Changing car culture in California

August 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

la-freeway-1California: Beyond cars? asks Tom Turrentine in this journal article. He runs through the state’s history of car culture, describes its unique qualities including the role of Silicon Valley, and looks at the possibilities such as on-demand car-sharing, lift-sharing, bike-sharing, alt-fuels, EVs and smartphone app-enabled transport services, concluding that a transition ain’t going to happen overnight but that California is a big enough vehicle market to make a difference if new sustainable transport behaviours take off there. So it’s not exactly beyond cars, then, even in his most forward-thinking forecasts (it’s the usual networked/integrated/lower-carbon scenario) but it’s an optimistic and descriptive look nonetheless at some of the social background and contributing factors to car-dependency in the state.

  • And to illustrate the above further, news on California’s attempt to extend its tax rebates for EV buyers to target lower-income groups; rebates of up to $7500 could be on offer to qualifying households to tempt them to trade in older, polluting vehicles for something plug-in. Incentives under debate include cash-for-clunkers ‘scrappage’ payments or vouchers towards joining car-share programmes or for using public transport, to persuade people to give up their own cars full stop. The bill goes through its final approval from the Senate at the end of this month.
  • Transport for London is trialling wireless charging for four plug-in hybrid buses on the 69 route between Canning Town and Walthamstow; this is expected to increase their electric-only range to allow them to operate minus diesel engine for much of the time. More here.
  • The Eco Travel Network – behind the Eco Funky Travel fleet of 10 Renault Twizys operating in Wales, rented to tourists and visitors – is working on a more rugged version of the micro-EV. A trial prototype, with modified suspension, different tyres and added luggage racks, is heading to the island of Eigg for trial. More here. The Adapted Rural Twizy will be shared between 10 households in the trial, with particular attention to how much of Eigg’s  locally-generated renewable electricity it consumes. The goal is, says the ETN blog, “to explore what kind of lightweight, low cost, rugged electric vehicle might work on remote islands like Eigg where all journeys are short and the island generates its own renewable electricity but has to ship in expensive diesel by ferry to power the cars.” The Eigg trial is also to evaluate a Gazelle buggy.
  • Some car-sharing data from Dr Susan Shaheen and the Transportation Sustainability Research Center, reported here. Highlights of the 2014 Carsharing Outlook include over 1,462,000 members of car-shares (as of Jan 1st) in the Americas, sharing nearly 21,500 vehicles; 19 car-share programmes in Canada (over 224,500 members), 24 in the US (nearly 1,229,000 members) plus 1 programme each in Brazil and Mexico. “Growth in shared-use vehicle systems continues worldwide”, says Dr Shaheen.
  • Old newspapers could be a source of bio-butanol, due to the presence of of particular strain of bacteria which breaks down organic cellulose; research at Tulane University, New Orleans, reported here.
  • Latest news from Sakti3 (a University of Michigan spin-off) on its solid-state batteries: these could double the range of a Tesla Model S, could be produced for around $100 per kWhr (less than half the current price of Tesla batteries), and are safer (less flammable) than current lithium-ion tech, the start-up claims. Reported here.

Designers look at future of mobility, & research round-up

August 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

minifutures_kmA Dezeen/Mini collaborative exhibition, called Frontiers – The Future of Mobility, opens at designjunction (in the Sorting Office, New Oxford Street) on 17th September as part of London Design Week. Work on display includes that of Keiichi Matsuda, who looks at the use of augmented reality to superimpose information and signage (pictured); Dominic Wilcox  who suggests that, when cars are fully-automated, safety features such as airbags and crumple zones are no longer needed – and thus cars can be made of anything, even intricate stained-glass windows; Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, who explores ‘repair ecologies’ and how genetically-engineered synthetic, biological vehicles could evolve and mutate as they are used and repaired, according to their environments; Matthew Plummer-Fernandez, developing 3D-printed dashboard figurine ‘avatars’ to communicate with drivers; and Pernilla Ohrstedt, predicting how cars could collect detailed 3D scans for mapping and the creation of virtual-reality worlds.

