Future Mobility 4.0 – The Early Trends
The idea of an electric car is not new. The first crude electric vehicle (EV) is believed to have been developed by Scotsman Robert Anderson, circa 1832, powered by primary cells. But it was not until the late 1880s that a series of practical electric cars were developed by various inventors in the US and Europe, and within a few years even became popular, especially in the US – so popular that even manufacturers of some IC engine powered cars used them! What killed the electric car then was the rising popularity of the Ford Model T and more important, its affordability – costing less than 50% than the average electric car. And that is where the matter still rests – around the cost factor.
Coming to the present, as the 21st Century grapples with its own problems of depleting fossil fuels and environmental pollution coupled with the advances in materials and technology, EVs have once again captured the popular imagination, and this time with active support from all the stakeholders including active government support. But despite all the developments and hype surrounding the growing support for EVs, the numbers are still small and the scenario, still evolving, as the charging infrastructure is getting built and batteries still the weak link in the chain. But together with other developments like autonomous vehicles and battery swapping services as well as growing popularity of fleets – cars as a service, the mass EV now is no longer about ‘if’ but just ‘when’, and the answer is in the not too distant future.
What are the expert views on this? Industrial Automation sought the views of those working in this domain about the feasibility of the future mobility – electric, autonomous and a fleet model. “In the current circumstances and time, we find it really difficult but while keeping future in mind and looking at the pace of development in technology right now, it seems to be very achievable task,” says Zafar Equbal, CEO, Goenka Electric Motor Vehicles Pvt Ltd, a company specialising in battery operated 3-wheelers for passengers as well as goods.
“The automotive industry is witnessing two gradual shifts, one is introduction and gradual adoption of alternative-fuel vehicles and the other is change is pattern of ownership after the emergence of aggregators like Uber and Ola. While the aggregators are bringing a paradigm shift in the ownership pattern, EVs will enable them to operate and sustain in the long run owing to their low operational cost. So, it is quite feasible for future of transportation to be electric. The autonomous vehicle trend may take some more time and require a lot of policy and infrastructure level work to become a reality in India,” opines Chandan Mundhra, Founder & CEO, Savë Electric Vehicles.
Rajshekhar Uchil, DGM – Technical, Jost's Engineering Company Limited, a company with rich experience in providing various automotive solutions, agrees that gradually, the society is moving towards EVs. “The government has to be the driver and a facilitator in this by encouraging the consumers to buy EVs, providing incentives to both manufacturers and users,” says Rajshekhar. On the other hand, Mahesh Patil, India Leader, Amphenol Interconnect India Pvt Ltd opines that the electric, autonomous and fleet model is fast becoming a reality and at an extremely fast pace, with the potential to reach the tipping point in each of these segments within a couple of decades. “Though the need of traffic decongestion, emission controls and addressing real estate issues for parking/charging are the need of the hour for the developing countries, the adoption of these models will be faster and sooner in the developed countries,” says Mahesh, and gives the example of Helsinki, which is already a leader in the mass mobility as a service space, and feels this could be the norm in the developed countries in the next decade.
“The future of mobility would indeed be electric, autonomous and fleet model based without ownership, as this model would provide seamless mobility across modes that is faster, cheaper, cleaner, safer, and more convenient than today,” says Saurabh Mathur, Head – Industrial Automation & Industry 4.0 Projects Division, Electrozen Automation, drawing attention to the Global Mobility Summit organised by NITI Aayog last September which deliberated upon adapting this model for the Indian transportation system. “This model would relieve the cities of congested parking lots, reduce air pollution and provide better connectivity. Urban areas would lead the adaptation of this multimodal mobility ecosystem followed by semi urban and rural areas,” he adds.
Piyush Gupta, CEO, Lithion Power Pvt Ltd believes India will be one of the first few countries to have an electric fleet model. “About autonomous vehicles, it will take a bit more time given our chaotic traffic conditions. However, for fleets, we are almost certain India will transition to ‘shared ownership’ model as it delivers the maximum value to the customers, says Piyush, whose company is India’s largest ‘Battery as a service’ operator.
