Uruguayan electricity and other stories…

December 3, 2015 § Leave a comment

gttc-5Slightly off-topic but I have been particularly struck by the news today from the Paris summit that Uruguay – a small and not very wealthy country – has achieved an electricity mix of 94.5% renewables. Without government subsidies, or rising consumer prices. That’s 55% of the overall energy mix including transport fuels, with wind, hydro, solar and biomass all playing a part – but no nuclear. It’s good for business, too, energy accounting for 15% of its GDP. The Guardian story does note, however, that “the transport sector still depends on oil”, which accounts for 45% of the total energy mix – though it is at least in a good position to start using electrified vehicles (UTE, the state electricity generator/distributor, is already running a fleet of Renault Kangoo ZEs).  And I can’t resist making the point that this was mostly achieved under the watch of the country’s colourful former ‘peasant president’, a man who made Jeremy Corbyn look like a marauding free-marketeer. Or resist the temptation to post a holiday snap from Uruguay a few years back, suggesting that the country does still have some way to go before it cleans up its transport… (anyone want to hazard a guess what this is?)

  • No, not the Self-driven Volt but a fleet of self-driving Volts… GM is to deploy a fleet of autonomous Chevys at its technical centre in Warren, Michigan, involving a valet-service app: GM’s employees will reserve and summon the cars, which can park themselves. More here. (And to refer back to the esteemed Mr W Self and his recent series of radio shows, quite why the BBC thought it acceptable to send him on a long road trip in an obsolete electrified vehicle – discontinued UK-spec Volt – without the necessary charging cable and adaptor to use public charging points, then broadcast his predictably negative comments on his not-very-electric driving experience, I really don’t know. I don’t expect a writer and cultural commenter to be an EV expert/authority, but I would have expected better research and representation from the Beeb.)
  • Couple of summing-up-state-of-play studies from consultancy EY (Ernst & Young): first one, Who’s in the driving seat?, looks at autonomous vehicles and reckons that people are receptive to the idea, especially younger generations, seeing particular advantages for congestion and road safety, though they’re concerned about driving fun and liability issues. It points to a reversal of the driver-car relationship in terms of maintenance, safety and wellbeing, and importance of new values such as connectivity, reliability and safety in place of power or image – a shift from ‘extrinsic’ product values to ‘intrinsic’. Other one, Urban Mobility Redefined, goes down the “sharing is the new buying” route, with digitalisation and connectivity the key drivers. Nothing new here, but handy consolidations.
  • Swiss research institute Empa has opened a new platform called “move” in collaboration with ETH Zurich to study the use of surplus renewable electricity in cars, utility vehicles and machinery, encompassing a shift from fossil to renewable energy with a view to creating ‘a closed carbon cycle model.’ Mobility is responsible for 40% of Switzerland’s CO2 emissions, and the country anticipates a large surplus of solar-generated electricity in summer months. The project includes looking into synthetic electricity-based fuels, with the opening of an electrolysis plant to convert renewable electricity into hydrogen, as well catalytic conversion of hydrogen and CO2 into methane, and apparently nature is the role model since ‘plants have been using sunlight, water and CO2 to supply themselves sustainably with energy for millions of years.’ More here.
  • A frightening thought: mobility-on-demand, connectivity and autonomous vehicles could lead to “a profound impact” on consumers and vehicle mileage travelled, according a report from KPMG, which suggests that VMT could soar to an extra trillion additional miles a year by 2050. KPMG puts this down to increased demand for mobility and related services from older people and millennials in particular, citing older people using on-demand autonomous services as they age, as well as tech-savvy youngsters (aged 10-15) not yet old enough to drive, but who can get into an on-demand vehicle. It warns of large numbers of empty cars going to pick people up, and a possible increase in VMT of up to 3-4 trillion additional miles by 2050, as personal mileage escalates. More here; full report, “The Clockspeed Dilemma”, for download here.
