sports car driving dynamics, supercharging network, performance and reasonable interior room.
Unquantifiably, this car is fun. It has generated many new family experiences, including singing Caraoke in the car. My daughters’ friends come over to play beach buggy racing in the car.
Interestingly, charging stops creates new places to explore and experiences to be had. It’s these experiences that elevate it from being just transport to almost part of the family. It’s amazing that way.
The bad points include build quality, Tesla customer service, rear-wheel-drive in the snow isn’t ideal and some user interface controls. All in, though, it’s an excellent car.