Reshaping Mobility

"By 2030, India will have at least seven mega cities with a population of over 10 million and nearly 50 cities that are at least a million strong. Sustainable mobility solutions will be needed."

Illustration by Raj Verma Illustration by Raj Verma

The common narrative, when it comes to adoption of electric mobility in India is that it will be disruptive. Together with shared economy and connected automobiles, we anticipate a tremendous upheaval in the automotive industry. Not too far in the future, we see an enormous change in the way people and cargo move. What's heartening is that this new era of mobility will cause a positive disruption.

At present, there are many questions raised on electric mobility: charging infrastructure, clean and sustainable energy options, access to lithium reserves, range anxiety, well-to-wheel analysis, shifting of dependence from fossil fuels to metals and rare earths, government subsidies and more. All of them are valid. But they tend to derail the main reason why we need sustainable mobility - India's critical need as well as its commitment to climate action and clean energy development.

Power of innovation

No one has seen the future, but that does not mean we cannot make informed decisions and act accordingly. For example, when we start work on an all-new vehicle, we have to anticipate and predict how it will be received by customers on an average four years later. Similarly, for sustainable mobility solutions, we know that the way forward is electric. It's just that the lead time for customer acceptance is longer. Disrupting the 130-year-old automotive industry - comprising not just OEMs but vast supplier networks, distribution partners as well as other important stakeholders - is obviously not going to be an overnight phenomenon. But the building blocks are being put in place.

Where we, as Indian manufacturers, can make a difference is to effect electrification in mass mobility. The greatest impact will be seen only when there is mass acceptance of electric mobility; this ambition is juxtaposed against the movement seen in developed countries, where electric vehicles are typically high profile and glamorous. The Indian customer prizes efficiency when making a vehicle purchase; so we believe it's not difficult for him or her to see the huge advantages that an electric vehicle brings.

While our economy is already one of the fastest growing in the world, our population is the second-largest and we are seeing an unprecedented rate of urbanisation too. So, we need to arrive at our own solutions for the citizens of the emerging Indian megapolis. According to the World Bank, by 2030, India will have at least seven mega cities with a population of over 10 million and nearly 50 cities that are at least a million strong. As these mega trends will determine the future of the country, our mobility solutions also have to be sustainable, which is where technology will make a difference. A shared economy, which will ensure minimal carbon footprint for all travellers, has the potential to bloom. Mahindra's association with the likes of Lithium Urban Technologies for employee transport, Zoomcar for self-drive cars, Ola and Uber for ride hailing services etc., are all poised to contribute towards that. To give an idea, all the Mahindra electric vehicles running on the road today have clocked in excess of 80 million electric kilometres. That's brought about savings of Rs 21.8 crore in fuel cost (diesel cost minus electricity used cost), curbed CO2 emissions of over 8 million kg; this would have taken over 400,000 trees a year to absorb.

The focus now will stem from the needs and wants of the user rather than the product. To that end, cloud-based platforms that offer 'next-generation mobility' will enable a new generation of shared, connected and electric services that will fundamentally reshape urban mobility. There are many innovators who are thinking along the same lines, with an intention to positively disrupt future urban mobility.

Electric vehicles demand their own sustainable ecosystem, in which all players who will eventually populate it, have to come together for it to make a substantial difference. We should at least work on the elements of the ecosystem that we can control, and persevere. For example, mass electric vehicle acceptance will only come about when the cost of battery packs comes down to $100 per kWh or below, from the level of around $250 at present. In the meanwhile, how do we stay in control of the entire e-mobility ecosystem, for now and for the future? Well, create it and manage it. For instance, at Mahindra, we have made strategic investments in manufacturing components of the electric vehicle drivetrain of both high and low voltage systems, as well as other initiatives to stay at the top of the supply chain. Thus we are contributing not only to the Make In India initiative, but also making the country self-sufficient in critical areas of technology.

We took baby steps towards e-mobility 20 years ago with an electric three-wheeler, Bijlee. Today, our efforts are helping us compete with the best in the world. We are glad that sustainable mobility in India has become a priority and that the entire ecosystem combining electric vehicles, shared economy and connected cars will become a reality sooner than later. Ten years from now, we will be glad that India made the right moves to bring about sustainable mobility. We need to believe in the future of electric vehicles driven by the need for sustainable mobility, work towards developing "India-focused" solutions, create an ecosystem for electric vehicles, focus on manufacturing value addition in India and most importantly not throw any red-herrings.

The writer is Managing Director, Mahindra & Mahindra