As cars become electrified and connected, another debate is emerging. When vehicles can reliably drive autonomously at Level 5, should we still own them? Some visions of the Smart City of the future envision self-driving public transport and taxi services taking ownership of the personal car entirely. But when I spoke to Youngcho Chi, President and Chief Innovation Officer at Hyundai Motor Group (HMG), he believed there would be a lot of people with cars on their roads for years to come.
Chi has presented HMG’s vision for the Smart City at the 2022 World Cities Summit in Singapore. “The idea was to revitalize cities by redefining urban boundaries,” says Chi. “We envision a human-centered city. It exists alongside nature and embraces future technology. It is a hexagonal city with a human center, the surface layer and the underground space, where the functions are concentrated. 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 island nation’s Jurong district. “We are working on a transportation model to predict demand for the next 10 to 15 years, which includes mobility options that are not currently available, such as robotaxi 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 as well as next-generation logistics. We believe in universal mobility, where everyone has fair and easy access to transport.”
As such, the concept also includes a lot of thought about accessibility, including autonomous wheelchairs for transporting people with disabilities. From these descriptions it appears that the HMG Smart City vision does not include the personal transport model we have become accustomed to over the past 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 think fuel cell vehicles have a place, but that will be more for longer range, because they also have a shorter refueling time than EVs, making them ideal for freight. transporting heavy loads in trucks. We believe that in the future, in our cities, we will have a mix of EVs and fuel cell EVs that will serve different types of mobility needs.”
However, although autonomy is developing rapidly, full self-driving at Level 5 is still some way in the future. “A car without a steering wheel and pedals will be another 10 or 20 years away,” says Chi. “But Level 4 is ready. And we are at a stage where we believe that use cases as a service and its role in a Smart City are important. It is very important for the next generation of logistics, such as robot delivery.”
To help with these plans, HMG now has an eVTOL subsidiary called Supernal, which works on electric air transport. In 2021, the company also bought Boston Dynamics, the company behind the infamous robot dog named Spot popular in many videos. HMG is also working with US company Motional to develop self-driving capabilities. Motion is currently testing Level 4 in Las Vegas. “Our cars already have level 2 or 3 capability,” says Chi.
These features will help change the way people travel in cities. “We believe that the shift away from vehicle ownership is a trend that is inevitable,” says Chi. “But private car ownership itself will not disappear. It’s hard not to be influenced by measures to limit car ownership by different governments and how cities are designed with minimal parking. Because of this, we have expanded our horizons from selling cars to providing transportation as a service and becoming a mobility solutions provider and also offering services beyond the vehicle. We’re expanding mobility from land to air.”
However, Hyundai is unlikely to welcome the collapse of the personal car market anytime soon. Besides, in 2021, HMG became fourth in the world for sales volume across all its brands (including Kia and Genesis as well as Hyundai), passing through General Motors. HMG was also fifth globally in pure electric car sales, with 5% of the market. Popular releases like IONIQ 5Kia EV6 and coming soon IONIQ 6 could help HMG move further up the EV rankings and put the company in a great position for the transition to electric mobility.
“The total number of cars sold worldwide may continue to decline, as evidenced in recent years by the emergence of car-sharing and car-sharing companies,” says Chi. “But people love to drive, especially people who have been driving for ten, 20, 30 years. There is great joy in having a custom car in a different color and with different wheels. A lot of people will continue to buy cars.”