As cars become electrified and connected, another debate is emerging. Once vehicles can reliably drive autonomously at level 5, should we continue to own them? Some visions of the smart city of the future envision public transportation and self-driving taxi services taking over ownership of the private car entirely. But when I spoke with Youngcho Chi, president and chief innovation officer at Hyundai Motor Group (HMG), he still thought there would be plenty of people with cars in their driveways for years to come.
Chi presents HMG’s Smart City vision at the 2022 World Cities Summit in Singapore. “The idea was to revitalize cities by redefining urban boundaries,” Chi says. “We envision a city that is human-centered. It coexists with nature and embraces future technologies. It is a hexagonal city with a human center, a surface layer and an underground space where the functions are centered. Road infrastructure connects the city through autonomous mobility and logistics. The city is further supported by advanced urban air mobility and hydrogen fuel cell generators, making it not only well connected but also more sustainable.”
HMG is developing a prototype for some of these ideas in Singapore, in the Jurong area of the island nation. “We are working on a transportation model to predict demand for the next 10 to 15 years that includes mobility options that are not currently available, such as robotics and other forms of personal mobility,” Chi says. “Once this pilot project is complete, we hope to collaborate on a broader topic such as infrastructure recommendations for autonomous vehicles as well as next-generation logistics infrastructure. We believe in universal mobility, where everyone has fair and easy access to transportation.”
Therefore, the concept also includes a lot of thought about accessibility, including autonomous wheelchairs to help transport people with disabilities. From these descriptions, it sounds like HMG’s Smart City vision does not include the personal transportation model we have become accustomed to over the last 100 years. But Chi emphasizes that this is not the case. Instead, he sees mobility as requiring a greater variety of solutions than before: “We believe that fuel cell vehicles have a place, but it will be more for a longer range, as they also have a shorter refueling time of the EVs, making them ideal for freight transport, carrying heavy loads in trucks. We believe that in the future, we will have a mix of EVs and fuel cell EVs in our cities, serving different types of mobility needs.”
However, although autonomy is developing rapidly, full level 5 self-driving is still in the future. “A car without a steering wheel and pedals is still 10 or 20 years away,” says Chi. “But level 4 is done. And we’re at a stage where we think use cases as a service and its role in the smart city are important. This is very important for the next generation of logistics, such as robot delivery.”
To help these plans, HMG already has an eVTOL subsidiary called Supernal, which is working on electric air transport. In 2021, the company also bought Boston Dynamics, the company behind the infamous robot dog called Spot, promoted in many videos. HMG is also collaborating with US company Motional to develop self-driving capabilities. Motional is currently testing Level 4 in Las Vegas. “Our cars already have level two or three capabilities,” Chi says.
These features will help change the way people travel in cities. “We truly believe that the shift away from vehicle ownership is a trend that is inevitable,” Chi says. “But personal car ownership itself is not going away. It’s hard not to be affected by measures designed to limit car ownership by various governments and the way cities are designed with minimal parking space. Therefore, we expanded our horizons from simply selling cars to providing transportation as a service and became a provider of mobility solutions as well as offering services in addition to the vehicle. We are expanding from land to air mobility.”
However, Hyundai is unlikely to welcome the death of the passenger car market anytime soon. After all, in 2021, HMG became fourth in the world by sales volume across all its brands (which include Kia and Genesis, as well as Hyundai), overtaking General Motors. HMG was also fifth globally 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 propel HMG further up the EV rankings and put the company in a great position to transition to electric mobility.
“The total number of cars sold worldwide may continue to decline, as seen in the past few years due to the emergence of car-sharing and car-providing companies,” Chi says. “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 customized car in a different color and with different rims. Many people will continue to buy cars.