2020 – a year the likes of which the world has never seen before. At the beginning of the year, the Covid-19 virus started spreading its tentacles to slowly engulf the entire planet. Slowly and steadily, whole nations went into complete lockdown to protect their citizens from the clutches of this dreaded virus. But while this happened, businesses the world over were affected, as was the global economy, Asia included.
While the future mobility space in Asia did take a hit because of the pandemic, it wasn’t long before companies adopted an agile approach and bounced back into action, significantly reducing its impact.
Moreover, major mobility companies across the continent, like BYD, Geely, DiDi Chuxing and India’s Ola, stepped up their game to combat the virus first-hand and safeguard the communities in the places that they operated in, whether it was by beefing up production lines to begin manufacturing face masks, making significant donations, or by simply ensuring that frontline workers have access to their services whenever they need them.
Given how rapidly Covid-19 spreads through contact and proximity, at the onset of the pandemic there were many unanswered questions about the future of ride-hailing and ridesharing. In fact, with social distancing becoming the new normal, public opinion leaned towards private vehicle ownership, giving used car ownership the boost that it needed in certain Asian markets.
While ridesharing is on a slow path to recovery, most ride-hailing players recognised the problem for what it was and decided to tackle it head-on. For starters, they set down strict protocol for both passengers and driver partners. Moreover, they combatted the social stigma surrounding ride-hailing by constantly communicating all that they’re doing to customers though all channels possible.
Halfway through this year, we saw another trend emerge from the ride-hailing and ridesharing space – purpose-built vehicles for ride-hailing, which saw Chinese mobility giant Didi Chuxing and electric vehicle maker BYD join hands in a major partnership. As early as 2018, the industry began talking about purpose-built vehicles, mostly electric, taking over the roads of the world’s megacities.
Many believe that these vehicles will play a pivotal role in defining the customer experience that a company has to offer. While the expansion of the shared economy will probably mean a decline in vehicle sales, it is far too early to tell what shape this trend goes on to take.
On the topic of electrification, Asia has only been taking forward strides, some longer than others. In markets where electric mobility has been more mainstream for some time now, we’re seeing the introduction of luxury or supercar variants. For countries like India, who are catching up with electrification, the pandemic may have seemed to dampened the outlook ever so slightly, but they seem to be more or less on track with their long term electrification plans.
Governments across the continent are definitely doing their bit to speed up the shift from ICE vehicles to electric through legislature and incentives. While more and more companies are wanting to get a piece of this untapped market with attractive new releases in the electric space, what’s more encouraging is the steady growth in the number of e-mobility start-ups that have emerged across Asia.
We’ve all been patiently waiting for autonomous technology and driverless cars to hit the road since the last 6-7 years now. And, if you ask me honestly, I really thought that the time for autonomous technology to shine was now. Think about it, with social distancing being the new normal, businesses have been forced to go online and adopt an approach that required minimal human contact, making this the perfect pitch for autonomous players.
But keeping the pandemic aside for a while, the progress that autonomous technology is making is tremendous. From Japan to South Korea, China, Singapore, Thailand, India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), there are pilot programmes running in each of these countries lead by governments, institutions, established steady-state companies and start-ups alike. And from the looks of it, each of these have made significant progress in their respective area, bringing us all one step closer to having unmanned, driverless vehicles on our roads.
Finally, as future mobility trends take root across the megacities in Asia and begin to mature slightly, we start to realise that the future of mobility isn’t just one way or another. The future of mobility is about developing a wide-ranging mobility ecosystem, one where all the moving parts work perfectly in sync to offer commuters the safest, most convenient and most cost-effective way to get from point A to point B.
It’s about ensuring first mile-last mile connectivity, where the commuter has a whole myriad of options to choose from – public transportation, ride-hailing, ridesharing, micro-mobility, autonomous vehicles, eVTOLs, among others.
I really think that this realisation is beginning to dawn upon governments, and they’re beginning to realise that the future of mobility isn’t just about developing the most technologically advanced vehicles out there. It’s also about making the roads and the cities ‘smart’ and fuelling them with technologies we associate with Industry 4.0 – Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Cloud Computing, Big Data and advanced sensors.
Looking back, I think we all learned the importance of agility, resilience and ingenuity this year. Personally, being under lockdown for the better part of the year, I feel that 2020 has really made me appreciate human relationships and in-person communication much more.
What the new year holds for us remains to be seen, but I do hope that things go back to ‘normal’, or whatever the ‘new normal’ is, soon enough. Wishing you all a very happy, safe and prosperous new year. See you on the other side!