As I sat down to reflect on everything that happened this year, I couldn’t help but feel, “Is it the end of the year already?” But after a quick look around, I soon realised that I was not the only one feeling this way. The Internet is littered with countless memes, posts, and threads pondering just how quickly the end of 2021 has come around.
Was it because most of us were still left reeling from the pandemic and all the changes that it brought with it? I don’t know. But what I do know is that 2021 just seemed to zoom right past us all.
And as I gathered myself and accepted the fact that the year is almost over, I began to realise that 2021 has been a year that things finally started to look up for most new mobility companies. The pandemic has been devastating for many in the mobility space, thanks to on-again-off-again lockdowns and social distancing rules. Ride-sharing and ride-hailing companies were especially hit hard. But, even during the bleakest moments this year, many mobility companies in Asia sensed opportunity.
Asia’s new-age mobility players rolled up their sleeves, got to work and used this downtime to test out and to introduce new offerings or further existing ones. Some even went down to introduce new business verticals. Indian ride-hailing giant Ola, for example, launched a new electric two-wheeler to great acclaim. While the new moped had been in the works for a while, Ola used the pandemic to launch its EV offerings, even when its ride-hailing business was taking a hit.
Electric two-wheelers are leading the charge when it comes to Indian electrification. For the cost-conscious Indian consumer, electric two-wheelers provide the right balance of cost and utility to make the switch from ICE to electric makes sense.
With more consumers beginning to make the switch to electric vehicles, Indian motorists are becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea of electric vehicles. This growing consumer acceptance will help to convince naysayers that battery-powered transport is feasible and will lead to improvements in charging and other infrastructure around the country.
While electric two-wheelers have exploded onto the scene in India, the Middle East has become rather enamoured with micro-mobility solutions.
2021 saw startups such as Fenix and Falcon Ride enter the micro-mobility space in the region, with a particular focus in the United Arab Emirates. Whether it is to facilitate short-distance rides within complexes and estates, or out and about in the cities at large, more companies started to take an interest in providing a solution for first- and last-mile travel, tackling the problem statement with a fresh approach, as well as new and improved business models.
In a region where car ownership is so prevalent and the reliance on public transport is so low, not to mention the national economies based on oil production, it’ll be interesting to see how the wider market reacts to these startups and micro-mobility as a whole.
While I’m eager to see how these trends will shape up as time passes, the most exciting development of the past year took place in China.
Pony.ai and Baidu received the go-ahead, in October and November, respectively, to use their robotaxis on the streets of Beijing commercially. Soon, we will see dozens of robotaxis on the roads, bringing us one step closer to a world where driverless cars are a reality.
Earlier this year, Robin Li, Co-founder and CEO of Baidu, had unveiled his vision for autonomous vehicles of the future – a robocar with full level 5 autonomous driving capabilities.
“We believe that cars of the future will be robocars,” he announced. “They will drive autonomously, act as both an intelligent assistant and loyal companion, and be self-learning.” While these cars will essentially drive themselves, there will be a driver to bring things under control should anything go awry. And while I do realise that there’s still some time before we see fully autonomous cars out on the streets, this still counted as a solid first step in that direction.
Robotaxis aside, the other area where we’re seeing Asian companies come to the fore is in Urban Air Mobility. With time, there has been a sharp rise in the number of eVTOL players. Each of these companies brings with them their own proprietary technology, and while they all tackle the common problem of urban congestion, each company takes a novel approach.
I’m confident that it won’t be too long until we see flying cars zooming past our apartments. And while there can be many applications of this technology, what really excites me is the difference that it can make in emergency situations.
Finally, I think Asian mobility players are finally shifting focus from their home markets to the world stage. Vietnamese automotive start-up VinFast, for example, made its US debut at this year’s LA Auto Show with two Pininfarina-designed electric crossovers.
In fact, the company is expected to reveal its full EV line-up and technologies at CES 2022 in Las Vegas, showing its determination to make it big in the US market. Similarly, peer-to-peer car-sharing startup Drive Lah, launched as Drive Mate in Australia this year following its success in its native Singapore.
All told, 2021 has been a year of recovery, retrospection and reinvention for Asian markets and companies. The pandemic brought some significant changes to the way the world works and as we accepted this as the new normal and adapted to these changes, so have the players in the Asian mobility space.