190831 General Motors
The Cadillac XT4. GM’s luxury marque has been winning over a new generation of buyers with crossovers such as this model. Image Credit: General Motors

Dubai

The future of the automobile will not be decided by carmakers on their own. Governments and city planners everywhere need to do their bit to take the wheels forward.

Sure, they are playing their part in making electric vehicles acceptable — and accessible — to a wider user base. Incentives such as tax breaks on sales or free registrations should help, as would putting up instant charging stations wherever possible.

But it’s not just electric that needs a steady hand of support from authorities everywhere. The industry will reshape itself more in the next five years than what it did in the last 50. Think self-driving (or autonomous, which is the industry insiders say it) or connected cars, and one gets the picture of a complete makeover for the industry.

Start with the city

Which is why cities need to be made ready for such changes. “City planning is more than road mapping and housing, but must now identify the quickest, easiest and safest way to get around,” said John Roth, President and Managing Director of General Motors’ Africa and Middle East. “The future of in-vehicle connectivity goes beyond synching our mobile devices.

The next generation of vehicles needs the technology — and data security — built in from the beginning.

- John Roth | President and Managing Director of General Motors’ Africa and Middle East

“We’re now looking at connecting our vehicles to other vehicles and the city they are driving through to relieve congestion, reduce emissions and road traffic accidents.

“Across the board, the Middle East has a reputation of early adoption when it comes to new technology. We are focused on continuing our close relationship with government entities to introduce green and “smart mobility” solutions here powered by newer city infrastructure.”

Radical rethink

The belief is that if governments can be early adopters of, say, self-driving solutions, the individual will follow at some point. If this acceptance comes through in the shortest possible time, then the billions of dollars spent on new technology would be worth it.

One thing is for certain — manufacturers are no longer caught up in the buzz of the next big model launch. It’s a whole new way of driving they want you to consider.

“Consumer adoption for the next stages of mobility, whether a self-driving car or cars “speaking” to each other on the road, will only grow with further incentives, education and access to these technologies,” said Roth. “This is why we’re working with government and private sector entities to grow awareness and preference … today.

“And ensure the right infrastructure and legislation is in place for the next innovations tomorrow.”

Smart cities

Dubai is ahead of the curve in getting the city ready for a full digital future. The smart city is as much about enabling government services to be delivered on a mobile interface as it is about making its roads and highways ready for tomorrow’s transportation, be that in a publicly operate service or private.

The way General Motors’ says it, mobility will be dictated by four trends — “alternative propulsion (anything other than internal combustion engines), autonomous, connected and sharing technology”.

“We are committed to a future of zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion. We believe that to truly make future transportation achievable and adaptable to consumers and cities, the next generation of vehicles needs the technology — and data security — built in from the beginning.

“Having alternative propulsion vehicles on the road is only one step in a road to zero emissions. The right infrastructure is also required to energise them. Range anxiety is one of the larger barriers to consumer adoption, and having aligned and accessible charging infrastructure — and regulation to guide implementation — is a necessary step.”

A glimpse of those possibilities

The US manufacturer is placing all its bets on electric rather than play safe by offering both electric and hybrid models. An all-new electronic platform has been introduced and will first be seen in next year’s Cadillac CT5 and across all models by 2023.

Roth sounds more like a Silicon Valley tech buff when he expounds on the new platform. It will be a “technology architecture capable of managing greater data processing and rapid communications in and outside of the vehicle”.

Whether all of that matters to a buyer is for the future to dictate. Roth is prepared to take the road less travelled.

“When we discuss portfolio planning, we are looking not only at current customer trends but at future demands and evolving technology,” he said. “While all manufacturers are adding alternate propulsion vehicles to their line-up, we will stand out by being able to offer emission-free vehicles across all different segments.”

Now, that sounds like a lot like future-proofing.

Tackling the present

Run the new vehicle sales numbers in any of the markets region-wide, the results come out as anything but upbeat. But General Motors says in the first six months, it was up 2 per cent gain over the previous year, and that is a big plus.

“There will always be challenges — Yet, we’re proud to say that we’ve been able to grow our Chevrolet, GMC and Cadillac brands despite market headwinds,” said John Roth. “We’ve seen a slight stabilisation of the industry and, for GM, June was a solid month.

“We have solid momentum on our side to close the year strong.”