In general, we have less than 30 cars for every 1000 inhabitants of India. Compare this to the USA, where it is more than 800, in Germany it is 550, and in China it is 200+. So you can imagine the kind of motorization which is yet to happen.
With a growing middle-class population, urbanisation and the road infrastructure that is being developed in India, and the speed at which it is being done, even if we double the number of cars per thousand people to 50 or 60, the automotive industry is going to double in India.
What is the role India can play in the global scenario of automotive? India is known to be a soft power, and that is where our strength is. We have a large young population that can speak in English, and can code, and that’s where we are leading.
For many years, we have been the back office of the world, and we still continue to be that. Of course, the dynamics are changing with Artificial Intelligence coming into the picture. Besides, connectivity - the cost of communication and data movement in India - is one of the cheapest in the world.
Language skills and the speed and cost at which we operate in IT is one of the best in the world. Our education system has enabled youngsters who are into software; this is a strength of our country. We are a big democracy; that also helps us grow fast.
Let me talk of digitalization and how it is shaping the automotive industry. We have 1.2 billion connected people, we have 850 million smartphones in the country. The speed at which we are moving from 2G to 3G, 4G and now 5G makes us one of the best in the world in terms of communication. A customer does 70% of research online before he or she reaches a showroom to buy a car.
We also have many initiatives involving AR and VR to aid the process. We are present with the customer through multiple digital channels so that all their needs before buying the car are already fulfilled. In the segment that I represent, i.e., luxury cars, customers do need to see the car, touch and feel it, smell the leather, drive the car with family before they decide to buy. But digitalization has taken the front seat.
Our mobility needs are changing completely. From just car, it became mobility, then connected mobility, and in future, it is going to become services. Twenty-five years back, owning a car was a luxury. Today, with the entire digital ecosystem around a car, it can be called a moving data centre.
We have an app for our customers that enables them to see not just what is happening in the car, but gives them access to multiple services like a concierge, booking a curated personalised itinerary, say, for Wimbledon the next year, and other personal needs, going beyond the car.
In a few years, the car is going to turn into an extended workspace, as your most valuable asset is time and you can utilise it while travelling. For all of us who own cars, 60-80% of the time, the car remains stationary, i.e., parked. This is not going to be the future. The future will be efficient usage of mobility.
Sharing will come into the picture. Cars will not only be connected to the owners, but to each other through a cloud. AI will allow customers to make their lives easier and simpler. Pre pandemic, our first focus used to be advertising in the newspapers. That has completely changed in the last couple of years.
Today, we connect to customers digitally, creating multiple videos and other digital assets to help them with their research. What lies in store? For all we know, we may even have flying cars! This has actually been tested in a few places worldwide and we may see flying cars in the coming years.
As for India, we are strong as a soft power, and have huge potential to grow in the automotive industry. We also have to be strong trend-setters. Most of the time, we talk of bringing the latest innovations from abroad to India.
It is time we move forward to develop new technologies and innovations that go abroad from India. We need more R&D, more design centres, services around cars and infrastructure tools that can be used by the world. India has the capability to seize a bigger share of the global opportunities that exist in the automotive industry.
(Balbir Singh Dhillon is the Head of Audi India)