  • University of Glasgow student Morven Fraser (BEng Mechanical Engineering) won this year’s Autocar-Courland Next Generation award for aspiring automotive engineers: her energy-capture and storage system concept involves PV film on a vehicle’s body panels to capture  energy, then stored in nanobatteries integrated into the carbonfibre panels, and used in an electrified powertrain. This could extend EV range and reduce reliance on heavy conventional batteries. Fraser, 21, wins £9000 plus work experience at six of the sponsor OEMs.
  • A researcher at Stuttgart University is working on a wireless induction charging system for super-accurate positioning of an electric vehicle over an induction plate, and for optimised efficiency. PhD student Dean Martinovic has developed and patented a magnetic field technology to match up induction coils to an accuracy of 1cm, using a low-frequency pulsed magnetic field; this gives lower interference with the car’s metal underbody and no reflection of electromagnetic waves. The driver is guided by a 3D image (on a tablet, in the prototype) to the optimal positioning of the car and the system is said to be both very space- and cost-effective.
  • A lifecycle analysis study in New Zealand has found EV impact to be significantly lower than that of conventional ICE vehicles, with over 60% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to petrol, 40% reduction in energy use compared to diesel, and in a NZ-specific context, an 80% fall in CO2 compared to petrol, thanks to NZ’s high proportion of renewable electricity. More here.
  • Heuliez Bus – making over a quarter of French buses – is to trial its first all-electric model, the GX ELEC, in Paris. More here.
  • Further to the above, the European Environment Agency has released a report claiming that nitrogen dioxide emissions – predominantly from diesel vehicles – are responsible for an additional 75,000 premature deaths in Europe each year (and 432,000 premature deaths caused by particulates, with ozone another health-problem emission). That’s 21,600 in polluted Italy, 14,100 in the UK, 10,400 in Germany and 5,900 in Spain, it says – all countries which have lobbied for weaker emissions controls and higher limits for diesel vehicles, Transport and Environment points out. T&E also notes another study claiming 23,500 UK deaths are attributable to NO2, suggesting that “the EAA’s method may be conservative.”
  • And just in case the role of vehicles in all this isn’t clear, the EC’s Joint Research Centre and the World Health Organisation have released a report identifying traffic as the biggest source of particulate matter in 51 world cities. Traffic accounts for 25% of PM2.5s and PM10s, combustion and agriculture 22%, domestic fuel burning 20%, natural dust and salt 18% and industrial activities 15%, although the proportions differ around the world. Domestic fuel burning is the greatest contributor to PMs in Eastern Europe, for example, and natural dust in the Middle East and North Africa, but  traffic, heating and agriculture are the main culprits in North America and Western Europe. More here.
  • Looking into the myth of peak car: VMT (vehicle mileage travelled) may be up in the US, but not when looked at per capita, and is a few % down on all-time peaks when population growth is taken into account, argues this piece (with handy graphs). Yeah, but mileage is still pretty damn high, whether it’s peaked or not…
  • Loads of fleet-related news this week, but one of the biggest/most symbolic is 2000 EVs to New York City’s non-emergency fleet, which already runs 300 EVs on municipal duties. This will mean that half the fleet is electric, with a claimed reduction in fuel consumption of 2.5million gallons a year plus CO2 emissions halved by 2020, and is thought to be the biggest fleet deployment yet of EVs in the US. More here.
  • Audi America is in talks with other car-makers over establishing a single common-standard fast-charging network across the USA, a la Tesla Superchargers; another (potential) example, I think, of how the carmakers are expanding their businesses beyond building hardware to service provision. More here.
  • And more news from Germany’s most excellent and innovative Frauenhofer Institutes (a network of well-funded universities and research centres developing engineering solutions): a prototype battery cell with its own integrated microcontroller charting temperature, state of charge and suchlike, able to communicate with other cells, the main controller and other devices. An empty or defective cell can be decoupled from the system. This should allow for greater battery range (by up to 10%) – since it eliminates the problem of cells linked in series, whereby the weakest cell determines overall capacity – and lower costs, it’s claimed. This is part of the EU 3Ccar advanced systems design project, which aims to reduce EV complexity, costs and maintenance requirements.

