The Netflix generation won’t want to own cars – here’s how the auto industry can adapt

Two women sitting laughing sitting on car
Younger consumers are drawn to the convenience of subscription services and will want the same model for using cars, Dr Andy Palmer argues.

  • Ex-Nissan COO Dr Andy Palmer argues subscription models could be the future of car use.
  • In this op-ed, he says Millenials and Gen Z are already used to such models in other areas of life.
  • They could combine the flexibility of rentals with the benefits of ownership, he writes.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A quick look at your bank statements will most likely reveal a consistent theme in each month’s transactions: payments to Netflix, Apple Music, or Amazon Prime.

A generation of consumers, and I’m one of them, have become addicted to subscription services.

Simple and no-strings-attached, subscription services seem to exist for every possible product out there. And now cars are joining the subscription surge.

The auto industry has experienced significant upheaval over the past decade.

Auto executives have dedicated most of their time and attention to adapting the physical and technical make-up of the cars they produce, such as shepherding from internal combustion engines to hybrid or electric in response to a more climate conscious market.

However, changing consumer attitudes are fuelling another major shift for the industry to contend with – and automotive executives are slowly waking up to it.

The industry has long been known for its resistance to change and may find this shift in consumer behaviour difficult to navigate. The good news is that it requires is a marketing shift rather than an operational one, which is easier to manage.

Manufacturers that already cater to a younger audience will naturally find this shift in marketing easier.

In September 2020, Volvo became one of the first brands to launch a direct-to-consumer subscription model. Sixt, the international rental service, also launched a subscription service in the same month.

For a monthly fee, Volvo gives motorists access to a car with everything but fuel included in the package. The simplicity of this appeals to younger generations and urban dwellers who see cars with less emotion and romance than those of an earlier vintage.

For the baby boomers, cars represented post-war prosperity. The VW Beetle became a generational icon in the 1960s and 1970s.

For Generation X who entered their economic zenith during Margaret Thatcher’s era of yuppies and flashy excess, cars symbolized status and wealth Millennials were a trickier sell, but were ultimately attracted to cheaper, smaller and urban-friendly vehicles to suit their lifestyles and budgets.

The lifestyles and budgets of Millennials and Gen Z are no doubt behind the reason why they are by far the heaviest users of subscription services.

To many, the beauty of the car subscription model is that it confers the convenience of car travel provided by ride-hailing apps like Uber or Lyft and ride-sharing ones like ZipCar while still giving customers their own car they don’t have to share that they can get to know and become attached to.

There is also an argument that, as zero emission vehicles become more popular, the subscription model is better suited to electric vehicles.

Over time and after excessive use, electric vehicle batteries become less effective. This means that you’ll progressively get less mileage from a single charge.

Rather than replacing the entire vehicle, which would be highly expensive and inefficient, we may see battery leasing become the modus operandi for motorists in the near future.

While Volvo’s entire car subscription package has created buzz, Renault are leading the way when it comes to battery leasing. When purchasing a Renault Zoe, buyers can choose to lease a battery on a subscription basis rather than owning it outright, reducing the price of a new car by nearly $10,000.

With the Netflix model becoming so popular in other industries, it is only logical that consumers will begin to demand this level of flexibility for more high-ticket items as habits continue to shift.

Dr Andy Palmer a former CEO of Aston Martin and COO of Nissan. He holds non-executive positions, including chair of electric bus company Switch Mobility, vice-chair of battery manufacturer InoBat and chair of EV scooter company Hilo.

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I couldn’t find a hospital bed for my COVID-struck father in India. Days of frantic searching showed me how overwhelmed our health system is.

New Delhi hospital beds
New Delhi – April 26: A healthcare worker in PPE attends to a patient in an isolation ward – a banquet hall temporarily converted for coronavirus patients.

  • Nilanjana Bhowmick’s father’s oxygen levels steadily fell after he tested positive for COVID-19.
  • She searched for a hospital bed in and around Delhi but health services, overwhelmed by India’s second wave, had none.
  • “He has made it through. But if his condition had worsened, I don’t know what we could have done.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

My heart ran cold as the doctor sent us a message on WhatsApp about my father’s deteriorating condition. “He has an inflammation in his lungs – given his age and medical history – you should be prepared to hospitalize him.”

My father has Parkinson’s, a heart condition, weak lungs and high blood pressure. I kept thinking: “Where am I going to get a bed? Or oxygen?”