  • A little primer on behavioural insights and ‘nudge’ theory in relation to transport here from SDG; a further summary of this… it’s about the ideas that: people are creatures of habit and like to be consistent, but are not always logical in their decisions; they are influenced by other people and seek their approval, but the sacrifices they are prepared to make to change their habits are actually quite small; decisions (as in what mode of transport to use) are often based on mental short-cuts and misinformed perceptions; decisions are influenced by short-term gains, relative to context (again, not always logical); ‘sticks’ are more effective than ‘carrots’ in changing behaviour; but for successful outcomes, people need to feel empowered or positive about change rather than that they have no choice.
  • And on a not dissimilar theme, a new paper in Transport Geography warns that, unless “transport taboos” – interlinked factors which might harm governmental or business interests or social order, including social inequality of planned measures, social/psychological functions of mobility, lobbying, inequality in contributions towards emissions and transport volumes – are addressed, “it will be difficult to achieve significant emission reductions in passenger transport”. (thanks @RachelAldred).
  • Natural gas, whether powering vehicles directly in an ICE, used to generate electricity for EVs, or used to generate hydrogen for fuel cell cars, shows an improvement over coal or oil in all three scenarios, reports a team from University of Michigan, which has done a series of lifecycle analyses. Detailed lowdown and references here at Green Car Congress.


Concept of the Day: ZF Innovation Truck

August 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

03-1_ZF-Innovation_Truck_IMG_8ZF Friedrichshafen is showing its Innovation Truck concept at the upcoming 2014 IAA Commercial Vehicles Show in Hannover, which has a clever tablet app-controlled remote manouevering function handy for squeezing a long tractor-trailer combi into small spaces around a depot, for example. Cleverer than this, however, is its satellite navigation-based PreVision GPS system, which directly feeds location and map data into the transmission to select the optimum gearshift for the upcoming terrain or road topography, or to prevent an unsuitable gearshift which might compromise fuel efficiency, anticipating factors such as steep hills, ongoing sections of mountainous roads, or sharp bends and sudden curves. PreVision GPS can also work with the ‘coasting’ function to simply decouple the driveline when the truck is rolling (down a gentle slope, for example) and to predict when the transmission should be put back into gear, or to apply brakes as necessary.

These anticipatory gearshift strategies have the potential to reduce journey times as well as fuel consumption and tailpipe emissions, smoothing out progress and maintaining optimum speeds. All this works in tandem with the TraXon Hybrid module, mounted in the clutch bell housing. This integrates a 120kW motor and enables functions including all-electric driving at low speeds and for short distances, boosting of the combustion engine, start-stop to cut the engine when idling, and energy recuperation, which can direct otherwise wasted energy for auxiliary power supply to items such as cooler units and to electrical features in the driver’s cab. It has the potential to facilitate additional functions such as ‘coasting’ (engine switch-off at speed) as well as the fitment of quiet, efficient electric PTOs (Power Take-Offs) rather than noisier mechanical units, as currently used in vehicles such as municipal waste lorries or ambulances operating in residential areas. Its projected fuel saving is around 5%. Lots more detail to be found here.

  • However, a reminder that not everyone’s into apps: recent research by Deloitte found that 31% of UK smartphone owners do not download any apps each month. This is up from around one in five in 2013. Of those who do download apps, the average is down to 1.82 a month, and nearly nine out of ten never spend money on apps or other smartphone content, reports The Telegraph. This suggests that less tech-savvy (or less tech-interested) people (including those in older age-groups) are now owning smartphones.
  • And another one: a team from MIT has developed a process to turn materials from old lead-acid car batteries into perovskite solar cells (PSCs), tipped to be the next big thing in PV energy capture, and solving the issues around safe disposal of old batteries and where to get the lead for the PSCs in one. More, incl academic references, here at Green Car Congress.
  • Sticking with a range of up to 100 miles is the optimum for EV drivers in terms of battery and range-related vehicle costs, claims a paper in Transportation Science, at least until EV batteries become cheaper.
  • There’s a useful cost of travel index from the RAC Foundation; graph shows that the cost of motoring has risen far less steeply (and has levelled off) in comparison to the general cost of living, and bus, coach and rail travel in the last ten years. And that’s before this upcoming rise in rail fares takes effect…

