Automobiles have evolved rapidly in the last 30-40 years. This article reviews future trends of Automobiles. As we survey the current landscape of the automotive industry, let us have a look at the future trends in automobiles.
- Global push for reduction in emissions.
- Autonomous Driving
- Changing trends in ownership and move towards Transportation as a Service also known as Mobility as a Service.
We will discuss them one by one.
Global Push for Reduction in Emissions
Combustion of fuel in a conventional automobile (i.e. fueled by Petrol, Diesel, CNG) automobile produces Carbon-di-oxide (CO2) and water vapour. When incomplete combustion occurs, other harmful gases like Carbon Monoxide (CO) and Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) as well as unburnt hydrocarbons (UHC) are released into the atmosphere. CO2 is a green-house gas and can lead to global warming. The Paris Agreement is a global framework with a collective effort for reducing emissions. The global community has come up with standards (e.g. Euro VI in EU and BS VI in India) to pro-actively work towards reducing automotive emissions. Automotive manufacturers can reduce emissions by improving designs of existing internal combustion engines (e.g. making the engines more efficient, and/or using after-treatment devices (e.g. Catalytic Converter) to reduce emissions). Improving engines and adding after-treatment devices alone will not be sufficient to meet emission standards. So automotive manufacturers are looking with alternate means of propulsion with zero emissions. Electric vehicles and Fuel Cell vehicles are two alternatives to the traditional Internal Combustion Engine.
Electric Vehicles technology has evolved to the point where they are readily available in the market. Some examples of the Electric Vehicle in the market are Mahindra’s E2O, Chevy Bolt and Tesla’s Model S. Success of Electric Vehicles depends strongly on the presence of a good nationwide infra-structure of charging stations. Charging a vehicle in a short period of time (i.e comparable with filling of a petrol tank) and disposal of spent batteries are two major challenges with Electric Vehicles.
Fuel Cell vehicles are powered by electricity generated by mixing compressed hydrogen and oxygen. The emission generated by a fuel cell car is harmless water vapour. The Toyota Mirai is a commercially available Fuel Cell Vehicle and is sold in Japan, US and EU. Safe storage of hydrogen to prevent explosions and effective cooling of the system are two of the challenges with a Fuel Cell vehicle.
Autonomous Driving Cars (Also known as Self-Driving cars)
Global Positioning Systems (GPS) for vehicle navigation have been around for a couple of decades. We are already seeing cars and commercial vehicles with cameras (rear and sides) collision warning systems, active cruise control and emergency braking. Navigation Systems, Cameras and Collision warning systems have tremendously enhanced the safety of on-road vehicles. The highest level of safety can be achieved by an autonomous driving car.
An autonomous driving car is a car that is able to sense its environment and is driven without human input. Inputs from GPS and RADAR are used in a self-driving car to make changes to its speed and direction. There are different levels of automation ranging from the low (steering and acceleration / braking assistance), through medium (hands off steering for a short period of time) to high (fully automated). Gathering large amount of data and quickly processing it into actionable commands is a big challenge for self-driving cars. Tesla’s Model S cars are equipped with self-driving technology that is comparable or greater than a human driver. Self-driving cars will tremendously bring down the number of accidents (especially those caused by driver fatigue, distracted driving, poor visibility etc,). There are complicated ethical and liability issues that need to be sorted out before self-driving cars are rolled out to the general public.
Changing Trends in Ownership
With crowded roads and cities, the benefits of vehicle ownership are no longer as attractive to consumers as in the past. TaaS (Transportation as a Service) also known as MaaS (Mobility as a Service) describes this shift from vehicle ownership to a mobility solution that is consumed as a service. Due to traffic congestion and parking challenges in crowded cities, we prefer to hail an Ola or a Uber cab. This gives us the additional flexibility of being able to hail the service at very short notice. The payments for the services could be setup either on a monthly basis or as a “A pay as you go” model. Cities like London allow commuters to use the Oyster Card as a single mode of payment for multiple transportation modes like the Tube and Bus. TaaS is also closely linked to autonomous driving cars. A combination of autonomous driving cars and TaaS will bring down the cost of transportation significantly.
In summary, the automobile world is changing rapidly. It will be interesting to look back in time after 20 years where the trends mentioned in this article will have evolved and settled.