“Yes this is feasible but we have to do a lot to achieve it – like creating the supporting infrastructure. Apart from the cost of fossil fuels reaching the zenith, there is that most important issue of pollution, and the large chunk comes from traditional vehicles,” says Shivakant Pandey, Managing Director, Menza Motors Pvt Ltd.
At this point it would be interesting to have a look at a recent research report by ResearchAndMarkets.com, Global Electric Vehicle Market to 2024, which says the global electric vehicle market is expected to surpass US$ 419 bn by the end of year 2024. Several governments across the globe are promoting electric vehicle to a large extent and providing decent subsidies to boost the production level of EVs. Policies also target zero emission vehicles as a green technology. According to the report, the key factors that reinforce electric vehicle market to expand are: decreasing cost of EV batteries in the form of cell pack batteries; increasing public and private charging technology and infrastructure; and the subsidies EV manufacturers get from the government and several economic benefits in the form of tax rebate.
It is not a smooth sailing though and there are several impediments in the process, and Shivakant Pandey lists a few here:
- The industry is new so there is the need for a thorough scrutiny of all the pros and cons
- Customer awareness should be top priority as that is sorely lacking at present
- The cost of peripherals is also a major factor
- Availability of charger and distance travel on charge are major issues, and
- Charging stations are developing with limited or no consideration for energy issues, or without exploiting a full range of digital technologies, overcomplicating customer experience.
Piyush Gupta agrees that for electric vehicles charging infrastructure is a key bottleneck. “For the autonomous vehicle, we need to have indigenous research as Indian data sets will need to be developed and designed in India,” says Piyush. To this, Saurabh Mathur adds that major impediments in this process would be regulatory challenges, development of safe and reliable technical solutions, consumer acceptance and seamless internet connectivity.
In the Indian context, infrastructure is a major issue feels Mahesh Patil. “The benefits of these technologies and models of operation will see a feasibility bottleneck in the developing world including India primarily due to its infrastructure inadequacy which includes the brick and mortar road networks and their quality, the telecommunications infrastructure, last mile connectivity, lack of safety considerations, gaps in legal frameworks and the speed of justice dispensation. This are largely a non-challenge in the developing world,” points out Mahesh.
For Rajshekhar Uchil, the main impediments are the lack of multiple vehicle charging points with fast charge capability and exploring battery swap possibilities. The other serious concern is how will the grid cope when a large number of vehicles are drawing power – will it sustain? While the autonomous vehicles may fare better in controlled environments like IT companies, college campuses or airports, etc., there is that concern for safety. “Roads in India could be very risky for autonomous vehicles,” says Rajshekhar.
“EVs is a very general term. I would prefer categorising EVs with respect to types and varieties, and then access, e.g., lows speed bikes, eRickshaws/3-wheelers, passenger cars, etc.,” says Chandan Mundhra, taking about impediments. “The 2- and 3-wheeler segments are already growing rapidly in India. Passenger cars are having hard time due to high cost of ownership and lack of charging infrastructure. One of the major hurdles we have observed is lack of rational decision making among car buyers in terms of 360 degree evaluation. Currently, ownership cost is the deciding factor among majority of buyers,” says Chandan, whose company offers not just commercial EVs (passenger and cargo), but also customised EVs like campus carts and customised vehicles. It also offers battery swapping solution for E-Rickshaws and E-carts.
But cost could be the biggest impediments according to Zafar Equbal. “Currently the technology we are using is very expensive and hence the end customer is finding it a little difficult to switch. Initial cost of the vehicle is very high which demotivates the customer to move on to a product irrespective of the higher efficiency of the products and technology,” says Zafar. Speaking about the supporting infrastructure or the lack of it, Zafar feels that government support is very important as appropriate policies always make a huge difference on the market and its approach. Every policy in favour of EV industry surely increases the demand of the product and also enables the end customer to know more about the new technology developed by the EV industry,” he maintains.