Big data drop: DfT National Travel Survey

September 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

trafficBig data drop! The DFT has released the England National Travel Survey 2014 (7000 households, 16,000 individuals, on the basis of a week’s travel diary) and on the surface of things, some trends reported do suggest downward trends in driving… Average no of trips per year continues to fall to an average 921 (lowest yet recorded), with particular falls in trips for shopping, commuting and visiting friends (home-working/online shopping thought to be a factor); car travel accounts for 64% of trips but 78% of distance travelled; walking accounts for 22% of trips but only short distances; walking and car trips have fallen whilst use of surface rail and buses has risen in London; cycling distances have risen 26% since 1995-97; the wealthiest people travel twice the distance of those in lowest income-brackets, rural people 50% further than urban (and 90% more than London-dwellers).

Yet in the context of long-term trends, while number of trips has fallen, this is mostly down to less walking (though fewer car trips are being made), and overall distance and travel time continue to grow, as a reflection of greater access to cars; 73% of adults aged 17 or over now hold a driving licence, up from 48% in the mid-70s, and while male licence-holding has plateaued, female licence-holding has been slowly rising; though licence-holding has fallen in younger age-groups, there are more older drivers with licences. It’s also a mixed picture for car ownership; in 1985-6, 38% of households had no car, but by 2005 just 25%, and those having more than one car rose from 17% to 32% in that time; while ownership has levelled off in the last decade, there are regional differences: no-car households rose from 41 to 43% in London, but fell from 37% to 30% in the north-east, and rose overall outside of London. Unsurprisingly, people with access to cars make more trips, spend more time travelling, and go a lot further.  Other pull-outs include: active travel (walking, cycling) down from 28% to 24% since the mid-90s though public transport use up 2% to 11%; 56% of car trips are less than 5 miles; economic/employment factors and changes to company car tax are thought to have influenced the fall in car use in the last decade; cycling accounts for just 2% of trips and 1% of distance travelled.

Overall, the conclusion of the DfT is thus: it “concludes there is little evidence to confirm that car ownership levels or distance travelled have reached saturation”, also pointing to resumed growth in traffic levels since in the latest year. Anyway, more detail and number-crunching in the full report.

