Technical Resources

Key Considerations for Purpose-Built Vehicles to Support On-Demand Mobility

As our mobility systems continue to transition to shared services, traditional automotive manufacturers have been grappling with the potential for fewer vehicles to be sold to end customers. The ‘fleetification’ of transport does open a unique opportunity for manufacturers – to develop Purpose-Built Vehicles (PBVs) for these new services.

The endgame remains fully autonomous ‘robotaxis’, with companies such as Zoox, Cruise, and Waymo starting to publicly deploy their own PBVs and services – but technical, regulatory, and consumer resistance to these will likely impede widescale deployments. This enables a shorter-term opportunity to supply purpose-built electric vehicles for today’s on-demand mobility services.

Designing a vehicle for specific uses is common in commercial vehicles (delivery vans and buses), but we are now seeing the opportunity to support light-duty passenger vehicles. We have recently seen Didi Chuxing and BYD co-develop the B1, the world’s first electric PBV for ride-hailing, whilst Kia and Hyundai invested in Arrival, a move that signals a strategic shift towards PBVs.

Roland Berger recently estimated the potential sales volume for purpose-built ride-sharing vehicles and taxis in Europe, the US and China to be 2.5 million by 2025 and offer a possible 50% saving on vehicle-to-market costs for this type of vehicle.

Here are the key considerations for manufacturers when designing a new service-focused vehicle concept:

Design for the mission

Vehicles will no longer need to be designed for flexibility. They are not necessarily being used for taking kids to school, carrying groceries, moving to a new house, commuting to work, and going on holiday.

This new breed of vehicles will be focused on carrying out specific missions (a limited set of tasks) at a high frequency. This could be picking up and dropping off passengers around a city for a ride-hailing service or distributing packages for a last-mile delivery service.

The utilisation of these vehicles for the mission is high enough that the facility does not need to be flexible for other uses.

Manufacturers and service providers will need to understand trip patterns of vehicles to input the right battery size, offer the right amount of space, and ensure they are supported by the right infrastructure provision.

Missions with long or unpredictable routes may need on-route charging to support vehicle batteries. Missions with short predictable routes can likely have smaller batteries and focus on depot-based charging.

Design for the location

Vehicle missions are also likely to occur in the same place repetitively, so the vehicle specification can be different for services running in Sydney and Toronto.

Extreme weather can impact how far vehicles can travel and how long they will take to recharge.

Uphill terrain can reduce range, whilst downhill has potential for regeneration.

City-based fleets encounter more stop/start traffic than rural, smooth flowing highways.

Vehicle design can now be optimised for the location that services are operating in and partially forego the need for geographic flexibility. The start-up electric vehicle company Arrival is even deploying micro-factories that serve a specific city and its community. They use a localised supply chain and develop custom vehicles for fleets in that local region.

Design for passenger experience

The key shift for the internal experience is from driver to passenger.

As ‘riders’ will be consuming the mobility service rather than driving a vehicle, they expect the internal experience to be focused on their needs, not the driver.

Everything from air conditioning, lighting and music experience can be tailored to the passenger – with many new ideas to be created that provide a unique selling proposition to fleet operators and passengers.

Roland Berger found three interior design experiences required for happy passengers:

  • Productive: allowing passengers to work during the journey
  • Relaxing: allowing passengers to rest or catch up on sleep
  • Fun: allow passengers to enjoy a ride on the way to a party, sightseeing, or hanging out with family.

Having options for internal experience will continue to make these services more attractive and appeal to a wider range of trip makers.

Data holds the key

For each of these key considerations, data can validate our assumptions.

Historic fleet data can provide insights into trip patterns, typical cargo type, and operational locations.

In the absence of historic data or in the case of new vehicle types, simulation is used to replicate the typical operation of a service in the digital world and provide insights to the operator and manufacturer. New vehicle concepts can be tested in existing locations or existing concepts can be transferred to new locations.

To get PBVs right first time and avoid expensive mistakes, we must use data to understand the potential benefits to fleet operators.


As mobility services continue to expand, automotive manufacturers have a crucial role to enable the uptake and ultimate success of these solutions.

By designing vehicles for the specific purpose of the fleet, they can counter the effects of reduced overall car sales.

The key considerations are designing for the mission, location, and passenger experience. These can all be validated by historic operator data or simulated data.

If we can improve the passenger and driver experience with design of PBVs, the proliferation of on-demand mobility will accelerate.

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