On April 15, my 75-year-old parents, 15-year-old-son, and I tested positive for coronavirus. We were shocked. We were extremely cautious when it came to protecting ourselves from COVID-19, however it did not seem enough in the face of the the rising infection rate in India.

But as a doctor friend later would tell me: “The way things are right now, you could test a random person on the street and he or she would possibly test positive.”

If India escaped COVID-19 relatively lightly last year, we are living a nightmare in this second wave.

On Tuesday, India announced it recorded 323,144 new cases, and 2,771 deaths in the previous 24 hours. On Monday, for the fifth straight day, the country set a new global record for daily cases in the pandemic.

In Noida, the satellite town of the capital New Delhi where we live, there is also a huge shortage of beds and oxygen. Hospitals have been sending out urgent appeals for oxygen.

One even had to go to the Delhi High Court to plead for more, saying they had just three hours of it left for 400 patients, 262 of whom had COVID-19. The court’s ruling ordered the government to “beg, borrow or steal” to get what hospitals need.

My social media feed has been one long ream of urgent pleas from friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers. Someone’s friend, someone’s sister, someone’s father or mother or grandparent need help.

Nilanjana Bhowmick with her father COVID-19
Nilanjana Bhowmick with her father Monotosh Bhowmick.

For the first two days after our positive tests, we anxiously monitored my father. At first, he had no obvious symptoms. But then his oxygen levels were dropping consistently.

My heart was in turmoil. I thought that, if his condition continued to deteriorate, I would not be able to wheel him into a hospital to get him the required care.

On the evening of April 17, I messaged our family doctor with our blood reports and told her that my father’s saturation levels were fluctuating below 94. She gave a list of hospitals I should call to get him admitted. And then she was gone. Doctors are severely overworked, too.

After half a day of calling, I was at my wit’s end. No one had a bed available.

The next two days went by in a frenzy of friends trying to help with leads. As I chased hospitals, an acquaintance suggested I get in touch with her friend, a lung doctor. She suggested I immediately get a scan done to see what condition his lungs were in.

I’d tested positive but no one was coming to help my father. No one from the authorities has called to check on us, nor has any health worker visited. I was desperate and so I decided to head out, in my COVID positive state, to get him the care he needed.

On April 20, still weak from my own infection, I somehow hauled him onto his wheelchair and took him to a nearby COVID-19 hospital.

As an attendant wheeled my father into the scan room, I sank into a chair in the waiting area.

I saw it fill up with patients. It was 7 a.m. but there were already at least 10 people waiting for their scans. When I went back in the afternoon to collect the report on my father, the number had more than doubled.

“Are there any beds available at all?” I asked the chief medical officer, feebly, knowing she would say no. She looked at me with kindness, and sadness. I managed a small smile, too.

I brought my father back home that day. My fingers had remained tightly crossed through the day as I hoped for his condition to remain stable.

Friends and acquaintances, even sources and professional contacts, called and offered to help but I knew we were as helpless as each other. I drew some strength from their concern.

On the evening of April 21, I consulted the lung doctor once again with the test results. She confirmed that my father had inflammation in his lungs and I should start looking for a hospital bed.

“I know how difficult that would be at the moment,” she said. “But let’s hope he responds to the medicines.”

Her hospital had no beds available either.

I lost count of the calls I made that evening. Everything was full. I would get a lead and dial the number. They either wouldn’t pick up, the number wouldn’t connect or the lines would be perpetually busy. I gave up after a while.

“Whatever the emergency, we will have to deal with it at the time,” I told my mother. She nodded quietly.

Over the last few days, however, my father started responding to the medicines. He began to talk coherently. He sat up and began eating. And most importantly, his oxygen levels stabilized.

He has made it through. But if his condition had worsened, I don’t know what we could have done.

I’ve seen what happens when a broken system is overwhelmed

I am still holding onto that list of hospitals and medical resources I made. I am keeping my fingers crossed that my parents will be able to get the second dose of their vaccines without much trouble.

But I have seen what happens when a broken system is overwhelmed.

The tragedy that’s unfolding here is the world’s biggest COVID-19 crisis since the pandemic began more than a year ago. As I write this, an oxygen express train, the first one of its kind and carrying 70 tonnes of the gas, has reached Delhi.

Countries across the world are lending a hand. The Indian government announced on Sunday that they would be setting up 551 oxygen plants.