And in other news today, in no particular order…

  • …but only 44% of commuters in England could get to work by bike or car in the event of a ‘fuel shock’, according to research from the University of Leeds: Dr Ian Phillips looked at dependency on motorised transport, with reference to different areas, and identified areas which enable high levels of active transport (and low levels). Access to bicycles was key, though it had different effects in different areas – the greatest impact was in suburban areas of larger cities 5-10km from the centre, suggesting these types of areas are well-suited to cycling.  However, districts on the outer edge of London had a particularly low capacity for people to commute by bike or on foot, with rural areas and certain ‘prospering suburbs’ (low-density new-build housing?) also scoring poorly. The most deprived areas had a relatively high adaptive capacity but some – such as areas in East London, South Birmingham and post-industrial Yorkshire – were the least resilient. While this is looking at an emergency-case scenario, it says a lot about dependency on motorised transport, including car-dependency.
  • And are increased numbers of taxis (especially Uber cabs and other private-hire vehicles) in London leading to lower use of public transport, greater traffic congestion and increased air pollution? Debate – based around stats from Transport for London – at TechCrunch. London car ownership levels continue to fall, nonetheless, with 307 cars per 1000 people as of the end of 2013 and 2.6million cars registered; 54% of London households have at least one car, though car-less households rose from 38% to 42% 2001-2011. So let’s not hail Uber as a sustainability-success just yet, then…
  • Car use Stateside: picking out some of the US data in the INRIX 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard (see earlier post). Traffic congestion has returned to pre-recession levels, with 95 of 100 metro areas seeing increases 2013-2014; worst gridlock is in Washington DC (82 hours of delay per commuter each year), followed by Los Angeles (80 hours), San Francisco (78 hours), New York (74 hours) and San Jose (67 hours). This is put down to growing urban populations – and cheaper fuel. Average travel delays are more than twice those in 1982 (and 4x worse in smaller cities of fewer than 500,000 people.) This follows data showing an all-time record in US VMT (vehicle mileage travelled), and further traffic and congestion growth is expected.  So yeah, peak car? Mind you, as pointed out at Citylab, only looking at commuter habits and building extra road capacity just to cope with rush-hour demand certainly ain’t the answer (agreed).
  • Meanwhile, University Hospital Brussels has released a study (again) linking air pollution with heart attacks and other cardiovascular ‘events’, pointing to fine particulates (PM2.5s), larger PM10s, ozone and nitrous oxides – the results of burning fossil fuels – as the prime candidates, even when emitted within ‘safe’ Euro-legislated levels.
  • OK, vapourware alerts to the ready, but… Edison Power (Delaware) and SunVault Energy are to build a “a revolutionary electric supercar”, which is probably less about the vehicle itself than showcasing graphene energy storage tech. The car – Edison Electron One’ – will feature a graphene-hydrogen fuel cell for on-board hydrogen generation, and while tech detail is thin in the official release, it is to be displayed at the Battery Show in Michigan later this month. Spec allegedly includes an electric motor driving each wheel to give a total 1000lb ft of torque, 0-60 in just over two seconds, and recharging in five minutes; it appears to be a range-extended EV with the fuel cell in place of an ICE.  Sales by special order, availability from Q1 next year, they say…
  • Heating is a drain on the battery-range of EVs – but researchers at the Frauenhofer Institutes have come up with a heat-radiating film which is coated with carbon nanotubes, and applied to the interior door trim panels. This is said to heat the cabin more effectively and quickly than a conventional heater, as well as being energy-efficient. More here. Fraunhofer IWES has also come up with a cost-effective coil system for under-road induction charging, and this will be exhibited – along with the heating film and other electromobility solutions, including an air-cooled wheel hub motor, a lightweight energy pack and high-performance energy storage modules – at the Frankfurt Motor Show.
  • Latest report from JD Power echoes previous findings on in-car tech: many (US) buyers simply don’t use it, or find it of any interest. The 2015 DrIVE Report (Driver Interactive Vehicle Experience, 4,200+ responses from owners/leasers after 90 days of ownership, carried out April-June 2015) finds that at least 20% of new car owners have never used 16 out of the 33 tech features measured. 43% “never use” concierge services; 38% mobile routers; 35% auto parking systems; 33% head-up displays; and 32% built-in apps. 14 specific no-go areas were identified – which 20% or more of owners do not want in their next car – including Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto, as well as the concierge services and voice-texting, and interestingly, Gen Y-age buyers cited 23 unwanted techs, particularly those related to entertainment or connectivity. If a dealer/retailer did not adequately explain how a feature worked, it was less likely to be used, and likewise if this was not activated at the point of delivery – which resulted in some owners not even knowing they had it fitted. Owners do, however, like tech which aids safety and their driving experience, such as blind spot warning, adaptive cruise control or vehicle health diagnostics. JD Power exec director of driver interaction/HMI research Kristin Kolodge points out that “in many cases, owners simply prefer to use their smartphone or tablet because it meets their needs; they’re familiar with the device and it’s accurate.”

Design Concept of the Day: Nissan/Foster + Partners Fuel Station of the Future

August 25, 2015 § Leave a comment

nissan foster fuel stationNissan is working with architects Foster + Partners on a design concept for ‘Fuel Station of the Future’, the idea being to rethink the petrol station for the age of electromobility. The concept will be revealed later this year. Some interesting thinking behind this, perhaps hinting that this could be about more than just substituting plugs for petrol pumps, as Nissan says it “recognises that the refuelling infrastructure of the future represents the perfect opportunity to integrate and engage with local environments in an innovative way – potentially providing an energy and societal hub for modern communities.” Are we talking local/community renewable energy initiatives here?

