The Future of Mobility

10 people driving the future of mobility


Mobility is about much more than how we get from A to B. It determines how we see the world, how we structure our lives, and — though it may sound dramatic, it’s nevertheless true — the fate of our species and planet. A field as far-reaching as mobility has room for many different kinds of influential people. Our list is not exhaustive by any means, but highlights the breadth of this field, including figures ranging from powerful statesmen to grassroots social media organizers. They’re all helping build the future of mobility.

Anne Hidalgo

Mayor of Paris

Hidalgo came to office in 2014 with a vision of pivoting Paris away from reliance on private vehicles. In the years since, she has closed major roads to cars, opened new bike lanes, and brought the “15-minute city” — where a person’s needs can all be met within 15 minutes of home — into the zeitgeist. This is great for the people of Paris, of course, but Hidalgo’s work can also serve as a model for others. She has proved that car culture can be walked back even in one of the world’s major cities, if only leaders have the political will.

Linda Zhang

Chief engineer on F-150 Lightning team at Ford

It’s a tall order electrifying America’s bestselling pickup truck, but that’s what Linda Zhang did for Ford. A 26-year veteran of the company, Zhang started her career in the Ford College Graduate program and eventually became chief engineer for the automaker’s flagship electric truck. Auto insiders consider what she did to be an almost impossibly daunting task: turning the country’s most popular car completely electric while keeping it affordable and convincing skeptics that it could be just as powerful a vehicle as its gas-guzzling predecessor. The electric pickup launched in April, with deliveries beginning in May, and over 4,400 sold to date.

Giovanni Palazzo
<span>Electrify America</span>

President and CEO of Electrify America

Scaling EV adoption also requires scaling charging networks, and that’s where Electrify America comes in. The company emerged from a Dieselgate settlement in 2017 and now runs nearly 3,500 public fast chargers, with plans to expand to 10,000 chargers by 2025. But its impact stretches beyond its growing charging footprint: Electrify America, helmed by Palazzo since 2018, also disrupted the proprietary network patchwork, from Tesla’s automaker-specific network to EVgo’s clublike third-party network. That shift toward public charging access is huge, making charging less complicated for drivers getting used to how the electric future differs from their gasoline-dependent past.

Paris Marx
<span>Tech critic and author</span>

Tech critic and author of “Road to Nowhere”

A vocal critic of the tech industry’s vision of mobility, Marx argues that doubling down on personal vehicles — be they autonomous, electric, or even shared — is bad for communities. Leaving transportation in the hands of automakers or tech companies only makes everyday people more car-reliant, and lines those companies’ pockets in the process, they said in a recent interview. Marx instead pushes communities to embrace options like public transit and cycling, as well as a more democratic and equitable approach to how we plan our societies, one that they think is necessary if we want a mobility future that works for everyone.

JB Straubel
<span>Redwood Materials</span>

Founder and CEO of Redwood Materials

Tesla co-founder and former CTO Straubel’s second act, battery recycling, is perhaps more critical than his first. Straubel has raised over $790 million for Redwood Materials, and the startup is currently building a $3.5-billion Nevada facility with the aim of recycling enough batteries to power 1 million EVs by 2025. Redwood Materials’ goal is to offset looming shortages for batteries and the critical minerals needed to produce them as EV demand is set to skyrocket. Although the Inflation Reduction Act has spurred a new wave of investment, the U.S. is still lagging behind other countries in battery production.

Budi Karya Sumadi
<span>Ministry of Transportation of Indonesia</span>

Indonesia’s minister of transportation

Indonesia is expected to be among the fastest-growing economies over the next eight years, along with China, Vietnam, Uganda, and India. That makes the stakes particularly high for Budi Karya Sumadi to get things right in his role as Indonesia’s minister of transportation. Luckily, Sumadi has spearheaded innovative transportation initiatives in his role, including a push to electrify many of the country’s 133 million gas-powered motorcycles. By 2025, Indonesia aims to have 2 million electric motorcycles in use. Sumadi also wants Indonesia to become an exporter of those vehicles. To that end, he green-lit a government testing site that’s specifically designed to ensure prototyped three-wheeled vehicles and motorcycles meet international safety standards.

Liane Randolph
<span>California Air Resources Board</span>

Chair of the California Air Resources Board

California is about to surpass Germany as the world’s fourth-largest economy. As chair of the California Air Resources Board, Liane Randolph has been granted a broad mandate to reduce the state’s emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. Randolph hasn’t been afraid to wade into controversial territory — for instance, CARB has taken more aggressive (and unpopular) steps such as banning new diesel truck sales by 2024 and requiring a full transition to electric heavy-duty trucks by 2040.

Marco Pavone
<span>Stanford University</span>

Stanford professor and machine learning researcher

We’ve missed deadline after self-imposed deadline on the arrival of fully self-driving vehicles (and no, Tesla’s Full Self Driving feature, despite the name, definitely doesn’t count). When it finally arrives, full autonomy promises to remake our cityscapes, our relationships with cars, our relationship to work, and even our daily schedules. As the director of autonomous vehicle research at Nvidia, Marco Pavone is on the forefront of that push, especially as it pertains to advancing machine learning capabilities through research. Pavone is also an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University, where he co-directs the Center for Automotive Research. His research spans the AV landscape, with some focused on the higher-level implications such as how the introduction of fully self-driving technology will affect city congestion.

Jennifer Granholm
<span>Department of Energy</span>

U.S. secretary of energy

As secretary of energy, Jennifer Granholm is attempting to deliver on the Biden administration’s lofty climate goals, including a target to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Luckily, Granholm has $62 billion in funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to help get the job done. The Department of Energy plans to launch 60 new programs, addressing needs such as clean hydrogen manufacturing, the battery supply chain, and modernization of the electric grid. But she’s also been tasked with addressing the ongoing energy crunch that has contributed to inflation, and has had to strike a difficult balance on messaging. Recently, for example, Granholm boasted about the Biden administration outpacing the Trump administration on oil and gas well approvals, while still “also making historic investments in a clean energy transition.”

He Lifeng
<span>National Development and Reform Commission</span>

Head of China’s National Development and Reform Commission

Since 2017, He Lifeng has served as chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, which oversees China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The BRI stands a good chance of being the single-most-ambitious infrastructure project of the early 21st century. Under Lifeng, the NDRC issued guidance for “greening” the BRI in an attempt to limit environmental risks and bolster green energy projects. At the Communist Party’s National Congress in October, Lifeng was selected to serve on the 24-member Politburo, reflecting his growing influence in the party and his close ties to President Xi Jinping.

Honorable mention:
<span>Juliet Eldred and the New Urbanist Memes for Transit-Oriented Teens</span>

New Urbanist Memes for Transit-Oriented Teens

“New Urbanist Memes for Transit-Oriented Teens,” a Facebook group boasting more than 227,000 members, is a place for discussion and, yes, memes about what car-free societies could look like. Then-undergrad student Juliet Eldred created the group in 2017 as a place for niche jokes about, for instance, dueling urban planning giants Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs. But it has since grown to include planners, GIS professionals, and public transit wonks from around the world. The NUMTOTs’ passionate, good-humored corner of the internet demonstrates real demand for a mobility approach that prioritizes community and climate action over car ownership.

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