But there are some positive developments, as Chandan Mundhra says: Many newly developed housing societies have begun to make provisions for EV charging points at their parking spaces, which will enable the eBike and eCar owners to charge their vehicles overnight. Delhi government, for example, has released a draft policy for EVs which mandates a charging station every 3 km. Such measures, once executed will give a boost to EV sales and solve the issue of infrastructure. Regarding the 3-wheeler, though unregulated, the segment is growing rapidly. “Infrastructure is still a challenge and dedicated parking zones for overnight charging and micro financing of eRickshaws will boost the ecosystem and may put it in right structure,” says Chandan.
“The autonomous model requires a very well developed road infrastructure, telecom connectivity, safety norms and a well thought out implementable legal framework. Unless these dots are well connected the autonomous vehicles will be a distant reality,” says Mahesh Patil. But the most critical impediment according to Mahesh is the present ambiguous regulatory framework. “India needs to use already proven technologies and regulatory frameworks across the developed countries and not complicate the adoption by creating an ambiguous framework,” he opines. Also the fleet model will see continuous growth but this may not see a reduction in the private vehicle ownership segment unless the customers get a confidence of anytime availability at an affordable cost. The end result if these impediments, especially on infrastructure, are not addressed would result in the growth of the fleet model, EVs and private vehicle ownership together, which will put more strain on the infrastructure.
“Transport infrastructure is one of the most important factors for a country’s progress. Geo-mapping technologies and open standards are available today to provide real time traffic data that can be used for efficient traffic management. Reduced data cost and better mobile internet connectivity are definitely important factors in supporting the shared autonomous transport model,” says Saurabh Mathur. “India plans to achieve 100 per cent EV sales by 2030 and this would be a game changer and its achievement could drive down costs further, making India the potential leader in the global mobility movement,” he adds.
“Infrastructure will develop because there will be a strong customer demand for it,” says Piyush Gupta. “India is one of the most value conscious societies – EVs, autonomous and shared fleets have tremendous savings for customers. Hence we believe the infrastructure will develop because of customer demand,” says Piyush, summing up.
Continuing the note of cautions optimism, Shivakant Pandey concludes be saying, “Currently we don’t have infrastructure to support this but as this industry is new, the more attention it draws from the public, and many companies are involved, there will be the pressure on government to create the necessary infrastructure. As the governments at the state and central level are also deeply engaged in making policies, one can hope that in the next couple of years we will have at least 30-35% of infrastructure in place.”
“Appears difficult but looking at the pace of development in technology, it seems to be very achievable task”
-Zafar Equbal, CEO, Goenka Electric Motor Vehicles Pvt Ltd
“The autonomous vehicle trend may take some more time and require a lot of work to become a reality in India”
-Chandan Mundhra, Founder & CEO, Savë Electric Vehicles
“The government has to be the driver and a facilitator in this by encouraging the consumers to buy EVs”
-Rajshekhar Uchil, DGM – Technical, Jost's Engineering Company Limited
“The need of the hour is traffic decongestion, emission controls and addressing real estate issues for parking/charging”
-Mahesh Patil, India Leader, Amphenol Interconnect India Pvt Ltd
“Urban areas would lead the adaptation of this multimodal mobility ecosystem followed by semi urban and rural areas”
-Saurabh Mathur, Head – Industrial Automation & Industry 4.0, Electrozen Automation.
“Apart from the cost of fossil fuels reaching the zenith, there is that most important issue of pollution”
-Shivakant Pandey, Managing Director, Menza Motors Pvt Ltd
“For autonomous vehicles, we need to have indigenous research as data sets will need to be developed and designed in India”
-Piyush Gupta, CEO, Lithion Power Private Limited