Tag Archives: Cars

Driving to a better place

I read about Shai Agassi’s plans for electric cars in Wired last summer and while it is high profile, with big name partners including Nissan Renault, I just wondered whether it was another software millionaire playing with cars (see Tesla as exhibit A). His plans are set out in more detail at betterplace.com , including a high minded vision:

  • A world living free from oil.
  • A planet healing and thriving.
  • And our environment and economy brought back into balance with each other.

The video of his speech is found on TED and it is worth watching for the undoubted enthusiasm – oil free nations such as Israel and Denmark by 2020 is the dream – I am still just a bit cynical (surprise). Key aims are affordable and convenient, no new science, using existing battery tech. Charging points everywhere so you can always charge and easy battery swaps, like gas stations.  All good in theory…

What is interesting is the willingness to go with an open source, but standards based infrastructure approach. A lot of the solutions being supported by programmes such as the UK’s Technology Strategy Board  Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle Project will play into the hands of monopoly suppliers.

BTW Wired are launching a new UK print version this month – how brave is that? I remember the short lived Wired UK from 1995, but then I was the only subscriber 🙂

Eco transport – before the crash

Ah, yes, time for the reviews of the year, and in our specialist area how does transport – general, green, any mode – fare in the analysis, especially in the economic context where eco innovation is:

  1. Our saviour, or
  2. Too expensive

The US transport top ten trends from Inhabitat includes the death of the SUV, green cars saving the industry, high performance sports cars saving the planet , (pedal) bikes are cool, etc. The view from over there suggests some naivety about what we achieve in Europe, however. Conclusions for 09: more mass transit and greener cars – thanks, I could have guessed that. Although for mainstream US of A that may be still too radical.

And imagine my disappointment when the electric  GM Chevrolet Volt concept car of 2007:

became the boring pre production car shown in 2008 (first deliveries in 2010, kids):

I was not the only one to be disappointed

But before I pour self righteous scorn on my brothers across the sea what have we identified as worthy of mention in the UK and Europe? What Car votes a turbo diesel Ford Focus as its green car of 2008 and Toyota for its technology. The Eden Project and the Co-op sponsored the sexy green car show in summer 2008. ..and er, that’s it, apart from a few comments on the “fuel crisis” in the review of the year in mags such as New Scientist.

PS thanks to Oxtran to alerting me to “Traffic Jam”, the review of the last 10 years of sustainable transport  – which ended up on my xmas shopping list (sad but true).

Fuel prices – the HP solution

It would be way too easy to comment on the fuel price “crisis” as hysterically reported in the UK press this week, but…

Are we going to see repositioning of car prices, especially for used cars, on the basis of fuel economy or as in previous petrol price panics will we forget the real cost of travel by car pretty quick, accepting the base level cost change. Certainly on nearly life expired cars, which depreciate less than £1000 a year (i.e. my 9 year old Volkswagen, worth £1,500, with 140k on the clocks) the annual fuel bill is the biggest expense – so do I change it to a more fuel efficient car to reduce the annual operating cost?

Its certainly too early to see an impact on the business of promoting sustainable transport alternatives. 

As I still pay £30 to replace the ink cartridges on my £35 printer perhaps we could see a new disposable car model develop or is there a flaw in this analogy?

[PS watching MotoGP from Mugello while blogging this – oh, the irony]

Getting Lost

Cheap SatNav

I have had decent sat nav for 6 months now and today instead used a road atlas to enjoy a retro moment – finding my way around several bike dealers within 100 miles of my house. So what did we learn?

  • there are some interesting back roads in Buckinghamshire, some muddy and infested with tractors
  • with road atlas scales size does matter – no more than 3 miles to one inch
  • as does being up to date – if you buy a 2008 titled atlas it was issued in August 2007 and based only on the roads known to man (and the O/S) some months earlier – although with the lack of investment in new roads you shouldn’t get caught out too often…

As a geographer and a map anorak but also a gadget fan this fundamental dichotomy causes me sleepless nights 🙂 

And the holy grail was found north of Aylesbury:

Aprilia Tuono 2008

So where is my rocket car,then?