Why did we not boost our capabilities before? The oxygen plants could have been set up while cases were plummeting. Global trends should have taught us the second wave would be worse than the first one. There are going to be more until the world is vaccinated.

From May 1, anyone over 18 will be able to get vaccinated. The government will have to ramp up vaccine production urgently. Over the last few weeks, many states have reported shortages.

Why was the Indian government so desperate to announce an end to the pandemic? Only last month, the health minister – himself a doctor – said India was approaching the “end game” of COVID-19.

On April 17 – when I was anxiously watching my father’s oxygen levels deteriorate – Prime Minister Narendra Modi was at an election rally in West Bengal, praising the size of the crowd that was too big for anyone to socially distance.

On Monday, I walked into a small crematorium near my home, where there were seven pyres burning. There were no hospital staff or health workers to certify the causes of their deaths, so we won’t know how many were because of COVID-19.

One local told me: “I have never seen so many bodies burning here at the same time.”

In 12 years living here, neither have I.

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I watch paint dry for a living. It’s never boring – there’s so much to look for.

Matthew Risbridger
Matthew Risbridger at work.

  • Matthew Risbridger, 21, works at paint developer and maker AquaTec Coatings in Wrexham, Wales.
  • “People’s reactions are usually a bit like 20 Questions … they don’t really understand I watch paint dry.”
  • He explains to freelance journalist Caitlin Tilley why he’s never bored.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

I was looking for a job in a laboratory because I was interested in science. I did Chemistry, Mathematics, History and Physics A Levels and this is my first job after leaving school at 18.

I saw it advertised on a job website. I’ve been doing it for three and a half years now.

On a typical day, I’d get a request from a company asking for paint to do a certain thing with certain specifications and drying cycle. Then I’d get a base formulation, make, say five or six samples with different ingredients.

I have to test all the samples by watching them dry to see how they dry, how hard the paint is once they’ve dried and how long it took them to dry. For each job I usually have to test different variations of the paint and watch it dry 10 to 15 times.

I don’t find it boring because I’m not just sitting there; I’m looking for something even when I’m watching the paint dry. I’m inspecting it, looking for cracks in the film, ripples, bits in the paint, or any defects. If it’s too thick, you’ll get a texture that looks like orange peel.

We have multiple different ways we can dry things. It could be on a schedule through ovens, infrared heaters, fans, wind tunnels or air drying. I have to watch the paint dry to examine how it dries and how fast it dries.

I watch how it dries on all sorts of surfaces, such as metal composite doors or wood. On some surfaces we are looking for a smooth and level coating, whereas with textured coatings you’ve got to make sure the texture is there when it dries. It all depends on the paint and what you paint it on.

There are big variations in how long paint takes to dry. We have paints that dry in 15 minutes, and then some which won’t dry for an hour.

I will feel the paint to check when it’s dry. I scratch it with a knife to see if it’s gone hard, because it could be dry but still soft. I use a stopwatch or timer to see how long it takes.

It’s satisfying to see the paint dry, especially with high-gloss products, because they dry really smooth. Wood coating is my favorite type of paint because it’s the one I know most about.

Matthew Risbridger drawing down
“I don’t find it boring because I’m not just sitting there; I’m looking for something even when I’m watching the paint dry.”

Our clients are generally in the modular and portable industry, so they need containers’ painting. They’re also in the joinery industry, so we work with wooden fences, as well as composite doors and industrial paint contractors. The majority of the time they want the fastest drying possible.

I kept working on the site throughout the pandemic. We had new jobs come up, such as spray painting test centres for the NHS.

We have a lot of competitors, but mainly they work with solvent-based paint. We are the market leader in water-based paint. There is one other man who works between production and my role. There’s a team of 20 people on-site and then sales managers on the road.

The best part of the job is successfully completing a project. For example, working out why there’s cracking in the paint. It can be stressful when the deadlines are quite close, but most of the time we have a schedule. Also, I’m making a good salary for a first job right out of school.

It’s complicated to try and explain my job to people. I mainly say that I work with chemicals. People’s reactions are usually a bit like 20 Questions because they don’t really understand that I watch paint dry. Some people just can’t get their head around it so they give up.

My friends and family are happy for me in my job; they see it as sticking to what I know and like, because it’s about finding things out and problem solving. There’s a lot more to it than just watching.

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