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View from India: Gearing up for shared mobility and electric vehicles

Uber, that infamous taxi aggregator, does 10 million trips per week in India. This is an indicator that the entire mobility ecosystem in India will transform over the next decade, its growth largely driven by increasing urbanisation that in turn requires commuting services and connectivity. We need to gear ourselves to welcome automated, electric and autonomous vehicles, along with shared mobility options.

Shared mobility is gaining traction in urban India as well as in tier cities. Urban India turns to shared mobility for the sake of convenience and tier cities view it as a cost-saving option.

“The interplay of technology and mobility will bring a paradigm change in the auto industry; expectedly it will intensify over the next few years and span out into multiple avenues. From the consumer perspective, the mobility ecosystem should be available at the click of a button. From the environment perspective, technology and mobility should help decongest roads,” said Deepankar Tiwari, head of vehicle solutions and business development (India and South Asia), Uber. 

It’s time for taxi aggregators to fine-tune their services for improving consumer requirements. They need to take into account the state-of-the art facilities required for consumer adoption of auto driving. “We are investing money to scale up the existing technology. We plan to invest in maps to enable precision-led, last-mile connectivity,” added Tiwari. 

The commercial implementation of shared mobility will predictably disrupt the transport industry. The ‘wow’ factor will have to be brought in and this needs to go beyond infotainment in order to create a better consumer experience. “Shared mobility needs to go beyond the regular commuters and become an end-to-end choice of consumers everywhere. For its complete adoption, it’s important to integrate private cab entities into the transport system. When you book a railway ticket, it’s necessary to include the cab facility into the package,” explained Henrik Wigermo, BMW, China, senior manager, corporate and governmental affairs.

Moving beyond shared mobility, supporting infrastructure needs to be scaled up in the electric vehicle segment. Appropriately this sector is getting a thrust as Nitin Gadkari, the union minister of road transport and highways, has announced a target of achieving 100 per cent e-mobility by 2030.

Hopefully, the domestic auto industry will take to electric vehicle technology. This can happen with charging infrastructure. A beginning has to be made with charging stations put up at regular intervals across India. The government of India has already invited bids for companies to set up 4,000 charging stations in Delhi NCR (National Capital Region).

“Fuel efficiency targets will have to be met and this can happen when regulatory measures aggressively promote e-vehicles. These vehicles require sustainable energy products. For instance, it would be nice if we can harness renewable energy like solar and wind power to charge battery-powered electric vehicles,” Wigermo suggested.

Overall, the need of the hour is to bring down the cost of batteries. For better productivity, it’s necessary to tweak the existing mileage pattern and introduce measures whereby consumers pay per km and energy cost is calculated per consumption.

A significant move in this direction is the creation of smart scooters. Ather Energy, a Bangalore-based startup company that designs high-speed, electric two-wheelers, has designed and manufactured its S340, which is tipped to be the country’s first smart electric scooter. We did get a sneak peep at the Ather-S340 last year; now the scooter is gearing up for test rides in 2018.

The e-scooter has cloud-based algorithms that monitor its critical parts. With a connected touchscreen dashboard, it enables navigation routes to sync with the dashboard. The 3G-enabled scooter also has an app which allows riders to configure the ride and profile preferences.

The future of vehicles in India is expected to be electric and connected. “India is all set to welcome intelligent vehicles that do the math which helps automate decisions through built-in control systems. The onset of intelligent vehicles has been timed right because we have technology, economics and consumers for it. It’s a consumerist attitude wherein the value for all things smart has gained momentum,” said Arun Vinayak, chief product officer, Ather Energy.

We are entering an era in which we cannot steer away from autonomous driving and connected cars. While algorithms, perception sensors and other tech tools will be somewhat common across all these vehicles, large proprietary players are expected to enter the scene. The electrification wave in the vehicle industry will give rise to a fresh breed of players who will handle data, whereby data optimisation will offer an accurate and scalable way of predicting customer behavior and preferences. Apart from relaxing regulatory norms, we also need component suppliers who manufacture cost-effective products to ensure battery management system for better outcomes.

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