Renovo Coupe super-EV, and today’s transport & mobility news

August 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

Renovo-Coupe-EVThe annual concours d’elegance and classic car show at Pebble Beach, just outside Monterey in California, has traditionally been the preserve of historic supercars and luxury limousines, as well as a showcase for the bespoke car-makers – and now some electric vehicles are (quietly) creeping into the mix of exotics on display. Not mainstream, mass-market transport solutions, to be sure, but some indicator that EVs can play the status symbol/rich boys’ toys game as well? The Renovo Coupe (built by a Silicon Valley-based start-up) is effectively an electric Shelby Daytona CSX9000 with modifications to swap in a twin-motor e-powertrain, delivering 493bhp (Euro) and 1000lb ft of torque, 0-60 in 3.4 seconds and 120mph-plus, reports Autocar; it has a range of around 100 miles. Some more detail at Car and Driver. Also at Pebble Beach: Saleen Foursixteen, a tuned-up $152,000Tesla Model S.

  • Some useful references to Australian research on suburban transport access and transport poverty in this Guardian Datablog piece; the poorest residents spend the highest proportion of their income on petrol, especially in outer areas where public transport is lacking. The further away from Melbourne city centre and train stations people live, the more likely these poorest households are to have two or more cars, and this trend is rising steeply (up 93% 2001-11). It seems that this blog is in response to comments by Aussie Treasurer Joe Hockey that “poor people don’t have cars or don’t actually drive very far”, for which he has now apologised; the most disturbing thing about this is, perhaps, not so much that the guy was offensive or rude but that someone in such a senior governmental position could be so poorly-informed and just plain wrong in his claims.
  • An outline of transport demand management policy from the Sustainable Cities Collective, concludes that “the smartest city is not the one that eliminates cars, but the one that can integrate them into a sustainable network of urban mobility options”. This school of thought takes on “a set of strategies that maximize urban mobility by limiting the unnecessary use of private cars”, looking at factors including better integration of driving with other modes of transport, improving safety for all road users through better road design and speed limits, regulating parking and improving the transport options available to people, it says.
  • Lausanne Polytechnic is leading a development project on 15-second ‘flash-charging’ of electric buses, with the first TOSA-equipped buses to go into service in Geneva in 2017, reports AutoblogGreen. Charging is via a swing-out robotic arm from the roof of the (solar-panelled) bus stop.
  • Are we really ready for the hydrogen economy in transport? Not just yet, according to Joan Ogden of the Institute of Transportation Studies, UC Davis: “hydrogen faces a range of challenges, from economic to societal, before it can be implemented as a large scale transportation fuel”, she writes. Stumbling points include funding, investor and consumer confidence, and fuelling/supply infrastructure, rather than technical challenges, but there are positive trends and “we seem to be tantalizingly close to a hydrogen transition”. Full research white paper here.

#EV sales predictions, latest UK traffic stats, more future cars news…

August 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

elektromotive pointThe global market for light-duty plug-in vehicles will grow by nearly 25% year on year to 2023, predicts the latest report from Navigant Research. Top cities for EV adoption will be Los Angeles, Paris and Tokyo, with North America the strongest market; nearly 100,000 PEVs were sold there last year. 2013 also saw sales of 30,000 PEVs in Japan, 23,000 in the Netherlands (dominated by plug-in hybrids such as the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, I believe), and 17,000 in China. Still tiny numbers in the great scheme of things, but Navigant is expecting sales of over 514,000 a year in the US in 2013.

