As India proceeds with unlock 1.0 and adjusts to the new normal of social distancing in the post-Covid world, the topic of shared mobility has come under the scanner. Passenger safety and the risk of contagion are the key concerns while using public transport and also how are commercial vehicle manufacturers innovating to deal with the current challenge.
Speaking as an panelist at the Autocar Professional webinar, ‘EVs: Pain or Gain Ahead?’ to mark World Environment Day on June 5, Nishant Arya, executive director, JBM Group elaborated on the adjustments in this space. He said, “On a temporary basis, shared mobility may pose a challenge but if we are able to use AI and machine learning successfully, this is a segment full of potential. End to end solution from generation to consumption, the well-to=wheel approach showcases how we are generating and consuming - green that is a critical factor. Companies need to remain agile and frugal and need to make sure efficiency is not compromised anywhere.”
The panelists, which also included Sulajja Firodia Motwani, founder and CEO of Kinetic Green, Sohinder Gill, director general of SMEV and CEO of Hero Electric, Mahesh Babu, managing director and CEO of Mahindra Electric and chairman of the electric mobility group at SIAM and Anil Srivastava, adviser (transport) and director general, DMEO, NITI Aayog debated on the prospects of electric vehicles in a post-Covid world looking for sustainable mobility.
Explaining why buses make for a cost effective and eco-friendly mode of transport, Arya explained that, “The whole idea today is how this cost can be reduced further, how can we bring down the total cost of ownership. In public transport systems, there is a huge benefit when it comes to the maintenance cost as the total moving parts reduces from almost 18,000 parts to 18 or 20 moving parts. We see about 350,000 litres of diesel being saved over a 10-year period from one bus itself.”
He pointed out that more than 90 percent of the Indian population prefers public transport, of which 90 percent rely on buses, which according to him, is around 370 million passenger rides on an annual basis. This leads to a cost of not more than a rupee per kilometre.
However, given the need for additional sanitation and social distancing, the question is will people choose public transport despite the cost factor? Arya elaborated that, “In terms of social distancing/a higher degree of sanitisation, we are using AI and machine learning to monitor all the factors like how people are seated, sanitization solution. I think a larger number of buses are going to be required for people to use them. In the trend available over last ten days, people are choosing safe vehicles. Addressing the problem in the longer term is crucial.”
Though bus travel initially was not seeing high traction once lockdown was relaxed, he is hopeful that, “now there is multi-fold improvement. High level of safety and sanitisation a key trigger for this change noticed in last ten days or so.”
Speaking on the current challenges, Nishant believes that it has made the Indian companies introspect and invest in ways to make themselves more self-reliant. The industry has been able to leverage the existing supply chains of the country which has also led to a lot of collaborations, making it globally competent. He pointed out, “There are European and some South-east Asian companies that are planning to relocate to India. In the EV sector, we have the manufacturing capabilities, the scale, the battery technology, different high voltage electronics and whole integration of the supply chain, the demand in the market, the level of software expertise and the overall skill to meet all the global needs.”
Talking about the benefits of the electric vehicles over the longer term, he said, “The current drop in fuel prices is only temporary and the government is not importing the usual amount currently. There is already a lot of stored fuel with us which is not getting utilised. So the realistic benefits would be felt only when the market starts operating at full swing. On a long term basis, electric mobility do make a lot of sense and for the people to use EVs, shared mobility with new enhanced technologies would be a more sensible choice. Considering the well to wheel approach, renewable energy is what the government should push forward.”
He also highlighted the fact that with electric mobility, our country will not be dependent on other countries for energy and fuel with further advancements coming up in renewable energy. Nishant observed, “The PMP (Phased Manufacturing Programme) has been brought in at the right time because of which the complete integration is possible. This is helping many companies to invest and set up the right supply chain.”
Nishant emphasised that companies should look at how they are investing today to remain "agile and frugal tomorrow". Efficiency and effectiveness should not be compromised any time and innovation should continue. He urged all the players of the ecosystem such as the energy companies, OEMs, distributors, dealers and Tier-1 companies to come together and work very closely.
He also pointed out the fact the changing dynamics of the market going forward, “Digital showrooms changing the market dynamics. Change and learning are the new normal. I see collaboration and partnerships across companies as we walk the path of zero emission going forward in India. Startups also an important element in this overall eco-system.”