Ever since Henry Ford slashed prices of the Model T car from $2,000 to $850 by using the moving assembly line, about two billion internal combustion engines (ICE) are in use today, of which, 1.4 billion are in cars. Importantly, the automobile facilitated a whole new way of life to emerge, connecting people and places through mass mobility.

However, the widespread use of coal and fossil fuels for transportation caused billions of tonnes of pollutants to be emitted, which are today at the centre of causing climate change. India has committed itself to ‘net zero’ by 2070 to mitigate climate change. The transport sector contributes approximately 10 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

There is a great opportunity to overhaul connecting people to places after over a century. While it seems that the vehicle will remain essentially the same — that is, the 2W/3W, cars, bus and truck — the powertrains will change significantly. As will the energy source. And the use of ride-sharing and public transportation is likely to get a huge boost, further reducing pollutants on an aggregate basis.

NITI Aayog has forecast that India could have over a 100 million electric vehicles (EVs) by 2030, which would require about three million public chargers. McKinsey has outlined nine powertrains in four categories that have emerged as alternatives to the fossil fuel-powered ICE — gas-based; bio-fuel based; hybrid EVs; and zero-emission vehicles.

Key stakeholders

Further, often unnoticed, the landscape of mobility actually comprises over 10 key stakeholders. Who are they? Why is an alliance critical to achieve the targets set out?

Citizens — specially women and children: It is around the citizen that future cities and towns must be designed, with mobility as an integral element. Citizens have become conscious about safe, clean and efficient multi-modal transportation that will in time reduce congestion. It is their choices that will determine the types of vehicles on the road; individual, ride-sharing or public.

Government and regulatory agencies: The government — Centre and States — have been proactive in framing policy, particularly shaping the development of alternative powertrains. Whether it is through incentivising manufacturers (example, PLI scheme) to adopt future technology ( electric, hydrogen, bio-fuels, etc) or enhancing fuel efficiency standards (CAFÉ norms, for instance) and simply restricting particulate emissions (BSVI — NOx, SOx) via regulation.

However, the push must continue.

Urban planners: Urban mobility is key to the quality of life in cities and towns. At the most basic level, it is still about connecting people to places. However, the challenge is perhaps the reverse now. How can planners connect more people to more places, while minimising the use of personal motorised vehicles and maximising micro-mobility (walking, bicycling, etc.) and public transport powered by close to zero emission vehicles?

The automotive industry — OEMs and component manufacturers: The traditional automotive industry has faced massive disruption over the past decade, by tighter legislation on norms for emission and safety and by enhanced competitive pressures from new entrants. It has been remarkable in its resilience and is continually evolving and adapting to the transition. It has proved itself to be truly world class and must build on this position.

Power producers: Availability of quality power and range anxiety remain top of mind concerns amongst EV customers. This has to be allayed quickly. Some think-tanks estimate that EVs are expected to draw 120-300 GW by 2030, accounting for the majority of the load on the power grid. Not only has capacity to be enhanced dramatically, the quality of distribution has to be consistently to specifications.

Software developers: The young customer researches the growing array of software technologies before he/she even steps into a vehicle showroom. As much as 30-40 per cent of the cost of a vehicle in the future could be software alone. Software will control and manage the systems and functions in a vehicle, completely redefining the driving experience. Software updates are regularly sent ‘free over the air’ (FOTA) to the vehicle by the OEM, thereby continually enhancing driving experience over its lifetime.

Machine tool manufacturers: They are highly dependent on the automotive industry, since perhaps 40 per cent of their revenues are linked to the auto sector. With the entire auto value chain undergoing a strategic change, they will have to adapt to newer avenues of revenue like additive manufacturing (3D printing, for example). However, they are too important to a country’s technological progress not to be integrated into a prospective alliance.

Sugar manufacturers: The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways aims to accelerate the adoption of ethanol as an alternate clean fuel, thereby lowering India’s dependence on imported fossil fuels and raising farmers’ incomes. The target is to blend 20 per cent ethanol with gasoline by 2025 and enhance it to 85 per cent in the future. The sugar manufacturers will thus have to be instrumental in enabling the availability of adequate ethanol as fuel.

The Petroleum and Natural Gas industry: Natural gas (CNG, LNG) has been identified as a fuel for reducing pollution. A well-calibrated network in towns and cities and along national highways for long-haul trucks needs to be built.

Others: The Hydrogen Association, Charging Infrastructure and Battery Manufacturers and providers of Mobility as a Service (MaaS), among others, will all be important constituents of a successful mobility system of the future.

To conclude, by putting their minds together, with the citizen at the heart of all decision-making, governments, planners, the auto industry, software developers, power producers, sugar manufacturers, petroleum and natural gas producers, hydrogen, charging and battery manufacturers, can overcome challenges in creating a smart, inclusive and low carbon, world-class ecosystem for sustainable future mobility.

The writer is Chairman CII Forum for Industry-Academia Partnership, and former MD and CEO, Ashok Leyland and JCB India