CARBONARRRA: In 2002 I contemplated the future of the car and it is interesting
to go back and rethink an article. So much has changed in 13 years.
China has become car obsessed and fortunes have been made in supplying
to that market.
America still consumes more oil than the rest of the whole world put
together with crazy overpowered vehicles - all this despite the fact that they
have to import most of their oil from the middle-east. A region they
have monumentally destabilised since the Iraq war.
Green politics are big right now and politicians are scrambling to climb
aboard and frighten us all with legislation against the car. Cities
are squeezing the car out, punishing drivers for owning one, parking
one, or using bus lanes, even in the middle of the night. Speed cops
are the worlds largest growth industry to create revenue for local politicians
and in the West, at least, motorists are being criminalised by the thousands
daily. In the UK there are now 7500 fixed speed cameras and 5000 hand
held. The state has declared war on drivers. . What will be the breaking point?
So thinking about the future of the car is still very relevant
THERE A FUTURE FOR THE CAR
The key to public
transport in cities is reliabity, price, accessibity and safety.
A city that does not reinvest in a constant cycle in people-moving
there a sustainable future for the car?
The future of the environment is so closely allied to transportation
issues, and in particular the motor vehicle, one cannot be considered
without the other.
Image: Tesla X due 2014
The truth is, however, that the car has come
to define our environment, what is and what isnt accessible,
what can be dug and removed to make way for the car and what parts
of our cities and towns can be set aside for parking of cars
the car stands for personal freedom. The rich value it because it is their
privacy they prize. The very poor simply aspire to own cars because it
is a symbol of success. This is a dream shared by billions all across
the planet. For many, the car is a necessity. Rural areas in the West
as much as other more remote communities in places such as Northern Scandinavia
or South-West Africa cannot depend upon public transport. It is unreliable,
inefficient, not really tailored to their lives or scattered populations.
Australia, South Africa, the Southern United States and huge areas of
the globe where many people inhabit, people live there because the car
makes it possible to do so. To demand that people should leave these places
and gather in suburban or urban concentrations to make it more convenient
to serve them with public transportation, foolishness. I am not sure is
actually a 'green' solution to build massive vertical cities.
bus and train is a perfect city solution. Certainly it can bring and take
people to suburban concentrations with ease and economic scale that the
car cannot possibly reach. But it cant deliver masses to their doors
unless they live on top of it. The London Underground or New York Subway
is a good illustration. Convenient, traffic free (but not congestion free).
Street Cars making a comeback?
planners have targeted the car as public enemy number one in cities,
with some justification. Overcrowding, the polluted air, the degraded
people spaces, parking issues, noise and safety. They have done
little in the way of providing safe and protected parking outside
the cities however and this is one of the great failures of the
last century. Park and Ride had a future, but now it is an expensive
option. Land is scarce and safety costs money. London by charging
£8 pounds to enter it hopes to keep the car out. It has reduced
car traffic but now London is choked with buses and air quality
is in fact worse. Has it kept shoppers away from Knightsbridge,
Oxford and Bond Street? A small percentage yes, but not really significant.
And there is the rub. If you do not live in London, you will either
chose to pay this fine or use public transport. Right
now, public transport in London is hazardous, slow, prone to failure,
terrorist attack and sometimes dangerous and often cancelled. No
matter what they promise to invest in London, it may never actually
be as good as it was twenty years ago. Meanwhile your car is yours
to command. It might well be a price worth paying. (if you can afford
£8 an hour for parking)
car sustainable in our future?
The question should be which future, which car?
In the city, electric short journey vehicles (SJVs) must come
to the fore to supplement bus and train journeys. The future of
cars depend upon the choice of engines as we become much more
aware the damage they have done and are doing to our health and
our cities. These cars could be hybrid vehicles such as those developed
by Toyota. The Prius has already sold more than 1.5 million units
worldwide (2012 ) and the hybrid Camry already outsells the Prius in Canada. The Nissan all electric Leaf does not seem to have caught on however, given that it has a range of less than 100 miles. It is also very expensive.
In fact electric cars with their range anxiety are the disappointments of this revolution in transportation. Tesla offers a deal where if you can't recharge in California there's a rental car waiting nearby. But to be honest, hybrids are a much better option for the savvy motorist. Tesla made thier first profit in 2013 but the discussion about displacement of pollution needs to be had. Clean electic cars are powered by either coal or oil or nuclear power stations. You'd like to think solar or wind, but the truth is there is not the critical mass for those souces of energy to power all our cars if we went electric.
What are hybrids?
Duel fuel cars - part electric, part petrol or hydrogen or liquid gas.
These do have higher production costs, but environmentally and with the
support of legislation and tax breaks, it may make sense to sell and for
people to buy these cars. Quiet clean electric in town, carbon fuel intensive
for long journeys between cities at high speeds. (In the countryside such
vehicles may be seen as unnecessarily exotic and expensive.) Prius sales
have been impressive it is in fact the third highest seller in the world. (There are hidden scrapping costs though)
exchange membrane engines using chemically active platinum catalysts are
proposed by companies such as International Fuel Cells and Vancouver based
Ballard Power Systems. So far the problem has been storing highly combustible
elements. But since one of the proposed fuels is hydrogen, the emissions
will be water vapour, it has to be one of the eventual front runners.
