As cars become electrified and connected, another debate is emerging. Once the vehicles can reliably drive autonomously at level 5, should we continue to own them? Some visions of the Smart City of the future involve public transport and self-driving taxi services taking full ownership of the personal car. But when I spoke to Youngcho Chi, President and Chief Innovation Officer of Hyundai Motor Group (HMG), he still thought there would be many people with cars in their driveways for years to come.
Who presented HMG’s vision for the Smart City at the World Cities Summit 2022 in Singapore. “The idea was to revitalize cities by redefining urban boundaries,” says Chi. “We imagine a city centered on man. It exists alongside nature and embraces the technology of the future. It is a hexagonal shaped city with a human center, the surface layer and an underground space, where the functions are centered. A road infrastructure connects the city through autonomous mobility and logistics. The city is further enabled by advanced urban air mobility and hydrogen fuel cell generators, which not only make it well connected, but also more sustainable. “
HMG is developing a prototype for some of these ideas in Singapore, in the Jurong region of the island. “We are working on a transportation model to predict demand for the next 10-15 years, which includes mobility options that are not currently available, such as robotics and other forms of personal mobility,” says Chi. “Once this pilot project is complete, we hope to collaborate on a broader topic, such as recommendations for autonomous vehicle infrastructure and next generation logistics infrastructure. We believe in universal mobility, where everyone has fair and easy access to transport ”.
The concept therefore also includes many reflections on accessibility, including autonomous wheelchairs to help transport people with disabilities. From these descriptions it appears that the HMG Smart City vision does not include the personal transportation model we have been accustomed to for the past 100 years. But who points out that this is not the case. Instead, he sees mobility that requires a wider variety of solutions than before: “We believe fuel cell vehicles have a place, but this will be more for a longer range because they also have a shorter refuel time than before. electric vehicles, which makes them ideal for freight transport, transporting heavy loads on trucks. We believe that in the future, in our cities, we will have a mix of electric vehicles and fuel cell electric vehicles that meet different types of mobility needs. “
However, although autonomy is developing rapidly, fully autonomous level 5 driving is still somehow in the future. “A car without a steering wheel and pedals will take another 10 or 20 years to come,” says Chi. “But level 4 is ready. And we’re at a stage where we think use cases as a service and its role in a Smart City are important. It is very significant for the next generation of logistics, such as robotic delivery. “
To help with these plans, HMG now has an eVTOL subsidiary called Supernal, which is working on electric air travel. In 2021, the company also bought Boston Dynamics, the company behind the infamous robot dog called Spot, popularized in many videos. HMG also collaborates with the US company Motional to develop autonomous driving skills. Motional is currently testing level 4 in Las Vegas. “Our cars already have level two or three capabilities,” says Chi.
These features will help change the way people travel in cities. “We believe that the abandonment of vehicle ownership is an inevitable trend,” says Chi. “But private car ownership itself will not die out. It’s hard not to be impressed by the measures aimed at limiting car ownership by different governments and the way cities are designed with minimal parking space. For this reason, we have broadened our horizons from simply selling cars to providing transportation services and becoming a mobility solution provider and also offering services in addition to the vehicle. We are expanding from land to air mobility ”.
However, Hyundai is unlikely to welcome the end of the personal car market anytime soon. After all, in 2021, HMG became the fourth largest in the world by volume of sales across all of its brands (which include Kia and Genesis as well as Hyundai), surpassing General Motors. HMG was also the fifth largest worldwide for all-electric car sales, with 5% of the market. Popular launches like the IONIQ 5, Kia EV6, and the upcoming IONIQ 6 could help push HMG higher on the charts for electric vehicles and put the company in a prime position for the transition to electric mobility.
“The total number of cars sold around the world may continue to decline, as has been shown in recent years due to the emergence of car sharing and car haling companies,” says Chi. “But people love to drive, especially people who have been driving for ten, 20, 30 years. There is a lot of joy in having a custom car in a different color and with different wheels. Many people will continue to buy cars ”.