Deccan Herald’s prestigious “Bengaluru 2040” summit on March 11 will bring together some of India’s finest minds to develop futuristic solutions for building the preeminent city in India. As the tech partner of this event, Mercedes-Benz Research and Development India (MBRDI) has launched a hackathon titled “Hack-Star Bengaluru” offering a platform for people to showcase their ideas on building sustainable communities through the power of technology. In an interview with DH, Manu Saale, Managing Director and CEO of Mercedes-Benz Research and Development India, elaborated on everything from the need for sustainable technologies to the future of electric vehicles. Edited excerpts.
What are your plans on the EV front?
Sustainability has been a keyword that has been doing the rounds and has taken a very serious turn in the last two years as far as commitment is concerned globally for us. There was a time when we said the customer can go to the showroom and get diesel, gasoline or the electric equivalent of the same model. So we were thinking of designing them parallelly but then we had to step back and the writing on the wall was clear: this is not leading to sustainability. Two years back, the electric-first approach was the decision but in just a short span of time due to such intense talk on sustainability, we have come to the conclusion that it will be an electric-only approach.
Of course not every market is EV-conducive but we’ll have to start. For example in India, the charging infra and range anxiety is an issue so there’s a lot of work left to do in India where other models will still be available. But going ahead, you may not find non-electric cars in Europe. The recent S-class is the last of the internal combustion engine variants.
What is “Hack-Star Bengaluru” all about?
The objective of the hackathon itself is to build a platform to showcase futuristic ideas for Bengaluru as a city and the mobility industry. Building a sustainable city is also our goal because when you talk about traffic, you also talk about clean air. This initiative is in line with our business strategy of sustainability. The biggest touchpoint for an engineering company is to understand the power of technology and solve the challenges going forward. The registrations are very, very encouraging and we have over 1,000 participants so far I hope to marry some of what we see at the hackathon towards the work that we are doing towards sustainability and our operating system known as MB.OS (Mercedes-Benz Operating System).
What is the future of connected cars in India?
Well, there is no transparent ecosystem that can escape the advent of autonomous driving, no matter the number of jokes that we crack on the mixed herd of traffic and the fact that we have animals and bikes on the street. At the end of the day, the fact is, long-distance driving is not fun anymore. This will automatically lead to more technology and smarter solutions that will lead to autonomous driving in some way.
If you are not connected to the cloud, it becomes difficult to make so many real-time decisions such as roads, traffic, speed limit and weather. The world is moving ahead and I think a derivative of one of these solutions will certainly fill the gap. That’s why I like the hackathon because when I look at the two of its big pillars – transportation and smart city solutions – connected cars would be one keyword there.
For the kind of conditions that we have in India like density and driving behaviour, a local solution has to be worked out. It’s no longer a joke, I think we have to put in funds and sit and solve India’s and in this case, Bengaluru’s problem.
What are the challenges standing in the way of your hope to go entirely electric by 2030?
The biggest thing that the market is working on right now for the portfolio is simply the market adoption on one hand and other related aspects like range anxiety, charging infrastructure and so on. Secondly, on how governments react to the advent of electric mobility. Every country has a different challenge when it comes to these two topics. Therefore, every market has to be uniquely addressed and nothing can be disregarded. We are also watching closely what governments and policymakers are saying.
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