Nissan goes on to mention “a zero-emissions society, connected communities, autonomous drive and the internet of things” in a “smart EV ecosystem – not just in terms of mobility, but in harnessing the potential of battery storage and vehicle-to-grid systems.” Look forward to seeing this – but let’s not forget the parallel system of people charging vehicles at home/work from their own (renewably-generated) electricity, arguably a potentially more disruptive development. Full blurb from Nissan here. (But will this fuel station’s equipment be as pretty as the Pininfarina Antares EV chargers?)

  • Comment at Forbes on how Tesla has eaten into sales of premium-brand German models, quoting Professor Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer of the University of Duisberg-Essen’s Center for Automotive Research (CAR: of course) on “the blind alley of plug-in hybrids”. Prof Dudenhoeffer says that PHEVs are mostly run on their ICE power, and that the must-have luxury vehicle even in markets with no EV subsidies is the Tesla Model S, its 280-mile-plus battery range rendering the PHEV tech (expensive, heavy, not really eco-friendly) redundant.
  • Vehicle mileage travelled (VMT) in the US hit a record high of 1.54trillion miles in the first half of 2015: lowdown at Green Car Congress, which notes that “this is more than double the amount driven during the same period in 1981, continuing a trend of America’s driving mileage doubling nearly every generation.” Per-capita VMT is still below the peak of June 2005, albeit still trending upward over the last year, with total VMT (incl. commercial traffic) hitting record levels in June and total US driving increasing for 16 months in a row. Full release from US Department of Transportation has links to the Federal Highway administration (FHWA) data.
  • However… the example of “mobility fees” in Florida shows a different approach in US city development: restricting new road-building, concentrating development in areas with existing infrastructure, and attention to vehicle mileage, reports Citylab.

Concept of the Day: TUM EVA

April 29, 2015 § Leave a comment

TUM EVATUM Create – a collaboration between TU Munich and NTU Singapore – has unveiled EVA, an all-electric taxi specifically designed ground-up as an EV, and with tropical climates in mind. Some interesting stats: taxis account only for 3% of vehicle population but 15% of mileage in Singapore; they typically run on a two-shift rotation 24 hours a day doing an average 520km; and of course, powering their air conditioning is paramount. EVA has a 200km range with only a 15-minute downtime for fast-charging, apparently, and is designed to be manufactured locally for Asian markets. More here.

  • PHEV sales are to reach 1.2million a year in Europe in 10 years, outselling non-plug-in hybrids by 2019, reports Automotive News Europe, synthesising several analyses and quoting LMC Automotive. The most-sold at the moment by a massive margin has been the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (though in recent month-on-month listings the newly-launched Volkswagen Golf GTE has edged ahead in some countries). Meanwhile, the Dutch government has set a target of 200,000 electrified vehicles on the country’s roads by 2020; it has pledged to continue state support. However, it’s worth noting that, as SUV and truck sales start to boom again in the US, it turns out that over 20% of hybrid/EV owners have traded in their electrified vehicles as gas prices lower…
  • Research from Toronto University: air pollution could be spread three times further than previously thought, with wide variations across districts. And in a sample of 100,000 vehicles, 25% – mainly older or ‘badly-tuned’ – were found to be causing 90% of the pollution, including 95% of particulates and 93% of carbon monoxide. More, incl. full academic references, here.
  • Some academic papers on the transition to electromobility: including discussion as to whether momentum is going to last, the niches where EVs can more easily be introduced, but mostly identifying where things are going wrong… interesting case study linking EV use with the hydroelectricity generation system in Quebec, however.
  • Catching up on latest EV/low-emissions vehicle registrations: 8573 cars with CO2 emissions under 75g/km were registered in the UK in the first quarter of 2015; again, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV was the leader, followed by the Nissan Leaf, BMW i3, Renault Zoe and… BMW i8. 2014 sales totals for all plug-in vehicles came to 14,498, including nearly 6,700 ‘pure’ EVs and 7,800 PHEVs, with some 52,000 alt-fuel vehicles (including hybrids, plug-ins and range-extenders) put on the road. SMMT New Car CO2 Report 2015 here. However, “diesel and petrol cars still represent the majority share of the new car market” – which itself continues to grow.
  • And, in rant of the week, all of the above tends to suggest that, while there’s lots to be optimistic about, we’re still a long, long way from the “seismic shift” in car use/attitudes towards car use as suggested by this Guardian Cities piece this week… I think the focus on city-dwellers is pretty damn misleading too, considering that it’s the suburbanites, ‘peri-urban’ dwellers and other inward commuters mostly driving into city centres. Christian Wolmar’s quote in particular raises an interesting point: he says he doesn’t drive into London any more, which is taken as an example of an attitudinal shift, but his decision is effectively due to congestion/parking problems – because there are too many other cars… Though it’s well-argued and descriptive, with nice (niche) examples of good practice, there are so many holes that can be picked both in this piece and in the reaction to it, mainly due to reliance on the ‘peak car’ concept (highly debatable) or conflating the idea of a slowdown or flatlining in traffic/driving growth with that of an actual substantial reduction in cars on the streets (nope; see above) – much as we would all (except the car-makers and the SMMT, presumably) like to see that. Also, the idea of ‘car-free’ does often seem to forget that autonomous, shared, car club, on-demand non-private cars, not to mention delivery/taxi/service/emergency/other task-specific types of vehicle, are all some form of automobile too. And thus better electrified.
  • Finally, further to the above… good in-depth discussion of ‘microtransit’ at Citylab. Yep, city-dwellers again, but some positive trends, plus a look at implications and unforeseen consequences. It ain’t all bad, but let’s not assume that cars are going to disappear just yet.

