Design Concept of the Day: AUV

December 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

AUV conceptHere’s some specific market-targeting: an SUV for ski/wintersports tourist car-shares. The AUV (Alpine Utility Vehicle) concept is a minimalist EV, with four in-wheel hub motors hence all-wheel drive, capable of carrying three plus their equipment. It’s by Hans N. Steen of the Braunschweig University of Art, Lower Saxony, which runs Transportation Design BA and MA courses. (Via

  • And further to the above: is car-sharing: altruistic or practical? It’s more about the latter than any nice romantic vision or community spirit, according to a study of Zipcar users by Bardhi & Eckhardt, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, which points to convenience and cost as the motivating factors for usage, and which identifies the need for car-share providers to offer clean, up-to-date and well-maintained vehicles. Users also feel “no psychological sense of ownership” towards the vehicle, and no particular engagement with the brand beyond its role as a service provider. NB: In this context, “car-share” refers to what we Brits usually call “car clubs”, not a peer-to-peer lending or lift-share arrangement. More on car-shares (UK) linked here from work at UWE, Bristol.
  • More on ‘peak car’ from Scott Levine at the Demos blog, looking at the lowering of traffic in London in particular.
  • 10 EV predictions for 2013 from Pike Research (via Green Car Congress): including more 48-volt battery-drive systems; Renault-style battery-leasing contracts; Germany to lead the way in Europe; ‘roaming’ pan-European networks for charging; provision of fast-charging facilities will remain too expensive for many businesses; efficiency improvements to ICE cars and more natural-gas commercial vehicles will slow EV demand in the short-term. Big growth to 2020 in wireless charging, however, and a Frost & Sullivan consultant is arguing that lightweighting and downsizing of ICE vehicles, and appropriately-incentivising drivers through legislation, is key.
  • Volvo is teaming with Ericsson to develop a Connected Vehicle Cloud for communications, apps, in-car entertainment and information. More here.

Design concept of the day: Rinspeed microMAX

December 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

rinspeedmicromaxRinspeed’s concept for next spring’s Geneva Auto Salon taps into the ride-share theme: microMAX is designed specifically for sociable short-distance urban transport. Its boxy cabin – it’s the length of a (BMW) Mini but 2.2m tall – houses three upright passenger seats for adults, space for luggage or a child’s pushchair, plus a coffee-maker, fridge and “unlimited connectivity for entertainment purposes or for working while on the move.” It’s all-electric, and Rinspeed boss Frank M. Rinderkneckt suggests that different interior modules could be fitted to suit its usage by craftsmen and delivery firms. However, microMAX has been developed with web- or smartphone-based lift-sharing in mind – “it’s the car to go with the app”, says Rinderkneckt.

Other news to round off the week: data from the UK’s 2011 National Travel Survey (7,700 households, 18,000 individuals) has been released. Rundown of key car-related figures:

  • Since 1995/7, overall number of trips taken is down 12% (to an average of 958 a year); trips using private modes of transport down 13% (the biggest decline is in walking), public transport up 3%. Average distance travelled per year fell 2% to 6826 miles but average trip length rose 11% to 7.1 miles.  “Since the late 1990s, the average distance travelled and average trip lengths have generally levelled off.” Car travel now accounts for 64% of all trips and 79% of distance travelled.
  • Car trips (as a driver or passenger) fell 7% (12% for vans) from 2005/7; average car/van miles driven per person per year fell 5% but average trip length/time remained constant at 8.5 miles/21 minutes.
  • 79% of men and 65% of women now have a driving licence. Men are now taking 18% fewer trips and their mileage is down 16%, but women are taking 11% more car-trips and doing 23% more miles; male drivers are still doing roughly double the annual mileage of women, however. 25% of households do not have access to a car; 43% have one car and 32% have two or more cars.
  • For reference: biggest rises in public transport were in London – bus and surface rail trips up 40% and 47% respectively though local bus travel outside London fell 15%.
  • 20% of all trips were for shopping, 15% for commuting to work; leisure travel (16% of journeys) increased 10% but trips for shopping and visiting friends/family fell 19%/22% respectively. There’s “a switch from more frequent, short shopping trips on foot, to longer, less frequent car trips” and an impact from online shopping. Business trips and distance are both down around 25%.

