Let’s face it – petrol is now sold at Rs.70 plus a litre. The Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission has called for removal of the subsidy on diesel and that will mean pushing up prices further. Where does that leave the automotive industry?

For long, the automotive industry has been the favourite whipping boy when it comes to issues such as emission levels, noise and environmental pollution, and traffic. Yet, Chennai depends on the automotive industry like no other. After all, this is the ‘Detroit of India’ and, given the woeful inadequacy of our public transport infrastructure, the level of dependence on private means (read cars and two-wheelers) is at an all-time high. Still, it appears that this sector is as much aware as anyone else of the environmental problems its own products cause. That at least was the take at the 16th Asia Pacific Automotive Conference and Expo 2011 (APAC), organised recently by the Society of Automotive Engineers India.

Wise counsel was offered to the Government by way of what can be done. The industry recognises that, with rising aspiration levels, even those at the lower end of the income scale now aspire to possess private means of transport. This not only challenges the industry to provide vehicular solutions at various price ranges, but also throws up issues of how the public infrastructure, namely roads, can cope with the increased numbers of vehicles on road. And given the rapid pace of massive urbanisation, pressure is only going to multiply exponentially.

The industry is, therefore, calling for addressing communication at multiple levels – it is looking at combining technologies in mechanical, electrical and electronics – to provide mobility solutions, which probably means using virtual modes of travel, e-meetings and home offices so that people do not travel unless strictly necessary. The meeting also called for development of alternative fuels so that dependence on fossil fuels, with the associate issues of limited supply and environmental hazards, is eliminated. The meet further called for designing lighter and smarter vehicles which can adapt better to the prevailing traffic conditions. All this sounds good, but with India traditionally looking to the West for automobile designs, is any of this likely to happen in the near future?

Of more practical value was the emphasis placed on multi-modal means of transport that would seamlessly blend with each other. This has remained a pipe-dream in our city, with every new transport solution operating as an island. Even the much-touted Metro promises to be one such. In this context, it is a good thing that a powerful lobby like the automotive industry has called for integrated solutions with dedicated bus lanes, proper parking facilities, traffic management and, most importantly, urban planning. It was said that the automobile industry recognises these issues and is willing to take a leadership position and work with key non-governmental organi­sations that are involved in urban planning.

But with planning largely being a governmental prerogative, will it not be necessary to work with government agencies and departments as well?