Forget about the car as something cumbersome that dictates your life and robs you of the freedom it used to bring. Think ‘appliance-on-wheels’. Lean, clean, cool, fun, safe, affordable and driverless, it will slash operational as well as environmental costs, make ride-hailing profitable, with and without driver. Car makers may end up customers themselves if they fail to deliver.
Governments no longer take a backseat to the world’s biggest consumer market and product, and demand that the transition to electric cars (EV) be taken more seriously. Automakers point out that development costs time and money, and want those same governments to cough up billions in subsidies to be able to sell the electric cars. These so-called EV tax credits are more and more seen as subsidies for higher-income groups though. Given the need for affordable EVs without the pressure to subsidize them, it is remarkable that car makers including Tesla focus on selling pricey midsize to large EVs. Think of them as EVs 2.0, the EV 1.0 of course dating back to the dawn of motoring. The risk is that EV sales will fall when governments terminate EV tax credits, like Denmark already did, and countries like the UK, the Netherlands and the Trump administration are contemplating. Below two depictions that clearly portray the wasteful use of resources that EVs 2.0 bring with them. The bulkier the EV, the heavier the battery pack, the bigger the electric grid demand, the more roads tend to clog up. The comparison with arteries and obesity speaks for itself. A sleek EV 3.0 enables us to do more with less, address gridlock for instance. Question is: how does what’s considered the next big thing, self-driving, fit into the Bigger Picture of personal mobility? Below: Waymo reportedly ordered more than 60,000 Chryslers Pacifica hybrid for ride-hailing purposes.
Autonomous SUV likely to kill even more pedestrians, turns a blind eye to Climate Change
Hopes regarding self-driving vehicles are high. It is estimated that vehicle autonomy will form a $7 trillion market by 2050. However, some already warned that if plans will not quite pan out according to what investors have been told to believe, they may get cold feet, which could set back development for years. Apple visionary Steve Jobs once said: “our job is to figure out what consumers want before they do”. In personal communication, the smartphone won over consumers, made Apple the world’s richest company. In personal mobility, that infinitely larger market, something similar ought to happen. Any narrative about self-driving should portray a picture that goes beyond the convenience of not having to pay attention to other road users. If we want to reduce emissions, improve inner city air quality, curb Climate Change, the EV should become more widespread, therefore affordable. How to go about this? By working towards more efficiency in the use of everything that is precious and valuable: energy, available space, materials to build EVs incl. batteries which determine cost price, and the time (=money) spent during transit.
We shouldn’t forget that more than two-thirds of all electricity in the U.S. is generated by burning fossil fuels. In many countries it’s even worse. A low-drag, lightweight EV gets more mileage from low-energy dense battery drive, it’s that simple. Highways and parking lots can be utilized more densely; governments will love it. Last but not least, the number of pedestrians killed in SUV-related accidents has skyrocketed by 81 percent in the last decade, according to a May 2018 report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety IIHS. “Often the design for the vehicle is much more vertical than passenger cars, something that can make for a more blunt impact and less likelihood that a pedestrian being struck by an SUV might be able to roll off the vehicle and reduce injuries.” Size may well become an issue in driverless safety too!
Hannibal Lecter the automotive philosopher
When experts haven’t figured out yet how to deliver on billion-dollar promises, it’s best to think outside-the-box. Remember how Hannibal Lecter in the film Silence Of The Lambs helped FBI agent Clarice Starling succeed. Lecter teaches Starling to observe what is elementary, not accidental: “What does he do, this man you seek. What is his nature?” The same principle applies to the quest for the Level 5 autonomous car: what is it, what is its nature in order to make it a proper self-driver, more specifically, to make it outperform other autonomous cars if the same technology is deployed? I’d like to think that homo universalis Lecter would then paraphrase Thomas Jefferson’s “we hold these truths to be self-evident” in pointing out that all vehicles created small/sleek are inherently better self-drivers. 1. The less space they require, the more margin there is to evade other road users. 2. The easier the auto-pilot’s task of overseeing the vehicle and its surroundings. 3. If necessary or considered mandatory, the human driver can act as a fail-safe. He/she will feel more committed, act more alert, particularly if outside view is pretty much unobstructed. Below: from human head to helmet-on-wheels - “Ready when you are, Sgt. Pembry”.