Some interesting stuff coming out of a more detailed look at the Le Vine/Jones RAC Foundation report, too – trends start to look a bit different once you look at private-only mileage/car use, and what’s happening outside London – growth in many areas and demographic groups.  Still, as Prof. Goodwin pointed out, car use is car use, whether it’s a company car or not…

Peak car – declining UK car use hasn’t bottomed-out yet, research suggests

December 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

train_ricardo_ReleaseJumped on the train (well, three different trains each way, to be precise) to go down to Bristol yesterday: winter conference at the Centre For Transport and Society, UWE. Key speaker (for me) was Prof. Phil Goodwin, writer of a new report on ‘peak car’ (see previous post) released concurrently with, but independently from, the research on a similar theme for the RAC Foundation. Quick rundown of my notes from his presentation, for those of you interested in such matters and the academic end of things:

  • His study “arises simply from an observation – (that) traffic levels do not seem to be rising”. But we need to be careful about “differentiating between traffic, car traffic, car ownership per person, mileage.”
  • Goodwin outlines four different future scenarios for how traffic volume will evolve: it could follow the upward forecasts as issued by the DfT; as soon as the recession stops, car use could continue to grown again (“interrupted growth”); or it has reached a saturation point; or the peak car hypothesis – which suggests “we are in the process of a radical shift”.
  • He points out that the latter is not a new idea – British government projections from 1973 gave a graph with a surprisingly accurate trajectory. “The saturation of car use is an old and continuing (theoretical) tradition… (but) …until now, the idea that car use would eventually saturate has been a proposition about the distant future. Now it is much closer to home… By about 2010 it became clear that something rather important was happening.” He uses stats from the National Travel Survey to show that car travel (measured in miles per year, per person) levelled out around 2000 and then dipped steeply in the middle of the last decade.
  • Similar trends have been noted (1990-2009, by the OECD International Transport Forum) in Germany, the USA, Australia, France and Japan. “Something seems to be happening in a lot of countries… a remarkable convergence on four key research themes in many different countries. The four themes are age/cohort effects, urban policy impacts, the impact of mobile internet/communications and cultural shifts, and of course, economic/income effects.
  • It’s not as straightforward as simply thinking that people are driving less because they can’t afford petrol, or due to other recession-related factors – Goodwin quotes David Metz on a “decoupling of distance travelled per income”. Traffic and travel measured per unit of GDP increased into the early ’90s but has now reversed in direction; the reduction in car use is (according to research by Gordon Stokes) higher than average amongst the highest-income men. Car use is actually increasing slightly amongst low-income men (having to drive more/further to get to work? An indicator of general rising inequalities?).
  • “Young men are behaving differently… access to a car by young men has been going down 2002-2008, fewer are getting licences, fewer are getting cars.” The pattern is different for young women – their car use is rising, though at a lower level than the increase for young men in the mid ’90s which this pattern shadows.
  • City policy has had an impact. “When you look at particular cities, there are places where declines in car use started earlier, typically large cities, i.e. London, Munich, Paris, but also smaller ones, i.e. Strasbourg, Freiburg, or the ‘sustainable travel towns’ with policies deliberately intended to improve public transport, walking, cycling.” It’s the rich towns, but car use is also falling in high-density urban developments.
  • But there are also the non-transport trends – the cultural shifts, i.e. online shopping, mobile internet – which are playing a role.
  • Goodwin points out that the Levine/Jones research for the RAC Foundation has “important new analysis on company cars” but is sniffy about the claim of a “one-off impact of a collapse in company car mileage”: “what they haven’t done is look at the car use of the non-company cars in the households which still had company cars”. Some of the company car mileage could have been displaced onto private cars as a result of corporate/fleet policy shifts, perhaps.
  • He thinks that “car use hasn’t bottomed-out” yet, and notes that “a lot of things are attributed to the recession that started before the recession”. Population growth “could yet be a factor due to the increased immigration in the last decade”, but “the interesting thing is that in some cities where aggregate car use has gone down (it) is where population is increasing”.
  • Ultimately, it’s all “a complex interweaving of factors… those factors are not resolved and there remains uncertainty”. But  “we should focus more on what sort of future we choose – and there is a rather wider choice (of potential solutions and outcomes) than we have thought”.

My note: not sure as yet how this squares with the data from the UK census released today. There’s been an increase 2001-2011 in the number of cars and vans, from 11 per 10 households to 12 per 10 households. London is now the only region where there are fewer vehicles than the number of households. And yes, going to UWE would have been quicker and considerably cheaper by car, I have to admit, but then I wouldn’t have been able to read two newspapers, do all the crosswords and word-games, read an entire novel and nod off along the way.

