As cars become electrified and connected, there’s another debate 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 foresee public transport and self-driving taxi services as taking over personal car ownership entirely. But when I talked to Youngcho Chi, President and Chief Innovation Officer at Hyundai Motor Group (HMG), he still thought there would be many people with cars in their driveways for years to come.
Chi has been presenting 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 city that’s human centered. It exists alongside nature, and it embraces future technology. It’s a hexagonally shaped city with a human center, the surface layer, and space underground, which is where functions are centered. 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 makes it well connected, but also more sustainable.”
HMG is developing a protype for some of these ideas in Singapore, within the Jurong region of the island country. “We are working on a transport model to predict the demand for the next 10 to 15 years, which includes mobility options that are not currently available, such as robotaxis and other forms of personal mobility,” says Chi. “Once this pilot project is done, we hope to collaborate on a wider topic, such as recommendations for autonomous vehicle infrastructure as well as next-generation logistical infrastructure. We believe in universal mobility, where everyone has equitable and easy access to transport.”
The concept also therefore includes a lot of thought about accessibility, including autonomous wheelchairs to help transport people with disabilities. From these descriptions it sounds like the HMG Smart City vision doesn’t include the personal transportation model we have been used to over the last 100 years. But Chi stresses that this isn’t the case. Instead, he sees mobility requiring a wider variety of solutions than before: “We believe that fuel cell vehicles have a place, but this will be more for a longer range because they also have a shorter refuel time than EVs, making them ideal for freight, carrying heavy loads in trucks. We believe that in the future, in our cities, we will have a mix of EVs and fuel cell EVs serving different types of mobility needs.”
However, although autonomy is developing fast, Level 5 full self driving is still some way in the future. “A car without a steering wheel and pedals will be another 10 or 20 years to come,” says Chi. “But Level 4 is ready. And we are at a stage where we think that the use cases as a service and its role in a Smart City are important. It’s very significant for the next generation of logistics, such as robot delivery.”
To assist with these plans, HMG now has an eVTOL subsidiary called Supernal, which is working on electric air transportation. In 2021, the company also purchased Boston Dynamics, the company behind the infamous robot dog called Spot popularized in many videos. HMG also collaborates with US company Motional on the development of self-driving capabilities. Motional is currently testing Level 4 in Las Vegas. “Our cars already have level two or three capability,” says Chi.
These functions will help change the way people travel in cities. “We do believe that a shift away from vehicle ownership is a trend that’s inevitable,” says Chi. “But private car ownership itself won’t be extinct. It’s hard not to be affected by measures intended to limit car ownership by different governments and how cities are designed with minimum parking space. Because of this, we have expanded our horizons from just selling cars to providing transportation as a service and becoming a mobility solution provider and also offering services in addition to the vehicle. We are expanding from land to air mobility.”
Nevertheless, Hyundai is unlikely to be welcoming the demise of the personal car market anytime soon. After all, in 2021, HMG became fourth in the world for sales volume across all its brands (which include Kia and Genesis as well as Hyundai), moving past General Motors. HMG was globally fifth for all-electric car sales, too, with 5% of the market. Popular launches such as the IONIQ 5, Kia EV6 and imminent IONIQ 6 could help push HMG further up the rankings for EVs, and put the company in a great position for the switchover to electric mobility.
“The total number of cars sold throughout the world may continue to decrease, as it’s been evidenced for the past few years because of the emergence of car sharing and car hailing companies,” says Chi. “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 wheels. A lot of people will continue to buy cars.”