  • OK, latest UK road traffic statistics: for Q2 April-June 2014, all traffic was up 1.4% to 77.1billion vehicle miles (compared to Q2, 2013); car and light-goods traffic rose by 1% and 3.5% respectively; traffic volumes increased across all road classifications. Traffic increased – and average speeds decreased on A-roads.
  • BMW Group Asia is partnering with California-based Greenlots to develop an open-standard EV charging network for Singapore. Using Open Charge Point Protocol (OCCP) charger-to-network comms tech, this will cover home/workplace charging, public charging points and assistance services, accessed and billed via the ChargeNow system plus Greenlots apps. More here.
  • EV buyers in France are being offered up to 10,000 euros ‘scrappage’ if they’re sending a diesel car to the crusher: nominally, sounds like a good idea to improve local air quality, if a little less carbon- and energy-friendly in a well-to-wheel lifecycle analysis… More here. (Thoughtful piece on diesel, particulates, city air quality and the lagging of legislation to tackle it here at Guardian Cities).
  • Hemp fibres – the waste bits left over from fabric-making or building materials – could be a good substitute for graphene in supercapacitors for energy storage. More here.
  • Toyota USA senior VP Bob Carter reckons “we’re on the cusp of the automotive hydrogen age”. Speaking at the JP Morgan Auto Conference in NY this week, he noted that though initially hydrogen may be more expensive than gasoline (and indeed, electricity), longer-term running costs will come down. Full text of his speech here; “of all the advanced powertrain systems we have in our portfolio…we see hydrogen fuel cells as being THE no-compromise, primary-option vehicle for the NEXT 100 years”, he says. Another interesting snippet from his speech: Toyota’s US sales to buyers born after 1980 (Gen Y or millennials) doubled 2009-2012 (to 2.5million a year) and rose 20% in the next two years, with a further 10% rise expected this year to reach 3.5million a year. Which bucks the kids-not-buying-cars trend.




Some car-sharing reading, and other automobility snippets…

August 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

drivenow_berlin_smallHere’s a useful journal article from last year on carsharing – lots of references and nice historical detail, in a discussion on whether carsharing is a part of, or distinct from, automobility (the whole established system of cars/driving, including supporting infrastructures and social attitudes). Kent & Dowling (transport geographers) look at it in terms of mobility practices, and point out that it uses much of the same infrastructure as conventional driving/car ownership, but differs in terms of its digital enablement (i.e. access to cars via RFID cards, smartphone apps to locate cars) and the car being a shared commodity or object of collaborative consumption. The freedom it offers is from commitment of ownership, rather than the chance to go wherever you want, whenever, as promised by the private car. Carsharing doesn’t demand any unique skills or habits (if you can already drive in the first place), but it does require different time-management and planning,  and it is often taken up at certain life-events or changes, i.e. moving house or changing job. It is increasing linked with other networks and structures of automobility, they argue – as demonstrated by car companies and established car rental firms entering into this sector – but with spin-0ffs and related practices such as lift-sharing and one-way car-sharing coming into the picture, could be taking on a life of its own (I paraphrase).

  • And further to the above, it turns out that car rental firm Sixt has publicly confirmed that its upper-end one-way car-sharing JV with BMW, DriveNow, is coming to London. It’s up and running in Berlin (pictured), Hamburg, Munich, Cologne and Dusseldorf, as well as in San Francisco, and “London is next in line”, the Sixt blog reports. In London, it’ll have to take on the likes of Zipcar, CityCarClub and the upcoming Bollore BlueCar EV-share, though not Car2Go, which recently withdrew its Smart ForTwos, as well as smaller players under the auspices of Carplus, Co-wheels, the E-Car Club and suchlike. I reckon its main competition will, however, be all the other effective ways of getting around the city, i.e. its public transport system, cycling and walking, for starters, not to mention taxis, on-demand Uber cabs etc. Why would anyone want to drive in London unless they absolutely had to?


