As a keen follower of the automotive industry worldwide for over two decades, it is with a mixture of trepidation and excitement that I have been observing the shift towards electric mobility. Change is always painful, but to think that the future of the internal combustion engine is in jeopardy seems momentarily unthinkable.
Yet, when I see a precipitous fall in participation by car makers at major global auto shows and instead see them make a beeline to consumer electronics fairs where they unveil their latest EVs amidst much fanfare, the writing does seem to be on the wall for the IC engine.
But for the current generation of consumers — millennials and Generation Z — for whom buying a car is not so much a burning desire, the future of mobility could well be public transport and even if was to be a personal vehicle, it could unsurprisingly be an electric.
Their mobility needs could well be met by a combination of transport solutions which in turn might be influenced equally by economics and eco-consciousness.
Shift in mobility As enthusiasts, observers and participants in the automobile industry, Venkat Sumantran, Charles Fine and David Gonsalvez attempt to recount and read these trends, and conjure an image of the future of mobility worldwide in their new book Faster, Smarter, Greener: The future of the car and urban mobility .
The authors are all uniquely positioned to forecast the coming revolution in mobility that could witness a mix of solutions ranging from electrics and Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, to self-driving and connected cars, and the even eco-friendly and intelligent public transportation options.
Through the book, the authors speak with conviction about what the future mobility landscape will look like, though currently they all seem like a series of future trends involving products that are just emerging from the garb of science fiction.
The authors are are intimately associated with automobile industry — Sumantran has had more than three decades of experience heading organisations in the auto industry in the US, Europe and Asia, Fine is Chrysler LGO professor at MIT Sloan, and Gonsalvez is CEO and Rector at MIT’s Malaysia Institute for Supply Chain Innovation.
That mix of industry and academia has percolated into the insights that the book provides on a range of topics from population trends, the economics of innovation, the wheel-to-well analysis as a measure for gauging true levels of environmental pollution, the importance of planning cities around pedestrians and not for cars (as has been in the past) and the new world of mobility built on the Connected, Heterogenous, Intelligent and Personalized (CHIP) architecture.
In today’s rapidly growing Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem, the car has just gotten connected and could rapidly be a part of the network. Intelligent connected cars that communicate with each other and self-driving cars are at the cusp of breaking out of the fantasy league and joining the mainstream. And the adoption of these new technologies in the automobile will be driven by the perpetually online and connected generation of today. The authors say that for this population of ‘netizens’ “familiarity with the automobile has eroded its novelty”. But, maybe this generation of consumers who are being fed on a steady diet of smartphone apps and bot-fights, will also be adequately enamoured by the car culture whatever the underlying motive power may be for the automobile.
To jive in sync with this generation is probably why Elon Musk prefers to deliver updates for his electric cars via the Net and not at a workshop. But, will future generations of buyers view the car as a positive, aspirational addition to their lives or will it just be a mundane, impersonal tool for their commute? Will more than a century of development of the automobile be lost in the race to go electric and driverless?
Or will more and more of the so-called disruptors from the non-automotive space discover that this is not such an easy industry after all. Even as we come to terms with the inevitability of the next century being the EVs, how should countries, cities and their Governments build a roadmap to ease the transition, especially regarding infrastructure and incentives?
Well-timed bookFaster, Smarter, Greener offers answers to all these questions and more. It is a timely tome which could well be a guide for all the stakeholders who are interested in preserving the romance of the automobile even as other prudent, green and cost-effective mobility solutions are simultaneously promoted.
The contents of the book are spread over three parts with the first being a recounting of the history of the automobile industry since the first cars appeared on our streets.
But, the really interesting bits are in part two which outlines how we can use lateral thinking and incremental innovations to pick on and solve the biggest stumbling blocks to creating a sustainable CHIP mobility architecture.
The authors also describe in detail the framework for CHIP mobility which should include the creation of a digital platform for mixed use of multiple modes of urban transport including bicycles, light-rail, motorcycles and even walking, in addition to the usual mass rapid transit solutions.
The emerging preference for eco-friendly alternatives is the premise over which the projections for future adoption of the CHIP architecture has been calculated.
But, like the authors have pointed out, it is crucial for regulators and policy makers to ensure affordability and access so that all sections of society can reap the benefits of this new mobility formula.
MEET THE AUTHORS
Venkat Sumantran is the chairman of Celeris Technologies.
Charles Fine is Chrysler LGO Professor at MIT Sloan and the Founding President of the Asia School of Business, Kuala Lumpur.
David Gonsalvez is CEO and Rector at MIT’s Malaysia Institute for Supply Chain Innovation.