Got iPad, don’t need car…

December 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

RoutemasterAn explicit connection has been made between use of iPads, social networking, e-commerce and declining car use by Prof. Phil Goodwin of the Centre for Transport Studies (UCL). Speaking in Cardiff this week, he cited online shopping and social media use as prime reasons for people driving less and for taking the bus (sadly not a Routemaster as pictured, any more) or a train instead so that they could continue to communicate with their friends whilst on the move. The latter trend is particularly prevalent amongst young men, who are driving less than ever. “There’s a big reduction in young men driving to visit friends and relatives, which could be a result of people using Facebook,” he said. Ties in with the other ‘peak car’ research announced ths week (see below); more on his talk here (via @charliemuss – cheers!).

  • Engineers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute have developed an algorithm to control autonomously-driven vehicles at intersections without signals. Ismail Zohdy and Hesham Rakha will start trials at a roundabout on the Virginia Tech campus shortly. More here.

Daimler launches car2go in London; Audi harnesses Big Data

December 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

car2go_londonDaimler’s car2go car-share scheme (in partnership with Europcar) has launched in London: the boroughs of Islington, Sutton and Newham will host fleets of Smart Fortwo mhd two-seaters (with stop-start; congestion-charge exempt). Registration is free until 31st December 2012, with 30 minutes of free driving; after that, it’s charged at 35p a minute all-in. Cars can be returned anywhere in the participating boroughs, with parking free in borough-operated bays or car parks. Access to the cars is via smartphone, tablet or Facebook apps, or the car2go London website, with no pre-booking necessary, and a swipe of an RFID membership card. More details at, at the car2go shop at BOXPARK Shoreditch, or at Europcar stores in the city.

It’ll be interesting to see the outcome of the first studies of usage of the scheme: will there be take-up as an alternative to private or business car use, or will it be used as an alternative to public transport, walking or cycling (i.e. using the Boris bikes)? For regular commuting as well as for occasional or tourist travel?

  • Audi outlined its Urban Intelligent Assist tech at the LA Show last month: developed in collaboration with the University of Southern California and University of California at Berkeley and San Diego, AUIA is intended to make commuting and city driving less stressful and to enhance safety. It’s a suite of functions including predictive and location-based technologies, navigation and route guidance, parking guidance, onward journey information, lane-change assist and ‘attention guard’; more here. “Harnessing the power of Big Data” to meet “the challenges of navigating the chaotic roadways of the world’s megacities”, apparently.

The i3 connection, peak car GB, smart parking, eRoaming and more…

December 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

bmwi3The newest iteration of the BMW i3 – seen as the i3 Concept Coupe at the LA Auto Show last week – showcases BMW’s latest ConnectedDrive tech. The eDrive system calculates range before start-up and gives continual updates as to remaining battery juice, integrating info from the sat nav including traffic conditions and route topography, plus driving style, energy consumption from auxiliary functions, and selected driving mode. Mobility planning information is available on the eRemote smartphone app (iOS, Android), as well as access to the car’s data (such as state of charge), journey planning, remote charging control, location of charging points, parking spaces and onward travel planning, ie on foot or by local public transport. It’s also linked in to the DriveNow car-share (Germany, San Francisco) and ParkNow space-booking services. More here.

  • The BBC’s reporting on the possibility of ‘peak car’ in the UK: young men, in particular, are driving a lot less. Research is from the Centre for Transport Studies, Imperial College; CTS cites the rising cost of insurance, a fall in company car driving, young people’s “changing lifestyles and living arrangements”, “shrinking gender gaps across a range of mobility indicators”, “interaction between telecommunications and travel”, plus growing differences between transport use in London (less driving) and elsewhere in GB (more, particularly in rural areas). Full report hosted by the RAC Foundation. Interpretation by the Telegraph: motoring is becoming an increasingly female-dominated activity. More nuanced analysis from the Campaign for Better Transport
  • Reserve a parking space in London and recharge your EV: has started a partnership with Source London and Chargemaster enabling homeowners to rent an EV charger to city visitors. Chargemaster is giving out free charging points for installation on private driveways and 200 are expected to be installed. Ten are already up and running.
  • And Hubject GmbH  – a JV including BMW, Bosch, Daimler and Siemens – is working on an EV-charging infrastructure connection solution using QR codes; its eRoaming platform will allow EV drivers to access all Europe-wide public chargepoints from a single contract, and can be tailored to suit car-sharing organisations, infrastructure operators and power suppliers. RFID cards, smart-charging cables and other communications tech may also be used, reports Hybridcars.
  • Also from Hybridcars: the University of Southern California is working with Mitsubishi on a two year ‘Living Laboratory’ smart-grid demo project to simulate EV use in a city of 50,000-60,000 people. More here.
  • Over a third of British motorists reckon that autonomous vehicle tech will reduce accidents, reports a survey by Bosch.

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