An empty Pyramid of Giza on the road!

FACT: our planet’s climate is changing

FACT: car exhausts pollute

FACT: air pollution through greenhouse gases keeps more warmth on our planet

FACT: a warmer planet leads to more extreme weather events (hurricanes, flooding, fires)

Having spotted a new business opportunity (and in some cases under popular pressure) car companies are working to make their cars more environment-friendly. Additionally, new car companies have emerged that build their brand on “clean” driving (Tesla). In some parts of the world citizens elect governments that promote public transportation to reduce the number of (polluting) vehicles on the road (e.g. Sweden, the Netherlands). And finally, car sharing has skyrocketed as a preferred way for urban (and wealthy) populations to get from A to B without the burden of owning a vehicle or the inconvenience of (scarce) taxis. What’s the net effect of all these trends?

  1. In the US, compared to 1970 vehicle models, new cars, SUVs and pickup trucks are roughly 99 percent cleaner for common pollutants (hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particle emissions)
  2. U.S. cities have much improved air quality, despite ever increasing population and increasing vehicle miles traveled.

But what about the rest of the world…and, is there more that can be done to reduce emissions from vehicles (no matter how clean they are)?

There’s a part of people’s car that has remained mostly untouched in the debate to reduce cars on the road: the car trunk (a.k.a. “the boot” in some countries). Let’s do some quick math: the average capacity for cargo area in cars is ~20 cubic feet. There are 250 million total cars in US (give-and-take a few thousands), with 2.1 cars per household. Assume 125 million are driven for maybe half of the week, that means 62 million cars are driven each day. Since cars are driven at different times through the day, and the least at night, so 62/24 ~ 3 cars per hour, times 6 (1/4 of the day overlaps)=18 million cars at any moment are on the road….now assume most cars only use 10% of trunk space on average, so the total “wasted” trunk space = 0.9*20 Cb ft*18M = 324 Million cubic feet…which is equivalent to about 4 ½ times as big as The Great Pyramid of Giza! Or about 300 times as big as The Capitol Rotunda (US)! Here’s a picture to show what’s happening at any moment in time in the US:

Just a regular day on US roads…

The trunk is the last frontier in the car-sharing economy and established companies and entrepreneurs are slowly starting to see the business opportunity it provides: Mercedes-Benz Smart cars are being equipped with storage systems in their car to enable deliveries in their trunk while the car owners are at work or not at home. DHL and other delivery companies are exploring ways to deliver goods to shoppers in their car trunk. Walmart has started recruiting their own workers to make package deliveries on their way home…in their own car trunk. Phrame is a start-up that developed a trunk-locking/unlocking mechanism to facilitate usage of the car trunk as a shared space with delivery companies or friends…and the list goes on.

What is needed to make the sharing of your car trunk an easy and useful experience are the following ingredients: 1) an app that allows trunk-owners and shoppers to connect and negotiate a transaction, 2) a mechanism for retailers and shoppers to facilitate selling/purchasing of items and 3) a secure way for depositing and retrieving items in trunk-owners’ cars. Trunkshare is an example of a company that has developed a platform to enable all these ingredients and plans to partner with retailers, delivery companies and innovators in secure storage/locks to create a seamless consumer experience. The idea should not only be interesting for consumers, but also for anyone who has an empty car trunk: they can now make good use of it and earn some money while sparing the environment…ridding our roads of empty Pyramids of Giza in the process!