Right from its inception, Human Horizons focus has always been very clear – to make future mobility a reality in today’s world. And, with its three-pronged approach comprising smart car, smart transportation and smart city, this Chinese start-up has been at the forefront of the mobility revolution and has been consistently introducing innovations within each of these areas.
At the centre of all of this is Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Mark Stanton, an automotive industry veteran, who went down the start-up route to build a company that makes a difference. Auto Futures caught up with him to discover more.
“I’ve worked in the automotive industry for about 38 years now and was looking for something different to finish my career as I was getting very frustrated with traditional businesses in this space not seeing where the environment, market and world was moving. Even if they could see it, they weren’t moving themselves quickly enough.”
“I wanted to be able to make a difference and really join the revolution that I perceive was taking place,” he says.
Working Together to Solve Urban Challenges
Stanton believes that the evolution of technology in the automotive industry is following the course of the mobile phone. He believes that just as phones have evolved from what he terms as ‘bricks’ to these incredibly powerful devices that they are today, so have cars, where it’s not just about transporting someone from one place to another.
He says: “Our first vehicle HiPhi X has over 500 sensors and almost 300 actuators in it and the computing power in that vehicle is immense, far greater than what you’ve got on even the best mobile phones today. It’s all about how we integrate them in a way that enables mobility solutions to move forward and provide a much better solution to our customers.
“When we designed our first car, our approach was very non-traditional. In the traditional world, you would start your cars by looking at the hardware, the bit that holds the car up – the suspension, steering, engine, all the things that make it drive. Instead, we started with the electrical architecture, making the most powerful architecture we could make with the highest levels of connectivity, because we wanted it to be able to do all the things I suggested, communication and autonomous driving.
“Firstly, the three key areas we are in are smart vehicles, smart roads and smart cities. Why choose this, because we see those as a connected solution to the mobility world. There will still be vehicles, but those vehicles will be smart vehicles and they will become more and more autonomous as time goes by. Whether there will be single ownership or not, probably not, there will be shared ownership vehicles or will be rented like Ubers or DiDi. There’s definitely going to be vehicles out there,” he notes.
Stanton says the three key areas can work together to help solve the issues of congestion, pollution and vehicle safety in urban areas.
“With the congestion that we have today, the desire to improve safety and take the load off of people who are in the vehicles, creating smart roads is an ideal situation for that. Smart roads can talk via the cloud that is then forwarded to the vehicles via the road. What that means is they can share information about the traffic situation, whether there are accidents, whether there is a car coming from the opposite direction, whether it’s a police car or whether it is raining, snowing, etc.
“You create this huge amount of data that you are able to use to better optimise the vehicles and transport on the roads and it can reduce congestion, it can dramatically improve safety,” adds Stanton.
The majority of the Human Horizons team is based in Shanghai, while the company also has a manufacturing facility in Yancheng in the Jiangsu Province. The company grew from nothing in the end of 2017 to a point where it employs around 1,500 people, a remarkable achievement for a start-up, if one can even call it that.
Our conversation turned to HiPhi, one of the rare premium luxury EV brands in the world, and one that Stanton has helped build from scratch.
“If I go back to the first time I came to China in 2008, I was told in clear terms that customers would never ever dream of buying a premium Chinese product even if it existed. To them, what they wanted was a premium western product and they wanted to be seen in that. But the world has changed since 2008. Now, you talk to the many rich Chinese people, most of them are young and are looking to get locally manufactured high-end Chinese products.
“We felt that there was an opportunity for us to create a premium Chinese brand that could compete head-on with the likes of BMW, Mercedes, JLR and Tesla. In order to create a premium product, we have gone to the people we believe have got the best technologies in the world.”
“We are slightly different from many of the other companies that started up, who’ve been derived from people who previously worked for internet companies. Through those connections, we’ve been able to get onboard and work with the real key technology suppliers from around the world like Bosch, Continental, Michelin, Meridian, Microsoft and others, who don’t work with just any start-up,” he says.
“What I’m proud of, because I’m an old fashioned guy, is – not only does our first product have all these new technologies – connectivity, autonomous driving, AI-assistant, etc, but it’s a good car underneath as well. Design is fantastic, it looks great, it has got innovations in the way it has been designed. Secondly, if you do have the opportunity to drive it, it drives fantastic. It drives just as good as any Mercedes or BMW or Jaguar or Land Rover,” adds Stanton.
Stanton says that the company is now working on the newest addition to the HiPhi range, but it is not looking to move away from the premium luxury space.
When I prod him on plans to expand into other countries, he explains: “The Chinese market is a huge market, frankly. We will be moving into other parts of the world as and when the time is right for us to do so. We have to recognise that the Chinese market is 25 million units a year, and the EV population is growing within that 25 million.”
We have got to walk away from the traditional way of doing things.
When asked about his outlook for the future of mobility, Stanton maintained that the future belongs to ‘connected mobility solutions’, but it will depend a lot on where in the world you are.
“I absolutely see this holistic, connected mobility system that is there, that gives the customers a choice. There’s not going to be one solution but lots of connected solutions for the megacities around the world,” he says.
“I think the world is changing and I truly think the world needs to change, which is why I’m doing what I’m doing. To me, I wish that more people recognise the need for the world to change, sooner rather than later. I’m old enough that I’m going to be long dead before perhaps some of these things happen and that’s sad because, I don’t know what damage we would have done to the environment and everything around us.
“We’ve got to change and use the technologies that are now coming towards us. We’ve got to maximise the gains we can get from it. We have got to walk away from the traditional way of doing things, that might mean walking away from traditional companies. We’ve got to jump onboard what we call an e-volution, the revolution that is happening in megacities around the world,” concludes Stanton.