Illustration: Sameer Pawar
When I was moving to India, relocating from China two-and-a-half years ago, I was naturally curious and asked a lot of questions to understand the specifics of the Indian market. One question to our dealer partners and customers was, “What are your views on electric vehicles?” To put it in short, the consensus was around ‘don’t bother’. Things have changed substantially since then. Government policies, customer awareness and a demand for sustainable solutions in general, and electric mobility in particular, are becoming more mainstream. With that, I am convinced that ‘sustainable luxury’ will grow manifold in demand and will form the base of ‘future of mobility’ as we see it.
I could witness many trends in the past, from the growing importance of SUVs, the diversification of product portfolios to the introduction of new business models like car sharing. Today I believe we see a more radical shift than ever before. Digitisation and decarbonisation are the driving forces behind the changes in society; as technology and innovation leaders, the auto industry has to take this challenge and lead the way.
Digitisation is a wide field with many different aspects. To understand its impact on the automobile sector, I believe it is helpful to look at it from a customer’s angle. There are two distinct factors influencing people. Connected car and autonomous or assisted driving have the biggest impact on customer experience.
The future of mobility is thus being shaped by ‘connected car technology’, which I believe is going to play a major role in integrating automobiles to the customer. From sharing important car data to remote operations adding convenience, the connected car technology has limitless possibilities at every step, to the extent of even saving the lives of occupants in case of an emergency.
The future of mobility has to complement sustainability and climate protection, and the automotive industry has to set high standards for creating sustainable mobility. As the basic requirement of individual mobility continues to grow, the direction will be towards introducing sustainable automobiles, which are smarter, intuitive, green and customer-friendly. In my opinion, in the coming years, commitment to climate protection will become the most important agenda for the automotive industry globally and in India.
Globally, plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars already comprise 10 percent of our overall sales—in Q1 2021, Mercedes-Benz sold 590,999 units of passenger cars of which 59,000 units were either plug-in-hybrid (PHEV) or battery electric EVs. Of these, 16,000 were only EVs. We will also continue to extend our wide electric vehicles product range by offering customers about 30 plug-in hybrid variants by the end of 2021. In addition, by 2025 we expect a share of around 25 percent of these electric or electrified vehicles.
The future of mobility has to complement sustainability and climate protection, and the auto industry has to set high standards
The electric vehicles story in India is still at a nascent stage and we have a long way to traverse. We are, however, glad to see more players now eager to explore the luxury segment and we believe this will further strengthen and widen the luxury electric vehicles segment from a customer’s perspective. I am glad to state that customers in India will not have to wait too long to experience global technological marvels—they will be launched here soon. The ecosystem conducive to mass electric vehicles adoption has just started to develop and there are numerous challenges that we need to overcome in order to encourage customers to switch to sustainable mobility.
As the first luxury carmaker to launch an electric vehicle in India, we have gathered enriching experience and inputs from customers and dealers. The customers are looking at cost parity with ICE and at a robust charging infrastructure. However, what is most pleasing is the sheer excitement of a customer when they experience new products and technologies, and that, as a product-centric company, gives us the opportunity to define ‘future of mobility’ in totality. We, as the automotive industry and as product-centric brands, have that ability to create a better tomorrow with products that are sustainable, and at the same time keep our customers inspired with the desirability and exclusivity of our vehicles.
● The writer is managing director and CEO, Mercedes-Benz India
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(This story appears in the 21 May, 2021 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)