The Future of Mobility
Published by : Industrial Automation
Faster, cheaper, safer sustainable and seamless – Experts offer their views on the future of mobility.
Consumer electronics giant Sony will soon start manufacturing electric cars. Foxconn, best known as the company that puts together Sony Playstations and Apple smartphones, is also getting into manufacturing of EVs, in a tie-up with a global automobile manufacturer. As disruption is set to hit the global automobile industry right between the eyes, the future of mobility is going to be radically different than the 100 preceding years, when the internal combustion engine powered Ford Model T ushered in a century of automobilisation.
So what exactly will be the future of mobility in the near, medium and long term? “The future of mobility in the near term is electric drivetrains. New categories of EVs such as Personal Mobility Devices (PMDs) will make their presence felt, with an option to pick up and drop in different locations. In the medium term, electric and connected vehicles will be made available on a MaaS (Mobility as a Service) platform. Consumers pay subscription for usage, vehicle ownership will fade away,” says Christie Fernandez, Founder & CEO, Sooorya EV Pte Ltd, Mobility Futurist & Clean Tech Evangelist. “In the long term, autonomous vehicles (AV) such as Robo-Taxis and ‘Service on Wheels’ AVs will provide personal services, whisking you to your destination.”
“The future and the present have a very thin line as electric cars are in vogue across the globe. The autonomous cars are not far, especially in regions where there is a seamless road network. The availability of air travel in pod planes will be another disruptive transportation coming up,” opines Mahesh Patil, India Leader, Amphenol Advanced Sensors. According to P Praveen Rao, Management Consultant and Domain Expert, mobility is the lifeline and due to the emerging technologies, there is a dramatic change in urbanisation. “People have metros, monorails, local trains, community buses, App based taxis and their own vehicles. The desire for mobility is growing day by day, but it also has repercussions, i.e., noisy and crowded cities with congestion and smog,” says Rao, who is of the view that with immediate effect, mobility has to go all out towards integrated and personalised travel and that too environment-friendly. “The daily commute has to be more efficient and less expensive even when utilising several different modes of transport for a single trip,” he adds.
“Personal vehicles are no longer the instruments of freedom. Rather, more and more they are becoming a burden to the person, society and state,” states Sameer Ranjan Jaiswal, Co-Founder and CTO, FAE (Fast Affordable Electric). According to him, the mobility in the future will have the following factors: “Firstly, it’s going to be massively networked with continuous communication between vehicles, vehicles and their surroundings and between vehicles and users. It’s going to be user-centred focusing on user's needs and priorities. It has to be integrated allowing easy multi-modality, and it has to be dynamically priced to ensure a balance between supply and demand.”
Is the automobile industry ready for this transition? “The younger generation, the millennials, are not interested in purchase and ownership of cars. All they are interested in is having access to the right kind of mobility solution as and when they need to travel,” says Kaushik Madhavan, Vice President, Mobility Practice, Frost & Sullivan. “So that way, we will witness an increase in subscription model, by which I mean you pay a certain amount, say Rs 30,000, and get a vehicle from Mahindra or Hyundai, use it for a couple of months, then go for a change in the model. So this flexibility in choosing the right type of vehicle based on your needs – a compact or a SUV – is what is going to drive mobility,” Madhavan elaborates.
“The century old automobile industry is transforming to eMobility. Legacy automobile manufacturers aren’t ready for this transition. Startups, and technology companies will capture market share in this new eMobility business. EV skateboard platforms will standardise, with options to upgrade and customise. AV OS and hardware platform makers will consolidate, leaving a few dominant players in the market,” says Fernandez.
Mahesh Patil is of the opinion that the automobile industry may have no option to keep away from this transition. Already there is a lack of interest in ownership of cars and the pay per use model has grown rapidly. “The ever strained road infrastructure is keeping away new buyers especially when pay per use quality, affordable and convenient transport is ubiquitous,” he says.
Charging stations is the weak link in the still-emerging EV scenario. Is this a viable proposition? “While many think Charging Infrastructure is the bottleneck towards electric vehicle (EV) adoption, I have a slightly contrarian view,” emphasises Maxson Lewis, Managing Director, Magenta Power, who also feels at the moment, India has very limited options for purchasing electric vehicles, especially four-wheelers. “I mean options in terms of good quality at an optimal price point. The more options (vehicles) are on the road, the charging infrastructure would build around it. If the number of vehicles on the road increases, then we can also go out with deploying charging infrastructure.”
