A decade ago, who would have ever thought that a cab services provider would disrupt the might of the global automotive industry, and force car manufacturers to rethink their entire business models and roadmaps for future product development? Not too many, I’m sure. Okay, maybe I do exaggerate a tiny bit, but undeniably there is disruption and the auto industry has been forced to rethink its ways. Change is in the air.
Earlier, cars were an object of desire for the young. It was cool to be able to drive, to be independently mobile. Over the years, however, the traffic situation in most cities has become truly horrible, with unending traffic jams at all times of the day having become the norm rather than exception. That, combined with factors like rising fuel prices and lack of parking spaces means that driving a car simply isn’t as attractive a proposition as it used to be a few decades ago. No wonder, then, that there are many who no longer want to drive, preferring to use things like metro rail networks or no-hassles radio cab services.
Car manufacturers foresee personal/individual car ownership declining over the next few decades. For future generations the car might just a ‘service’ that is meant to be used only as and when required, without the associated hassles of actual ownership. In the future, OEMs might largely only build cars for fleet owners and service providers, who will then provide those vehicles to actual individual users for short periods of time, for a small fee. With smart, AI-powered, self-driving cars, even a human chauffeur might no longer be required. You summon a car, a service provider’s vehicle leaves the closest docking station and reaches you in a matter of minutes, you tell the car where to go, it drives you there, you pay the service provider via your smartphone, the car leaves for the nearest electric charging station or goes off to the next user.
The above scenario may sound a bit fanciful today, but will almost certainly be real within the next 20-30 years. Major car manufacturers, along with their technology vendors and partners, and component suppliers are already working towards that vision. On a recent trip to Austria, during a global press meet organised by ZF, I had the opportunity to witness first-hand some cutting-edge developments in automotive safety systems, electro-mobility, ADAS and autonomous driving and I’m convinced that next-generation vehicles are going to be very different from what we’ve seen over the last century.
Of course, it’s not going to be a cakewalk. There are massive challenges in terms of not just technology development, but also the setting up of the back-end infrastructure, network of charging stations, V2X communication protocols and many other standards on which global OEMs and different government authorities will have to agree upon. Is it going to be easy? No. Is it going to happen in the foreseeable future? You bet.