Future of Automobiles and Electric Cars in India
Automobiles have brought about great changes to the way we live our lives, order our cities and more. As our lives changed, so too did automobiles, with advancements occurring ever-faster.
Each of these changes ranges from minor to majorly disruptive. For example, the taxi aggregator business was a minor change that is already flourishing but a major disruption would be the addition of driverless cars in the driver reliant industry.
The evolution of the automobile is now at a tipping point with many new technologies being adopted or on the verge of adoption. Some of these are relevant to the Indian context while others are more relevant elsewhere. Here’s a look at advancements we’re likely to see in the next generation of cars in India.
A large part of India’s hydrocarbon requirements come through imports. If we shift to more fuel-efficiency or alternative technologies, we can reduce our dependency on hydrocarbons and curtail the outflow of foreign currency. There are several ways this can be done including hybrid technology (combining fossil fuels with battery-powered propulsion) or alternate energy sources such as electricity or hydrogen.
Electric vehicles (EVs) appear to be the most popular option with worldwide sales set to hit 4 million in September 2018, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. That number could grow larger with Government of India announcing their plan that 30% of vehicles in India be electric vehicles by 2030. An impediment to the government’s target is India’s lack of infrastructural support for such a change such as charging points and ancillary facilities. Nevertheless, as numbers and fuel costs rise, EVs will become a more viable and affordable option with cheaper parts and a lower cost of operation.
Amongst the most polluted countries in the world, India holds the distinction of having 11 out of the 12 most polluted cities in the world on a World Health Organization list. There are several contributing factors but key amongst them are the emissions from private and public transport vehicles.
EVs are an easy solution to combat this increasingly grim situation. The main drawback to using EVs is that electricity might be generated from non-renewable sources such as coal and produce its own pollution. However, the power plant would most likely be some distance away from densely populated regions and the pollution could be more easily contained or neutralised.
The burgeoning market for artificial intelligence has found a brilliant application in the form of driverless cars, possibly revolutionising the way we use our cars. While most cars are currently used for a fraction of the day, often with only one seat occupied, driverless cars could allow for multiple trips in a day. This would, for example, allow several family members to use the same car with it returning to a home base after dropping off the previous occupants. This would reduce the dependence on multiple cars and could change purchase and lifestyle habits. While this is a tantalising future, it would require a lot of technological advancements for it to become a reality.
The immediate need for right now is better quality roadways across the country to increase the speed of transportation. This would directly benefit public transportation with faster bus and vehicle services between cities. One way to increase speed across highways is to introduce automation of toll booths. By setting up a system where the tax collection mechanism is automated, vehicles could theoretically drive thousands of kilometres without having to stop at any point. If the introduction of electric vehicles catches on, popular roadways would have more charging stations and, considering the amount of sunlight India receives, solar power generators.
Governmental bodies are taking steps to increase safety regulations with much-needed changes being introduced in the next few years. This includes mandatory crash test certifications for every passenger car, compulsory airbags and additional pedestrian safety. By working together, the government and manufacturers can improve the quality of automobile construction and introduce higher-end safety features in mass segment cars.
The next step would be to improve the education of drivers by providing training including more advanced, simulator-based training to provide a more realistic feel. Looking further into the future, technology like radar guided driver aids and connected cars would be able to help avoid collisions and allow cars to ‘talk’ to each other using sensors to maintain safe distances.
As electric vehicles become more popular, the number of moving parts will continue to reduce, resulting in lower maintenance costs and longer vehicle life. There will also be the advancements in mileage, storage capacity and construction using alloys, new processes and speciality materials. However, an area long overdue for a change is in battery technology. To prevent resource shortages or undue dependency, it would be crucial to explore new developments in this area.
Progress has already been made using alternatives to lithium-ion batteries such as using graphite or silicon anodes, offering significant improvements in the range of electric vehicles. Another possible technology that could be explored is solid state batteries that could offer super-fast charging, lower prices, and smaller sizes. While these technologies do show promise, there still arise questioning regarding their mass production and durability.
The shift that we now see is happening very quickly indeed. Cars are changing at a fundamental level and manufacturers need to be prepared to adopt the right technologies and strategies to remain competitive. Meanwhile, governments will have to rebuild infrastructure including highways and roads to accommodate these changes.
While this occurs, Core philosophies like customer service and focus will remain central tenets. It will be a precarious balancing act for mass-market car manufacturers to think ahead, listen to their customers, and remain affordable and available to the public while designing the automobile of tomorrow.