Friday round-up: Traffic forecasts, transport reports, road safety and more…

March 13, 2015 § Leave a comment

trafficRoad traffic Forecasts 2015 from the Department for Transport: different scenarios to 2040 modelled (with results including “exponential growth”), and different assumptions about trip rates considered, but, yes, “in most cases we forecast traffic in all area types to grow strongly”, albeit with slower growth (still growth) in some urban areas if current trends are to continue. As @giulio_mattioli put it: “Peak car? What peak car?” Indeed.

  • Yet commuting habits have been changed – and road casualties and fatalities reduced – by the introduction of the London congestion charge in 2003, according to research from Lancaster University. Traffic accidents have fallen by 30 a month (a 40% reduction) with similar reductions in the numbers of those killed or seriously injured. The rate of accidents – number per million miles driven in the zone – has fallen by 2.6 from an average 12.4, showing a more than proportional decline in accidents in relation to the parallel reduction in vehicle numbers.  And accidents and injuries have also fallen in areas adjacent to the charging zone (fewer people driving through them to central London), in the non-charged hours 6pm-7am and for exempt vehicles (including motorcycles, bicycles, taxis and buses).
  • But the environmental/sustainability benefits of more fuel-efficient cars may be outweighed by higher mileages – a report from Sussex University suggests a ‘rebound effect’ in relation to fuel pricing, whereby one-fifth of economy improvements are cancelled out by motorists driving more. Don’t ask me to analyse (or even make any sense out of) the stats, but one clear conclusion appears to be that (British) motorists respond more to cuts in fuel prices than to improvements in mpg.
  • On a not-unrelated note to all the above, report out today from Global NCAP calling for a worldwide minimum standard for car safety/crash protection. It makes the point that “the global vehicle fleet reached 1 billion in 2010 and is forecast to double in the next ten to fifteen years. This unprecedented increase is occurring in low and middle income countries which account for 90% of total road deaths.” Underlining why we need cleaner (as well as safer) cars, because – to repeat the point I often make – with the best will in the world, refusing to engage with these issues and assuming that everyone (including those travelling outside well-connected, affluent urban areas) can be persuaded to walk, get on a bicycle or use public transport, however ideal that may be, is pretty damn futile.
  • Ecotricity is planning to get its rapid-chargers out onto the UK’s strategic A-road network, especially in areas not served by motorways. More here. (We won’t talk about the issues of maintaining functionality of these)…
  • GoMore, a Scandinavian car-pooling and peer-to-peer vehicle rental platform (established 2005) has bought out Spain’s Amovens, giving it 500,000 users. Plans for further international expansion, it’s been reported.
  • The European Parliament has voted to allow changes in lorry design, enabling more streamlined outlines to improve fuel efficiency as well as reforms to cab design for better visibility (and thus better safety for other road-users including pedestrians and cyclists) – but not until 2022, following lobbying from manufacturers. Comment on the matter here
  • Porsche: planning an all-electric small-ish hatchback-type model (downsized Panamera), reports Autocar.
  • The government’s announced a further 140 EVs and PHEVs for its own fleet, including vehicles for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ministry of Defence and the Home Office. These will include the Nissan Leaf, and are part of a £5million investment in EVs and supporting infrastructure for public sector fleets. More here.