Another trend is consumers demanding solutions rather than products, which is not restricted to mobility alone. “Today the offering approach of almost all industries has shifted from a box or product to a complete integrated solution stack and that is because of market transition, which shifted from a traditional product-selling ecosystem to a complete solution availability,” stresses Praveen Rao. “Consumers are looking for proactive and predictive solutions in terms of Safety, Entertainment and Connectivity so they expects a centralised and integrated solution addressing their needs. Numerous trends, ranging from energy fragmentation to the AI, IoT and Machine Learning have arrived and will drastically change mobility systems over the next 10 to 15 years,” he adds.
The existing giants in the automobile industry need to adapt to the new era where everything is connected, driven by data, personalised for the user, feels Sameer Jaiswal. “When the user enters the vehicle, he now expects to get a personalised greeting, the vehicle should connect with his devices and automatically show him his schedule, his routes and times, personalised music choices, etc. Along with this, vehicles will increasingly rely on Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V), Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I), and Infrastructure-to-Vehicle (I2V) communications to make the user experience even easier.”
There are a lot of mobility options today between private and public transport. “If you look at it from the government’s perspective, the priorities are clear. One is, the focus should on mass transit or public transportation. The second step is multimodal mobility, which means a seamless integration between different modes of transport,” says Madhawan, referring to policy planning. The fact that India cannot have the level of automobilsation of the developed world is self-evident.
Do electric vehicles need incentives or is it in need of enabling infrastructure? “EVs need favourable policies – easy registration, low taxes and parking fees, etc. Adequate charging options and availability of 24/7 electricity is a must. Building EV ecosystems around transport hubs will provide a conducive environment for EVs to operate,” says Christie Fernandez. Maxson Lewis, who is engaged in the charging infrastructure business, believes that 2020 is the year when the flip towards EV will become unstoppable. Till then we will continue to chip away and build new and innovative solutions which the Indian EV ecosystem needs. “Scale is a matter of time. We have set ourselves some ambitious plans and we are ahead of schedule in many and lagging behind on a few,” he asserts. His company, Magenta Power is working with a number of partners like HPCL, Siemens Ltd, Mahindra Electric, and Nexus Malls – all representing different stakeholders – in putting up charging infrastructure.
“The EV is a very nascent technology. The two issues plaguing their adoption today are lack of awareness and lack of charging infrastructure. They need to build trust with the users before mass adoption can happen. Poor quality vehicles in the past have created a misperception in people’s minds that electric scooters cannot carry two people or that they can’t go on flyovers. Government incentives or subsidies will definitely help increase the initial adoption of electric vehicles. But results from FAME I show us that once the subsidies are gone, sales disappear,” emphasises Jaiswal.
The question then is, what should be the ideal mix of urban transportation? “The ideal mix of urban transportation is a combination of alternate powered options like Electric and Hydrogen fuel cells, more on-demand transport with effective use of innovation. This combination has to cover the ‘last-mile’ at every level of urban transportation,” opines Praveen Rao. “Urban transportation is moving towards usage of fleets as a necessary transport, metro trains and eventually could be pod planes. The electric factor is picking up at a fast pace,” adds Mahesh Patil.
“There is no seamless integration, in fact no integration at all. That should be the next step, because from the customer’s perspective, they should be able to pick and choose the right mode of transport based on the need. Unless we do that, no move for decongestion of the roads is going to be successful. So we need to create that integrated multimodal transport system. That should be the focus,” asserts Madhavan.
“The biggest problems faced by urban transportation are congestion and pollution. The urban transportation has to be shared, multi-modal and electric. There is no silver bullet solution to solve the urban transportation problem. All the new age technologies need to come together and combine all services together to solve the seemingly intractable problem of gridlock. The focus has to shift from moving the maximum number of vehicles to the maximum number of people. Minimising the use of personal vehicles is necessary for a sustainable future. A robust public transportation system is paramount for any city to grow sustainably,” says Jaiswal. “The government should focus on becoming mobility enablers instead of mobility providers and work with new-age mobility services to ensure maximum efficiency.”
Christie Fernandez sums it up neatly point by point:
- Fully air-conditioned public transport – metro trains, buses, shuttle vans, taxis, etc., is a must for mass adoption of public transport
- Last mile connectivity through 2/3/4-wheelers that are affordable, convenient and comfortable is crucial to get people to give up their private vehicles
- Seamless transport across different vehicle categories using a single app that provides a unified route plan across different modes of transport and integrated fares/payment system will quicken adoption of public mobility solutions, and
- Commuters should benefit from affordable, reliable and competitive journey time relative to own transportation, in order to make the switch to public transport.
(Note: The responses of various experts featured in this story are their personal views an not necessarily of the companies or organisations they represent. The full interviews are hosted online at https://www.iedcommunications.com/interviews)