Motorcycle helmet producers already experiment with 360 degree cameras whereby rear vision is projected on the visor’s inside. Common sense would be to start with the human head anyway, then gradually work yourself ‘down’ towards vehicle autonomy, instead of ‘wishfully engineering’ the other way around. Billions of brain cells multiplied by tens of thousands of synapses in each brain make for more instant connections than there are stars in 20 to 40 thousand galaxies. Housed in a roundish cockpit capable of swiveling (human head), equipped with two amazingly effective optic and ditto hearing sensors (eyes, ears) and a hard-drive with perpetually updatable learning material, topped off by the human intuition, they enable all of us to split-sec reference what we see, hear, encounter. Hard to beat those, if ever.
“Build it… and they will come” - one in a thousand is enough to start the Smart-Mobility EV 3.0 revolution
New technology tends to ‘reformat’ products. We no longer use brick-like phones or bulky PCs. Don’t think ‘car’, think ‘Smart-Mobility’ device. However, people not necessarily favor small cars or particularly like them. So, don’t just downsize, truly reformat. The Smart-Mobility EV you see here is a Best-of-Both: the comfort and safety of a car, and the economy, fun and agility of a motor-scooter. Notice how the side-car seating position is integrated in the hull. The person behind the steering wheel is situated ‘on the other side’ of the vehicle, for a better view of curbside road users like pedestrians and cyclists.
In autonomous mode, payload is three passengers, obviously. Global car sales are around 90 million each year. This means that annually committing 1 out of every 1000 prospective car buyers suffices to have a viable production. Urbanites, two-car households, early-adopters, singles, couples, greenies, techies, and ride-hailing providers together already constitute a larger group. The MPVs and SUVs ride-hailing companies hope to deploy for autonomous trips can be dismissed as bulky, cumbersome, too costly to perform the basic task of carrying 1.2 passenger. Boston Consulting Group established that the average taxi ride consists of 1.2 customer. Put in service one 5–7 seater for every twenty 3-seaters will suffice to make ride-hailing profitable, with or without chauffeur. Then again, too small and something else gets lost. There are three distinct benefits to a three-seater, as opposed to a one- or two-seater. 1. It invites making a vehicle safer, more streamlined and comfortable (extended wheelbase). 2. A three-seater is more economical to operate than a two-seater. 3. Beware of increasing the number of vehicles. Couples and singles who live in the city might see a two-seater as a second(ary) vehicle, instead of having a three-seater as their only mode of transportation, rarely needing a ‘big car’ (they might borrow, rent or share-use). Small vehicles only allowed within city limits (like the Swedish Uniti and the Swiss Microlino) merely add to the total number of vehicles.
Car makers have always behaved like their responsibility basically ends when their cars leave the showroom, except for their legal obligations towards safety and proper functioning. Environmental considerations, gridlock, etc. are issues that car owners and governments need to sort out between them, they thought. I have demonstrated how lean, clean, green, safe, affordable, driverless, more economical from an electric grid, resources and ride-hailing viewpoint and desirable from a market perspective all come together with a sleek-footprint, electric vehicle. If the auto industry is slow to produce one, what is keeping global brands in other sectors from stepping up to the plate? Think about it, when the car has electric propulsion and all sorts of electronic features including auto-piloting, does it need to come from traditional auto manufacturers? Probably not… Preferably not since they have been dragging their feet way too long, some might say. Car brands may even end up being customers themselves. Why? They are obligated to sell low-to-zero emission vehicles in their model range. It’s a bit like Tesla that has made over $2 billion (!) since 2010 by selling emissions credits, notably to Fiat-Chrysler and GM.
There comes a time that using an EV will be as easy as flicking on an electric appliance, instead of giving you the impression of boarding a wheeled tool shack that gets you stuck in traffic before you’ve even reached the highway.
Question is: how do global brands deal with the challenge of bringing a truly Next-Gen electric vehicle? CLICK HERE to read on why personal mobility is being handicapped by the auto industry’s ingrained inside-the-box thinking and why Silicon Valley burns through billions of investor capital by deleting common sense and replacing it for wishful engineering.
Author Ralph Panhuyzen has a background in port-related real estate development & logistics. He wrote books on the Port of Rotterdam and auto-mobility in the Netherlands, was managing director of a major multi-modal distribution center. His (semi) three-wheeler and aerial vehicle concepts have received expert recognition for their simplicity and viability (“Seamless 2D and 3D transit”). Author is a conscious social media shunner. Readers, feel free to spread the word though. Ralph can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org