  • And something else for the reading list (note to self): The Urban Political Economy and Ecology of Automobility, ed. Alan Walks (Routledge), out now. I think the description – in plainer non-academic English – suggests that this explores the relationship of the car and driving to the economy, inequality and politics, focusing on the city context as well as looking at other social, ethnic and migratory factors. (Thanks, @RachelAldred, for flagging this one up).
  • Latest report and more details from the EU-funded V-Charge project, co-ordinating parking, automated driving and EV charging via a smartphone app; tests are underway of cars in Wolfsburg and Zurich, with a third car under development. It’s a new take on valet parking – no (human) valet needed.


Recent news round-up

August 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

pangea_cometA practical approach to multi-passenger transport in the Philippines: COMET (City Managed Optimised Electric Transport), proposed as a replacement for the archaic, diesel-burning and pollution-spewing ‘jeepneys’ used in the region. An open-sided 18-seater, it’s developed and built by Pangea Motors of Vancouver, Washington, and will be marketed by Global Electric Transportation, reports AutoblogGreen.

  • A-ha, ‘peak petrol’: Navigant Research is predicting that global gasoline demand will start to decline from 2021. It’ll continue to rise until then, to 367.3 billion gallons a year, then drop, they say; however, rather than electric vehicles having much of an effect, “the most impactful fuel savings strategy is likely to come from fuel efficiency improvements in the conventional vehicle platform and the internal combustion engine (ICE)”, says analyst Scott Shepard, citing engine downsizing and lowering of vehicle weights as well as electrification. “The anticipated effects of climate change are driving international cooperation on mitigation efforts, including reducing oil consumption in the transportation sector,” he notes. “Markets for both vehicles and fuels have gradually begun to respond to these efforts, and alternative fuels ‑ including electricity, natural gas, and biodiesel ‑ are beginning to have an impact on global oil demand.” More in the report, Transportation Forecast: Global Fuel Consumption.
  • Uber: expanding into car-pooling territory, starting beta-testing of its new UberPool app to match up co-riders. More here. Oh yeah, and Lyft too, with its Lyft Line app now in trials in San Francisco. Note the NYT’s emphasis on its use by commuters – the Lyft lot see this as a viable way to get around on a routine, daily basis.
  • The Cenex/Technology Strategy Board-funded EV-Lite project has ended, with the resulting battery pack showing a 41% reduction in weight and a 63% reduction in the cost of non-cell components. Five patent applications have been made, including for a system to isolate cells in an accident. More here.
  • A useful tool for potential EV-buyers (in the US): ITS-Davis has developed a website called EV Explorer allowing a detailed comparison of EV vs ICE running costs, taking into account factors including charging power and journey frequency.
  • As someone who now (for much, if not all, of my time) works from home but who had a commute-from-hell for many years, I find this hard to believe: very few people actually want a zero-time commute, plenty like the separation between work and home, according to this piece and the research cited at Something worth considering when assessing urban transport – it’s not just about the transport modes themselves. (And some more from Citylab on incentives – namely, free parking – on commuting by car. Remember the role of the employer…). Some useful references.
  • Siemens is running a trial of overhead (“catenary”) charging for electric/PHEV trucks on a two-mile stretch of highway between the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. More, including diagrams, here.
  • Natural gas, rapidly turning into a ‘thing’ for the auto industry… Mercedes is to debut a CNG-fuelled 7.7-litre truck engine at the IAA in Hanover shortly. CO2 emissions down 22% on a comparable diesel, biogas-compatible. Detailed tech rundown at Green Car Congress.
  • Malvern, home of Morgan – and now ElectrAA, an EV club and enthusiasts’ group. Members’ cars include a prototype Morgan Plus E, an electro-converted Mazda RX-7, a Nissan eNV200 and of course, a requisite Tesla. (thanks, @CIRCaCity).


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