As cars become electrified and connected, another debate arises. If level 5 vehicles can reliably drive autonomously, should we continue to own them? Some visions of the smart city of the future envision public transportation and self-driving taxi services completely taking over private car ownership. But when I spoke to Youngcho Chi, President and Chief Innovation Officer of Hyundai Motor Group (HMG), he still thought there would be plenty of people with cars in their driveways for many years to come.
Chi presented HMG’s vision for the smart city at the World Cities Summit 2022 in Singapore. “The idea was to revitalize cities by redefining city boundaries,” says Chi. “We envision a city that puts people first. It exists alongside nature and includes future technologies. It is a hexagonal shaped city with a human center, the surface layer, and an underground space where functions are concentrated. A road infrastructure connects the city through autonomous mobility and logistics. The city will also be 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 island nation’s Jurong region. “We’re working on a transportation model to predict demand for the next 10 to 15 years that includes currently unavailable mobility options like robotaxis and other forms of personal mobility,” says Chi. “Once this pilot is complete, we hope to be able to collaborate on a broader topic, such as B. Recommendations for autonomous vehicle infrastructure and next-generation logistics infrastructure. We believe in universal mobility, where everyone has fair and easy access to transport.”
The concept therefore also includes many accessibility considerations, including autonomous wheelchairs to transport people with disabilities. From these descriptions, it sounds like the HMG Smart City vision doesn’t include the personal transportation model we’ve become accustomed to over the past 100 years. But Chi emphasizes that’s not the case. Instead, he sees that mobility requires a greater variety of solutions than before: “We believe that fuel cell vehicles will have a place, but more so for a longer range because they also have a shorter refueling time than electric vehicles, which makes them ideal for the Freight transport makes transporting heavy loads in trucks. We believe that in the future we will have a mix of electric vehicles and fuel cell electric vehicles in our cities, serving different types of mobility needs.”
Although autonomy is developing rapidly, Level 5 full self-driving is still a long way off. “A car without a steering wheel and pedals will be another 10 or 20 years,” says Chi. “But level 4 is done. And we’ve gotten to a point where we think the use cases as a service and their role in a smart city are important. It is very important for next-generation logistics, such as robotic delivery.”
To support these plans, HMG now has an eVTOL subsidiary called Supernal working on electric air transport. In 2021, the company also bought Boston Dynamics, the company behind the infamous robot dog named Spot, who has been featured in many videos. HMG is also working with US company Motional to develop self-driving capabilities. Motional is currently testing Level 4 in Las Vegas. “Our cars are already capable at level two or three,” says Chi.
These features will help transform the way people travel in cities. “We believe that a shift away from vehicle ownership is an inevitable trend,” says Chi. “But private car ownership itself will not die out. It’s hard not to be affected by policies aimed at restricting car ownership by various governments and how cities are designed with minimal parking space. That’s why we’ve broadened our horizons from just selling cars to providing transportation as a service, becoming a mobility solutions provider that offers services alongside the vehicle. We are expanding from land to air mobility.”
Still, Hyundai is unlikely to embrace the demise of the personal car market any time soon. After all, in 2021, HMG finished fourth globally in terms of sales volume across all of its brands (including Kia and Genesis, as well as Hyundai), overtaking General Motors. HMG also ranked fifth worldwide for sales of electric cars with a market share of 5%. Popular launches like the IONIQ 5, Kia EV6 and upcoming IONIQ 6 could help propel HMG further up the EV rankings and put the company in an excellent position for the EV transition.
“The total number of cars sold worldwide may continue to fall, as evidenced by the emergence of car-sharing and car-hailing companies in recent years,” Chi says. “But people love to drive, especially those who have been driving for 10, 20, 30 years. It is a lot of fun to have a customized car in a different color and with different wheels. Many people will continue to buy cars.”