One for the road: Car makers now also transport solutions providers

Written by Geeta Nair | pune | Updated: Jan 20 2013, 07:53am hrs
For all those who dread their daily commute on congested roads, there might be some solutions in sight. Surprisingly, these come from an auto manufacturer, who many would blame for creating the congestion in the first place by putting more cars on roads.

The imminent and growing challenges of rapid urbanisation and resulting congestion would make car use on roads either impossible or prohibitive in future, calling for new vehicles and new mobility concepts. This is what the Future Affairs team at Volkswagen thinks as they pilot new mobility concepts such as car sharing, trip sharing, electric subcompacts and ideas for creating new space for motorised private transport.

Terming the concept Micro City, Caroline Rudzinski, member of Volkswagens Future Affairs team, says Volkswagen has been working on this idea for two years. There are areas in Europe where cars cannot be driven, China is restricting cars in some cities by using a lottery system, and parking is being made expensive in other countries. The Future Affairs multidisciplinary team of 15 at Volkswagen is looking solely into the challenges that urbanisation will pose for automakers.

The concept of trip sharing is about better utilisation of cars and avoiding unnecessary trips. Usually, only one person is seated in a four-seater car and many such cars move in the same direction. What if these unknown people could hop on to one car and reach their destinations together. The driver of the car gets a small rent for this and earns some money. A server in the backend handles all these calculations. Volkswagen will have a smartphone application that will bring people together and identify who is traveling to the same place, same time and can share the journey. This would be a social network for personal mobility.

Volkswagen has piloted projects to test ideas such as car sharing and trip sharing in Germany. A project has started in Hanover in Germany and some more locations are being added with car sharing or car renting. The company is renting out cars from one seater to two seaters to four seaters even for short trips or short durations of 20 minutes.

Rudzinski says Volkswagen has collected feedback from Indians too on these ideas in Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi and Pune and the response has been overwhelming.

People eagerly participated in the survey and wanted to know when the ideas were being implemented in India. Rudzinski says the major concerns in India were that of safety of passengers and whether it would be inclusive and accessible to all.

Apart from moving people, similar models are being tested for movement of goods and logistics to aggregate and cut out wasted trips.