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Tesla Google Apple - Who's gonna be disruptive?

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 the promise of point-to-point mobility without the need for a driver('s license), and TNCs (Transportation Network Companies) like Uber and Lyft push the shared use of cars normally driven maybe 5% to 10% of the time, by having their owners chauffeur whoever needs a ride.

If you look to combine them, you immediately realize that Morgan Stanley darling Tesla doesn’t quite fit the bill. Zero emission ain't enough. Interestingly enough, when asked by (German) Handelsblatt during his Berlin visit what Germany is doing wrong, Tesla CEO Elon Musk replied: "The country was a pioneer in internal combustion technology. But if you cling to the past, you won’t get to the future. It’s time to start building a fundamentally new generation of cars". Yet, it is hard to imagine Tesla 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.

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. Google is furthest in this respect. 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. Noticed how unassuming Google's robo pod looks like? I am sure nobody would mind sharing one with other people. 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."

Will the old empire strike back?
It looks like the auto industry, 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, some say risks being subjected into Tier 1 relationships with more service-oriented companies. Detroit's business model of selling as many cars possible, is threatened over a wide front. For that reason, equally 'hardware-oriented' Tesla says it wants to look into shared mobility and self-driving. It 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 revoke the fiscal exempt status of the Model S and Model X when leased.

However, the push from the traditional car makers towards integrating new connectivity technology and exploiting new business models, will be just as strong. You might say that they will continue to have the upper hand. Cars are still very much a product most people feel a personal attachment to. Nonetheless, in my opinion three other considerations also 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, need to override the autopilot being three of them. The push for more economy should bring all 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.

Ending ‘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. And without ever having to experience gridlock. 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 truly more
More throughput. More efficiency. More flexibility. More choice. More money left in the kitty. The good thing is that energy- and space efficiency have a common denominator. Sleekness offers the possibility to make vehicles substantially lighter, therefore more economical, even safer, and to use freeways and parking spaces more efficiently. “Despite glowing media reports, Tesla is not disruptive, and it will have trouble scaling as it seeks to grow”, writes Thomas Bartman, member of the Forum for Growth and Innovation, a Harvard Business School think tank, in MIT Review. The growth potential is in smaller, cheaper EVs. That will also open up the largest EV market which is in China, where Tesla has failed to catch on. What’s more, robo drive 'comes natural' to a vehicle that's compact and sleek. When the driver has a feel for a vehicle's outer dimensions, 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 'sleek' makes for a vehicle that can be enjoyed in whole new ways, in manual mode that is - 'tilt': the automobile's final frontier.

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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