Concept of the Day: Renault Twizy Delivery

January 19, 2015 § Leave a comment

Twizy-delivery-conceptRenault’s last-mile solution for urban delivery: a Twizy with six wheels. The extra pair support a trailer, which hitches up to a platform on what was the passenger space (such as it is); this tiny truck has been developed in Renault’s VELUD (Electric Vehicle for Sustainable Urban Logistics) project, and is under testing in Paris. Oh, and there’s some more details on Renault’s testing of the Phinergy aluminium-air battery technology at Car magazine

  • New peak car-related paper from the Department for Transport (via @Scottericlevine – thanks): Understanding the drivers of road travel: current Trends in and factors behind roads use. It’s a precursor to some updated forecasts, but the thinking appears to be that though road mileage travelled has plateaued in recent years, growth is expected to resume; it picked up in Q4 2014 after a (miniscule) dip). This report summarises a lot of recent research and links road travel with driving costs, income and the locations people live/work; trends it picks out include a levelling off of traffic on urban roads but strong growth on A-roads and motorways and steady growth on rural roads; a levelling-off of car traffic since 2000 but a rise of 31% in vans; individual use has fallen (mileage, number of trips taken) but both population and car ownership have grown; whilst young men’s driving, and driving in urban areas, has fallen, women and older people are driving more. Key factors affecting all of this – reiterated from earlier work but consistent – are the costs of learning to drive and insurance (for young people in particular); employment rates (again affecting the young in particular) and links to GDP; declines in company car usage; increasing urbanisation (though to a limited extent); increased homeworking (though ditto); the travel habits of migrants; and the later life-changes (marriage, kids etc) among young people. It doesn’t see a big impact in terms of changing attitudes, claiming that young people, though flexible in how they travel, still see cars as desirable, convenient and even as signifiers of success – though forecasting their behaviour has the most uncertainties. More detail across its 92 pages, all underlining (to me) why – alongside other measures to encourage other means of transport, etc., of course – we need to accelerate the uptake of electrification… even if patterns of usage are changing, cars aren’t about to disappear and driving isn’t really diminuishing, so we better make these vehicles cleaner.
  • Two-thirds of London’s EV-charging points are unused, claims the RAC Foundation; it has analysed TfL data for June 2014 and found that of 905 points, only 324 were actually used (36%). That’s an improvement over the 24.3% used in June 2013, nonetheless, and actual charging ‘sessions’ have more than doubled (to 4,678 in June 2014). Most-used was a unit at Victoria station. Discussion on this suggests that the disused points may well be broken or inoperable, as well as being in the wrong locations.
  • Google’s deploying four electric shuttle buses in its community transport programme in Mountain View, California. They’re 16-seater conversions on a Ford F150 chassis by Motiv Power Systems, and have a 100-mile range, reports Green Car Congress.
  • California’s Alta Motors is working with DARPA on a hybrid-electric military motorcycle called the SilentHawk; more details here.