I remember reading my uncle’s popular science magazines in the 1960s when I lived in North Dakota and every year there would be a long look forward to the future, always optimistic and full of technology breakthroughs just around the corner. A look back at the November 1968 issue of Mechanix Illustrated, courtesy of the Modern Mechanix blog, gave me a mix of “well, that happened” and “we’re still waiting” moments.

IT’S 8 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2008, and you are headed for a business appointment 300 mi. away. You slide into your sleek, two-passenger air-cushion car, press a sequence of buttons and the national traffic computer notes your destination, figures out the current traffic situation and signals your car to slide out of the garage. Hands free, you sit back and begin to read the morning paper—which is flashed on a flat TV screen over the car’s dashboard. Tapping a button changes the page.

Well, the predictions about sat nav & computers in the article have been met, with the internet predicted and the wide use of electronic money, for example. A good read, as is the Paleo Future blog, now we need someone to write an article about 40 years from now, I bet it won’t be so optimistic.

Passengers wanted

The first Motorway High Occupancy Vehicles Lane launched today by Ruth Kelly, following considerable buildup. There have been HOV lanes before in the UK, notably in and around Bristol, but this is perhaps the first high level commitment to the concept. Whether saving 6 – 8 minutes per morning commute is enough to get commuters to car share is questionable, but for existing car sharers, buses, etc. will get them into the HOV lane and release some capacity for the rest. The better use of existing assets is very much the flavour of the month with government and HA, but of course without medium to long term substantial behaviour change we are only buying time at huge expense (green points made, now back to normal service)

Nice touch – “motorcyclists will also be able to use it whether carrying passengers or not”

(And have a look at the M606 review on “pathetic Motorways” – one of my favourite sites!)

Save the planet by racing cars

Frank Biela and Marco Werner of Germany and Emanuele Pirro of Italy drove the Shell diesel-powered Audi No. 1 car to victory, proving that last years diesel win for Audi was not a one off. The R10 TDI has an all-aluminium, 5.5-litre, twelve-cylinder bi-turbo TDI engine producing over 650 bhp!

As the TDI technology filters down to the road cars I will be trading up to a road going Audi R10 next year… well maybe not.

Proves green motoring isn’t just about Toyota hybrids, either.

low cost cars – the global challenge

I found this interesting Business Week article on the development of really cheap cars by chance, but it raises some fundamental questions, albeit from an American perspective:

Link

Some further thoughts:

  • the comparison with no frill airlines and cheap clothes retailers (H&M, etc) is right in this context – if the western consumers can go low cost the emerging markets can start at low cost and the global market for very cheap products increases
  • Imagine a $2,500 (£1,250) car’s impact on developing countries traffic levels, when India and China’s emerging middle and upper working class can join in (or as the article suggests we are already seeing a $7,000 car impacting on poorer populations in eastern Europe and increasingly on the west…like the Dacia/Renaut Logan)
  • You can hear the complaint from the emerging nations – “why shouldn’t we have personal individual mobility like you have had for the last 100 years, to cover for your guilt about environmental damage and climate change” (Thanks, Gottfried Daimler, btw)
  • From my personal perspective I muse – what does this do to the motorcycle and scooter market – will Japanese, Korean, even the Chinese and Indian manufacturers who are currently growing, go the way of Triumph, BSA, Ariel – all world dominating businesses when a motorcycle was the first step on the mobility ladder. Better go for plan b, Honda… and dont even start to think about what China’s bicycle manufacturers will turn to next (the usual reference point in discussions about developing countries and cars)
  • I recall a similar article in Car magazine some 15 years ago and its predictions certainly came true – your European car is likely to be assembled anywhere labour is cheap (uh…Derby, Sunderland, Swindon? OK, but point taken) out of bits from Brazil, Indonesia and for all I know Chad, and finally discounted to get the metal out of the the fields near the ports and onto your drive
  • can a developing world cheap car achieve the same role in society again as the original VW, Fiat Cinquecento, Citroen 2CV or even Mini – and will these new ugly boxes on wheels become anti-fashion statements – they may become the first teenage car of choice for cash strapped parents, but I can’t see the Chery, Geely, Great Wall Motor, Nanjing, Hafei, Zhongxing, or Brilliance China (all rising Chinese brands) capturing the Fiesta, Saxo or Corsa market.