In Fords own company literature of 2007 I believe fuel cells will
finally end the 100 year reign of the internal combustion engine.
I have to say, despite Ford offering hybrids now and at least one electric vehicle - the combustion engine is fighting back with fuel efficiency.
There is talk that hybrid cars will generate
surplus power for sale back to the local grids or local buildings. 95%
of power capacity in the USA resides in automobiles with only 2% in electric
power plants according to Electric Power Research Institutes
Brent Barker. There is a danger that the hybrid engine concept will be
oversold similarly to nuclear electric power in the 1950s that would be
too cheap to meter.
The car as a means of civilised transportation
and self-esteem will continue to dominate and there will be continued
demand for petrol or diesel to feed it. In places like China or India
however the car is an overwhelming aspirational item for millions of people
and there is a huge unsatisfied demand. There is an extensive bus and
train infrastructure for all, but just as rising living standards in the
West changed people perceptions of what constitutes success,
public transportation is associated with poverty. Before 2001 there were
no private car sales in China. In 2006 3.8 million units were sold alone,
including trucks, it is now 100 million. Road
building continues apace and with the concept of private property now enshined
in law in China, the country is been transformed literally before our
eyes and with it comes all the problems that Europe and America have had
for nearly a century. Death on the roads are soaring, pollution, traffic
choked cities and health related problems. And it is just starting. The
car might eat China. We shall see. Meanwhile we have profited by sellig cars to them from the West. How keen will we be when Chinese designed and made cars start selling here under cutting our own I wonder. This is just beginning. Meanhile in those 13 years since I first wrote this Hyundai from South Korea has risen to the number three spot in the world car manufacture and they have crossed the barrier for reliability and developed that thing that VW cherished - customer loyalty.
A train journey in India covering many miles
between cities might cost only a few dollars, but it will be full to the brim
and rarely maintained to a western standard. The car then, with privacy,
faster journey times and able to go exactly where you want to go is clearly
going to be seen as a necessity and be a catalyst for personal ambition
for millions of Asians for years to come. As standards rise, people want
freedom from overcrowded buses and trains, they want their own space.
A car, increasingly a Japanese or European car. The car is not just means
of transport; it is a symbol of prosperity and ambition. The evidence
of such a shift is happening at a terrifying speed in Shanghai. In the
last ten years, they have essentially built a new city that would normally
take fifty years elsewhere. Now everyone wants a car and associates the
lack of one with backwardness.
In more mature economies the car is seen
to be a problem and investment in rail intercity connections
is made. To Frances credit they have invested in their fast TGV
trains. But it has been at a huge cost in terms of capital, time and
taxation. Simultaneously, in British Columbia, Canada, with huge distances
to cover they have allowed the passengers trains to wither on the vine
and in October 2002 virtually discontinued local passenger trains altogther, leaving
the car and SUVs king. (However they are expanding the Skytrain commuter
system which now connects to the airport in Vancouver).
Obviously - in the West, we have lived with
the consequences of mass car ownership since the end of WW2. It would
be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to wean people off their cars.
Most would not quibble that a fossil fuel economy cannot go on forever.
But it remains a fact that there is as much oil in the ground as was ever
consumed. In theory, the car and petrol can go on. However, as China takes
up car ownership on the level of the West, the global demand for
oil has risen extremely sharply, as has the price and competition to
secure supplies. The country with duel fuel cars will have an advantage.
Equally, other car-choked countries like Thailand already have huge smog
problems, which clearly cannot continue without health consequences.
Fossil fuels do have a negative side. Accidents (though our car accident rate in the UKis falling due to better cars and brakes or public awareness in China is it soaring and getting worse). The UK is utterly
dominated by roads and highways. The air quality in cities has deteriorated
(though none are as lethal as when every home burned a coal fire). The
car emits carbon gasses that lay trapped in our upper atmosphere. There
are studies that show that the carbon levels now are as high as 55 million
years ago (from ice core samples taken from Russia and Siberia). The consequences
of this could be a rising of world temperatures and the drying and burning
of the worlds forests, as well as rising sea levels. This was what
the Kyoto Agreement was all about. The Inconvenient Truth as
Al Gore remarked and is now effectively dead. Climate Change is still disputed by right wing politicians.
To blithely argue that the car is wrong,
that it will in effect seal our fate and destroy the planet is to be defeatist.
The car will not go away. There is no model that shows that people will
forsake them for buses or trains. There is probably no economic model
that could provide efficient solutions for the countryside.
The car is sustainable as a concept, a desire,
a necessity. The debate is only about the fuel needed to move them. That
might be hydrogen, it might be duel fuel engines, it may yet be electric.
At the end of the day, someone will have had to develop that fuel and
deliver it to the point of sale. We will have to pay for that fuel. I
am not sure there is a model for what exact price it will be that we will
not pay to surrender our freedom, but I suspect it is a very high price
For the car to survive, it is simply necessary
to prove that a new generation of fuel is clean, the engines reliable,
that refuelling is simple and safe. This will be our future.
© Sam North 2002/2007/2013
May 1st 2013- Todays oil price is $103 per barrel
Sam North is the editor of Hackwriters.com
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