Design Concept of the Day: Mercedes-Benz F 015

January 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

merc f015Its full name is “F 015 Luxury in Motion”, but I can’t quite bring myself to type that in a headline. Anyway, this Merc concept, on show at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (more news from CES to follow), is an autonomously-driven four-door monospace lounge-saloon, longer and roomier than the S-Class, with a CFRP/steel construction said to give a 40% weight reduction, and furnished with four rotating armchair-type seats. These can be swivelled for face-to-face contact, set up for working or for entertainment, and swing outwards by 30 degrees when the doors are opened for easier climbing-in and -out. The cabin’s described as “a digital arena”, with six screens on the instrument panel, rear and side panels, controlled by touch-screen, gesture or even eye-tracking and using laser-projection and LED displays.
It can be ‘driven’ manually, it seems, but this camera- and sensor-equipped car’s in constant contact with the outside world and can be commanded to operate fully-autonomously (there’s a pedestrian-detection system with automatic braking, of course, though this, spookily, involves projection of a virtual zebra-crossing and the broadcasting of a message that it’s safe to cross. Not sure I like the sound of cars issuing instructions). Says Daimler chairman Dr Dieter Zetsche, “we have a master plan (my italics) in place to take the big leap required getting from technically feasible to commercially viable.” Dr Zetsche also makes the very salient point that, by 2030, given the expected growth in the global mega-cities, “the single most important luxury goods of the 21st century are private space and time… autonomously-driving cars by Mercedes-Benz shall offer exactly that.”
Also notable is the F 015’s plug-in hybrid powertrain, with hydrogen fuel cell plus pair of electric motors; it’ll have a range of 684 miles (124 miles in all-electric mode) and can do 0-60mph in 6.7 seconds, reports Autocar – which quotes Dr Zetsche as saying: “Anyone who focuses solely on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change our society. The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space.” Luxury in Motion for those who can afford it, at least.
  • News on the Detroit Electric SP.01 Lotus-alike (£100,500 starting price): to go into production in Leamington Spa for 2016, reports Autocar, just in case you were keeping tabs on this one.
  • Some more thoughts on ‘peak car’ from Scott LeVine, looking at driver licencing amongst young men in particular: the decline in their driving (both in terms of mileage driven and licence-holding) appears to have stabilised; there appears to be little correlation between reduced driving/internet usage and attitudes to environmental concerns; economic factors are an issue (including low pay, employment rates); the more difficult driving test and cost of lessons are off-putting; still a lot of questions unanswered, basically
  • And some more detail (via the abovementioned S LeV) in a report for the RAC Foundation (Berington and Mikolai), using the Understanding Society data: young adults’ licence-holding correlates with age, education, economic activity status, individual income, living arrangement, housing tenure and rural/urban locality; reported mileage relates to age, commuting, economic activity status (more pronounced effects for women), individual income and area type, with one of the most important correlates being whether they drive to work. Not driving (despite having a licence) is associated with having low socioeconomic status/being unemployed, remaining in education, living in London and in shared accommodation. The report also points out the growing phenomenon of “emerging adulthood” – staying in parental home/studying for longer, later marriage/children/home ownership, etc, “important structural changes in the way that young adults make their transition from school to work” – and the impact of intergenerational financial support (i.e. having affluent parents who pay for driving lessons). It suggests looking further into the link between lower driving and the expansion of higher education since the 1990s; and whether there is actually a shift in lifestyle and preferences that will mean this generation’s lower driving rates will continue as they age, have children and soforth.
  • Trend-reporting from Ford for 2015, looking at Generation Z (born 1993-): they’re digitally-savvy, socially-conscious, into sharing rather than tying themselves into soon-to-be-obsolete tech, don’t like carrying stuff (keys, wallets etc) and are looking at a convergence of transport and communication, amongst other claimed insights in the Looking Further With Ford 2015 report, outlined and linked-to here.
  • And a report by John Urry et al (incl. folk from the Centre for Mobilities Research and Liveable Cities teams at Lancaster University) for the government’s Foresight Future of Cities project. This outlines historic urban growth and suggests five possible future scenarios – High-Tech City, Digital City, Liveable City and Fortress City (surveillance, etc) – hydrogen-fuelled, shared/on-demand driverless cars and slow-moving microvehicles feature in the first three projections, related to changes in commuting/working patterns, localism, virtual communication and soforth. The fourth scenario is the Mad Max social/infrastructural breakdown… But could larger cities see a mixture/combination of these by district?



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