Talwar, the CEO Fast Future and author of Designing Your Future, presented four possible scenarios for the world economy:
- Everything will return to normal in the next few years.
- Things will start to return to normal, but there will hiccups and so it'll take five+ years to right the economic ship.
- We will have a double dip recession or maybe even three or four dips, with the world just bouncing up and down in and out of recession for a long while (Talwar believes this is the most likely possibility)
- We're headed for a cliff and things will never be the same.
Since no one knows for sure what will happen, we sort of have to prepare for all of these, Talwar said. That's not easy when you're in the auto industry, with tremendously long lead times, fickle customers and big costs. Talwar didn't present a detailed plan for the industry to use – who has one of these laying around? – but he did give some guidelines for people to consider as they plan for the future. Basically, keep an eye on these four major global transformations:
- The power shift to developing nations.
- The new models of resource competition between nations and companies.
- New patterns of asset allocation.
- The uneven distribution of hope.
The last one is important, since the developed nations (where most of the auto industry is concentrated) are busy dealing with a seemingly never-ending series of problems, while developing nations are still out there building and expanding. Making the two sides aware of each other and then coming to an understanding is hugely important. For example, Talwar offered this tidbit as a reality check: not many people in the developing world have electricity at home. If they do, they are probably getting it from huge tangles of wires that criss-crossing above city streets (an example from Hyderabad, India, is pictured here). Given that the fastest growing cities in the next 15-20 years are all in Asia and Africa, where these balls of black wires are commonplace, the idea that they're going to be able to safely charge electric vehicles is almost laughable. It's possible, but will require serious money.
This is because all infrastructure requires money – Talwar gave the figure of a $40 trillion global infrastructure challenge by 2030 (to build out water, power, road and rail, air/seaport services) – and asked the conference where this money will money come from? No one had an answer.
The good news is that it's not all bad news. Talwar highlighted a few possible solutions. None of them solve the problems in and of themselves, but they do show that there are, or will be, ways to build out infrastructure in the coming years that don't look like anything that's readily available today. How about biological construction (things like self-healing roads) and morphing materials? How about the mental shift that young people are going through where mobile phones are becoming the center of technology and have created an "app culture" that expects things exist to solve problems quickly and effortlessly?
How will this apply to automobiles? Talwar mentioned two ways mobile phones will influence vehicles: first, he said, "young people do not like wires." Wireless charging is coming to phones, and there's no way young people will accept it in their vehicles. In fact, plugging in is going to be something your dad did, not the hip kids of tomorrow. How we'll get to wireless charging, he didn't specify, just that the customers will soon demand it. Talwar, who admitted he needed to rework his presentation after Bangle's talk, also said that personalization will play into transportation, although how this helps out infrastructure woes was unclear.
You can hear more from Talwar in this video, shot in 2008 at the PATA CEO Challenge in Bangkok, where he discussed climate change and ideas about the future of the tourism industry.
Our travel and lodging for this coverage were provided by the event organizers.