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Electric drive? Great! What's next?

Jan 12, 2016

Car makers like Tesla managed to change the public's attitude towards more eco-friendly ways of propelling the car, electric drive in particular. But they did little to change our favorite personal transportation mode itself. It doesn't look like newcomers such as Faraday Future, Atieva and Apple will either.

The traditional car industry clings to what Frost & Sullivan consultant David Frigstad has labeled the Kodak business model: doing what it has been doing for ages (making and selling cars) like there is no tomorrow, no "what's next?". However, the car is about so much more that automakers don't seem to care about: car travel efficiency, use of the infrastructure, 'traffic ergonomics', congestion, road pricing, effects on the urban environment, car- and ride-sharing, the use of precious resources in general, etc. Propulsion is just one aspect, albeit an important one.

Bear in mind, 95% of the energy is used to move around the 'device' that's usually carrying only one occupant, the driver. Remember Spielberg's film Minority Report and those sleek pods that carry people whizzing up and down corridors draped around buildings? Should make Silicon Valley think. Costly to change the infrastructure, construct embankments, flyovers, etc... the car however. Let's put it this way: we don't use brick-like mobile phones, nor are we stuck behind bulky desktop PCs.

Sleek vehicles can be great where big cars are just cumbersome
Compare this, no disrespect intended, to a 100 athletes versus a 100 overweight people walking down the same narrow stretch of pavement. The athletes have more space to move around and are more nimble to avoid bumping into other road users. Footprint matters. So do width, surface area and physique. Should make Google think. It wants to build cars without manual controls, but Consumer Watchdog says the company's own data undermine its own case. Google drivers had to manually stop its self-driving cars to avoid crashing on a number of occasions.

Now technology enables us to make things smaller, handier, and change the way they look. Why shouldn't this apply to the car? Now here is the interesting part. A lightweight (low-drag) vehicle with conventional engine uses less fossil energy than an electric Tesla Model S or X that receives its 'juice' from a power plant (66% is fossil-fueled). And if you believe the EIA's forecasts, it will be this way for decades! Below you can see that so much more can be gained (compared to merely electric drive) by reducing the car's footprint, and more specific with Narrow Track Vehicles (NTV) - in terms of the environment, space utilization, cost cutting and the opening up of new possibilities. Icons are used for easy reference, so you will be able to explain the benefits to your kids. After all, this is is about next-generation personal mobility.

Less fuss share-using cars than owning them?
Will car- and ride-sharing not take care of more efficiency, so we may hang on to the full-size car? Perhaps. Problem is, the bigger the car, the pricier its possession, the less likely people want to share this with others they don't know personally. The case being made here is for a tool-like fun(ctional) vehicle with which you can slice your way through traffic. In other words, the auto-mobile can be an 'iPhone On Wheels', fully connected. It only needs 'to clean up its act'. Slim down. Need more space? Rent or borrow a big car. Or one may be available in your car-sharing program.

Spanish automaker Seat and Samsung are working on a digital key concept. This will allow drivers to unlock the car doors, turn on the air conditioning and open and close windows remotely from their smartphone and authorize others to use the 'auto-mobile' without the transfer of a physical key. It sends an authorization to the other person's smartphone giving him/her access to the vehicle. A time limit can be set on the permission, and even some functions can be restricted. For example, if a parent gives permission for a teen to drive it, the maximum speed can be set or the vehicle can be programmed into a specific efficient driving mode.

Investing in the way of the future
The quantitative easing programs of the U.S. and the EU infused hundreds of billions into financial markets - all too often deployed speculatively, rarely invested in viable new developments. Car makers tend to invest in more of the same thing, of which there’s already way too much. That's why competition among them is fierce. Time to think outside the 'O.K. Corral' (box), and to bring something new. Venture capitalists descend upon the market of the non- or not so tangible (new and social media), accepting that no profits will be made for years to come. They tend to overlook the obvious, things that 'matter', concrete concepts that make sense, that can yield savings and whole new benefits, create new jobs, exports and generate all sorts of spinoff innovation.

Differentiate car use
Does this all mean that I am against 'the big car' plodding around? No. I love sports cars as any other guy does. Feel free to drive whatever you feel like. What I am saying is that it makes sense to differentiate car use. It's like changing cloths. Wear what fits the occasion. Drive what suits best. Many households have more than one vehicle. Click on "Next" to find out why you may want one.

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