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Car - the Bigger Picture

New technology challenges us to rethink the car. Battery- or fuel cell powered electric propulsion is just a first step. What is the Bigger Picture in car country? What about end spillage and free up resources on an unprecedented scale?

Detroit vs Bay Area
Since Detroit still tends to think of personal mobility in terms of having four-wheeled metal boxes roll off the assembly line and selling them to the public, new initiatives have mainly gotten off the ground in California, where stricter car laws and regulations and automotive entrepreneurship seem to go together remarkably well. We see Tesla determined to put an end to the burning of fossil fuels to propel cars, Google fanatically working on self-driving pods, and TNCs (Transportation Network Companies) like Uber and Lyft push the shared use of cars by having their owners chauffeur whoever needs a ride.

If you analyze them, three 'ingredients' surface: [1] the trend to limit or end car motor residue, which is of immediate influence to our living environment, [2] the shared use of costly hardware that is normally used maybe 5% to 10% of the time, [3] the promise of point-to-point mobility without the need for a driver('s license). If you look to combine them, you immediately realize that Wall Street darling Tesla doesn’t fit the bill. Hard to imagine owners wanting to share the costly, posh, full-size cars they are with anyone else. What's even more of a problem, Teslas are too big and heavy to be considered flexible and maneuverable transport modes in modern traffic. Google is furthest. Noticed how unassuming its robo pod looks like? I am sure nobody would mind sharing one with other people. But that may also be its shortcoming.

Is Google already thinking of mind-controlling the car?
Autonomous drive will be of a game-changing influence and importance unseen before, particularly when used in a car-shared capacity. The effects can be that people no longer crave for their own set of wheels, that public transport can be replaced some time in the future, that there will be less need for parking spaces and the present infrastructure more than suffices. Still, we may be a very long way off from fully autonomous cars. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers IEEE estimates that it may take decades. wrote: "Removing everything except for a stop-go button might sound like a good idea, but it’s naive. How do you move the car a few feet, so someone can get out, or for backing up to a trailer? Will Google’s software allow for temporary double parking, go off-road for a concert or party? How will these cars handle the very ‘human’ problems of giving way for other cars and pedestrians?" Even Google seems to realize this. "I don’t think we’re going to see no human drivers anytime soon", Google co-founder Sergey Brin told reporters very recently. "And I think there’s always going to be pleasure in being able to hit the open road and enjoy that."

The car, EV or not, faces multiple threats
It looks like Detroit, with its traditional emphasis on the selling of cars that are primarily meant to be enjoyed by their owners, is almost pushed off the chart by the Bay Area onslaught. Detroit's business model of selling as many cars possible, is threatened over a wide front. For the exact same reason Elon Musk says he wants to look into what he calls ‘shared mobility’ and self-driving. He may have more to be concerned of. EV sales may come under pressure because of structurally lower oil prices and governments reassessing the fiscal treatment of EVs. The Netherlands already decided to treat the Model S and Model X as regular automobiles when leased.

In my opinion three other considerations ought to be fed into the equation to complete the Bigger Picture: [5] energy efficiency, [6] space efficiency, and [7] manual control for all sorts of reasons - fun, TNC-chauffeuring, override the autopilot being three of them. The push for more economy should bring vehicle developers to become more serious about realizing lightweight and low drag vehicles. A car that's considerably lighter, already slashing production costs to begin with, will also require a smaller battery pack.

End of ‘automotive spillage’
If you examine the schematic overview, you can see that the color-coded aspects are interrelated. Zero emission ain’t enough, energy efficiency is important too. Particularly since the electricity to charge car batteries is often generated in fossil-fueled energy plants. Strap Tesla's standard 500 kg battery pack to a guy in a streamlined suit, for argument’s sake, and he'll be able to travel the continent, instead of feeling anxious over the 300 mile range in a 2.5 metric ton weighing Model S or Model X. Google hovers above ‘robo-drive’ and ‘shared use’ as it sees them as integral parts. For the same reason Uber hovers above ‘shared use’ and ‘chauffeured’. But as it faces growing criticism by chauffeurs who can barely make ends meet, it plans to invest in robo-driven cars too.

There are three sorts of 'automotive spillage': cars that are used maybe 5%-15% of the time, cars that carry only one person, usually the driver, and that causes cars to get stuck in traffic when there are too many of them clogging up the road during rush hour. The bigger the car (the more mass and width), the bigger the waste of resources in stop-and-go traffic. Now I realize that we cannot all commute on a motorcycle like the person in the first picture. But it should make us think...

Less is More
The good thing is that energy- and space efficiency have a common denominator. Sleekness offers the possibility to make vehicles substantially lighter, even safer, and to use freeways and parking spaces more efficiently. What’s more, robo drive 'comes natural' to a vehicle that's compact and sleek. When the driver has a feel for a car's outer dimensions, as opposed to driving a big SUV, he/she will feel more at ease when the auto-pilot is switched on. There's also less surface area, less risk to run into other road users, and vice versa. And sleekness makes for a vehicle that can be enjoyed in whole new ways, in manual mode that is.

Need more capacity? Borrow, rent, share-use a big car, or pull out whichever TLC'd four-wheeler you keep in the garage. I call this 'differentiating vehicle type' according to need or preference. A 2014 KPMG report says that 57 percent of American households currently have two or more cars. Although that percentage has held relatively steady over the last couple of decades, KPMG says it will fall to 43 percent by 2040, partly due to the growing popularity of ride-share companies.

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