Opinion

India needs ‘intelligent' cars

V. SUMANTRAN | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on February 24, 2012

Delhi is expected to grow more in the next three years than London in two decades.

BL25_SUMANTRAN

Automobiles need technologies to address mobility problems on Indian roads.

India is listed as the sixth largest auto market globally, based on the sales for the year 2010 and 2011, with a projected growth of 7 per cent for the next year. Extracts reveal that by 2016, the size of the Indian automobile industry is expected to grow by 13 per cent, approaching the target of US$ 120-159 billion.

Presently, India is the second-largest two-wheeler and fourth-largest commercial vehicle market. Strategic alliances in the economies of developed countries have leveraged its success factors by raising demand and financial support.

Indian companies have gained the trust of automotive majors to become a part of the automotive value chain. This is evident from global automotive players acknowledging Indian SMEs as major suppliers in the original equipment and after-market areas. Reports strongly suggest this, as a result of the standardisation efforts by Indian manufacturers, which has made production more profitable, given the low-cost labour advantage.



INFRASTRUCTURE

Given the growth scenario of the automotive sector, there exists a question: would customers have the space to benefit from a blooming industry? Modern vehicles are developed to run at speeds of 140 kmph and more, yet made to crawl in traffic.

Rough estimates of congestion and time on the road, accumulating to billions of work hours, strongly emphasise the associated productivity loss. It is often mentioned, and it is true, that traffic congestion, to a great extent, is responsible for the increased accident rates.

Surveys conducted by companies with key executives reveal that congestion makes driving unappealing, and restricts potential buyers from actually buying a car. It was learnt that congestion greatly influences certain buying decisions, like choice of segment of the car.

Customers, who are indeed capable of buying a larger car, choose a small car for matters of traffic conditions. This, definitely, is a negative to the growth of the automotive sector. Vehicle design, in future, is expected to be influenced by urban planning, to make vehicles suitable for varied applications. Poor road and traffic infrastructure even threaten to slow the rate of economic growth.

It is strongly believed that an efficient multi-modal transport system will possess the potential to reduce city traffic significantly. Researchers have confirmed that many vehicle owners would prefer a well-connected mass transit system to a personal vehicle. Convenience and cost-effectiveness become prime factors when choosing from the transport modes available. Making effective use of the modes of transport would reduce the problem to a considerable extent.

ROLE OF DESIGN

In the above scenario, design definitely plays a pivotal role, as effective as some other factors. Indian and global bus makers have succeeded in designing city buses that are comfortable and very appealing, making people prefer them to traditional buses. It is also said that a larger proportion of the public, who would otherwise have preferred personal vehicles, opted for modern buses. We attribute the reasons to comfort, safety, convenience, and connectivity that make public transport more attractive. There is no doubt that public transport is not only economical, compared with personal transport, it will also have a lower carbon footprint in our quest for sustainable mobility. Some other benefits of such efficient public transport are relief for users from traffic frustration, reduced search for parking area, savings in fuel and money, reduced pollution, etc.

It was acknowledged by Peter Hendy, Commissioner of Transport for London, that “Delhi will grow more in the next three years than London will in the next two decades.” His address at the Urban Mobility India 2010 Conference highlighted similarities in traffic patterns in the two cities, and also expressed his views of how the growth of Delhi would be affected in the absence of active mobility. The case is similar to some other Indian metro cities as well, as Tier-II cities are expanding proportionate to economic development.

With India competing in the automotive sector, we must have systems and approaches to address the mobility issues and to accommodate the expected growth through developments in the sector. Automobiles are in need of being supplemented with electronics and communication devices to guarantee its sustainability in the future. It shows the extent to which the automotive industry has overlapped with some other industries. Therefore, an improvement in the automobile sector has to be suitably supported by some other nodal industries. From a technology standpoint, in India, most of the technologies under mobility systems are still in the nascent stages.

It is required, at this juncture, to create space for accommodating growth and develop and adapt systems and approaches with a view to identifying the key to ‘Intelligent Mobility' for India.



TRAFFIC SYSTEMS

We must also be aware that technology is not the only solution for solving mobility problems, nor is it a substitute. It usually becomes an important arm in systems that would serve to solve mobility-related issues. For example, carpooling — a concept identified for connecting people travelling to a particular location and sharing the vehicle ride — has proved to reduce traffic. This system is already prevalent in Bangalore, and if made available in some other Indian cities, would work in reducing the traffic by a considerable percentage. Next, the Barclays Bike Sharing in TFL services (Transport for London) seems to have reasonably reduced traffic stress, as reflected in the newspapers. Similar systems exist in some other parts of the globe, like Ukraine. These systems promote mobility, and simultaneously reduce pressure on roads. The ‘Oyster Card' system in TFL (Transport for London), which provides a single-cash-fare approach for all types of city public transport, has also guaranteed the multi-modal nature of transport.

More commendable is the website of TFL, which guides all categories of individuals, from personal to commercial, on making use of the most convenient mode of transport. Records from TFL reveal around 1 million hits on the website on snow days, to choose the best transport mode, and also to decide on the feasibility of travel. Such systems require inputs from the technology side, in addition to infrastructure and funding factors. In other words, these systems need a technological base to make them real and keep them alive. It is in this scenario that CII is organising the ‘Conference on Automotive R&D Patterns 2015 — Automotive Technology: Mobility as a System'. It aims to cover mobility-related issues prevalent in India, and to discuss and to work on a solution-based approach.

(The author is Vice-Chairman, Hinduja Automotive Limited.)

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Published on February 24, 2012
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