13 September 2017

Frankfurt Motor Show - Sustainability Highlights

When I first started writing about the sustainability highlights of the global motor shows in 2015 (which of course wasn't that long ago), things were very different. 'Dieselgate' hadn't happened, and for the majority of manufacturers, introducing a mild-hybrid into one model felt like a sensible 'toe-dip into the water' around future powertrains.  Fast forward to today, and Frankfurt 2017 was always going to be a milestone, with the German automotive industry using it as a showcase of their future strategies.  Rather than outline all of the new models and concepts, I've picked-out a few of the significant updates, with each title providing a link to further information from the manufacturer.

Audi Aicon

Audi have revealed their Audi Aircon design concept, with advanced autonomous controls meaning the inside space is a luxurious place to relax.


Audi Aicon Design Concept
BMW i3s

Announced towards the end of August, the BMW i3S is a sporty take on their highly successful i3 (which has also had some revisions). Coming with a 135kW electric motor, and sports suspension, the i3s should appeal to the more enthusiastic driver. A 2 cylinder petrol engine is available to provide range extension too, as an option.


BMW i3s

BMW i Vision Dynamics (i5)

Still at BMW, their much anticipated EV to sit between the i3 and i8 has been revealed in concept form.  It is likely to be called the i5, with four doors, and an anticipated range of 373 miles.

It's due to be launched in 2021, perhaps giving the chance for Tesla, Jaguar and even Mercedes to build significant market share with their respective models.  I'd also assume that with improved battery densities, they might revise the range upwards before then?

Worth also mentioning that BMW have announced their intention to offer 25 models with an electrification option by 2025, with 12 of them being pure electric.



BMW i Vision Dynamics (i5)

Honda CRV

With the number of SUVs being sold in Europe, and the vast majority being diesels (Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and stablemate Lexus NX300h/RX450h being exceptions), it's great to see the popular Honda CRV getting a Hybrid option.  But perhaps what's more interesting is that the only other option in Europe will be a 1.5 litre turbocharged petrol engine - a very clear sign that they don't see the market for diesels in the very near future.


Honda CRV Hybrid

Honda Urban EV Concept

Honda have stolen a lot of headlines, and perhaps some hearts, with its cute and gorgeous Urban EV Concept.  With a more than a whiff of Mk1 Golf, I expect VW are fuming at such a vehicle being released in Frankfurt!  Although it's just a concept, Honda have confirmed a 2019 production release for something very similar, so I'd be surprised if it isn't a strong seller.


Honda Urban EV Concept


Honda Urban EV Concept

Honda have also committed that every new European model will have an electrification powertrain option.

Finally, Honda also released more information about their Power Manager proposition. Similar to solutions from Nissan, it's some clever hardware and software which will allow a user to optimise the energy consumed, stored and sold through a 'Vehicle to Grid/Home' (V2G/H) solution.


Honda Power Manager

Jaguar IPACE eTROPHY


We've already seen the launch of the iPace, due to hit showrooms next year.  But Jaguar didn't disappoint us - outlining the introduction of a new racing series to run alongside the Formula E races.  Much like the existing Touring Car Championship in the UK, let's hope it delivers a really exciting and engaging showcase for EVs. Jaguar Land Rover will offer an electric option (inc. hybrid) in all its model lineup from 2020, with rumours of a plug-in Range Rover Sport to be released this year


JAGUAR IPACE eTROPHY

Mercedes EQA Concept

By 2022, Mercedes-Benz Cars is planning to have more than ten all-electric vehciles on the market - and their EQA concept shows how they might tackle the compact segment.  It will have twin electric motors (one per axle), and a range up to 400km.

Mercedes EQA Concept



MINI Electric Concept

Not wanting Honda to take all the cuteness points, MINI (part of the BMW Group) have revealed their MINI Electric Concept, planned to be built in Oxford (but powertrain built in Germany)

 
MINI Electric Concept


Smart Vision EQ ForTwo Concept

With traditional car ownership dwindling, and car/ride-sharing models growing in significance, I was surprised not to see more models explicitly designed to support these new business models.  Daimler-owned Smart have done so though, with a neat concept, the Smart Vision EQ ForTwo Concept.


Smart Vision EQ ForTwo Concept


Samsung SDI

Finally, Samsung revealed some battery innovation, with a modular system, allowing additional modules to be added to deliver additional range. They've also introduced a reduced height form-factor, inevitably of interest to car manufacturers wanting to maximise internal space. 

Samsung SDI

29 May 2017

Sustainable Mobility - What's Next?

Regular readers of my blog or my Twitter feed (@UK_Richard) will know that I've been writing sustainability updates on mobility for several years.  These have included briefs on the global motor shows, reflections on emerging mobility business models, and the inevitable resurgence of cycling in city centres. It's been fascinating to document some of the changes which have happened, including:
  • Hybrid powertrains being an option in almost every model from each manufacturer
  • Disruptive EV-only start-ups providing a wake-up call to the incumbent OEMs caught napping
Tesla Model X, a pure-electric SUV

  • 'Dieselgate' and the accompanying toxic air pollution acting as a 'burning platform' for regulatory change, and even civil unrest
  • The pace of autonomous vehicle technology raising fundamental questions about the role of the driver (not to mention liabilities and the insurance industry) - but potentially providing step change improvements in safety
  • Hydrogen fuel cells refusing to disappear as a viable alternative to lithium-ion batteries, but with unanswered questions about the viability (and sustainability) of a distributed refuelling infrastructure
Hydrogen fuel-cell enabled Nikola One EV

  • The implication on the electricity grid with EVs acting as portable energy storage, whilst often needing to charge at the same time, during the evening peak
  • Cycle sharing schemes, including the introduction of dockless ones, and e-Bikes


  • Car sharing, evolving into 'Mobility as a Service' (MaaS) models, supporting multi-modal journeys with single payment gateways and routing, allowing train operators to extend their reach beyond the platform
  • Ride hailing business models like Uber, reinforcing the doubts the younger generation have about whether car ownership is even desirable anymore
  • Train electrification and growth of light-rail, including use of batteries, where line electrification isn't economical, or hydrogen fuel-cell powered trains
  • RailBaar static train battery charging
Time to gaze into the crystal ball to outline some of the changes we might expect to see in the next 5-10 years.  In sustainability, experience would suggest that for mass adoption, a few factors need to work together - personal aspiration, the right regulatory framework, cost parity, technology availability, social acceptance, etc.  But it's clear that in the mobility sector, the planets are aligning nicely to allow us to be very optimistic about the future.

Vehicle Design
  • To-date, the majority of EVs have replicated existing form factors (SUVs, saloons, etc.).  However, I expect we'll see three emerging form factors start to gain more traction:
    • Micro-delivery vehicles. Competing perhaps with air-borne drones and pedal-powered solutions, Small form-factor delivery EVs will start to gain market share in busy urban cities.  Deutsche Post's spin-off StreetScooter is a great example.

StreetScooter
    • As on-demand ride-sharing grows in cities, I'm expecting something with more seats than a car, but less than a bus to be the perfect compromise, much like what CityMapper are trialling.  Efficiently and predictably getting people to their destinations, public transport will become desirable again!

CityMapper Minibus

Gogoro 2 (offroad version)
    • Finally, as cities become ever louder voices in supporting innovative mobility solutions to combat air pollution, I'd be surprised if we don't start to see a lot more tram systems being built in cities, and perhaps even the trolleybus will return?
  • Modularity of vehicle design seems likely, allowing a vehicle to be 'right-sized' for a particular time of day. However, this will take a few different forms:
    • Allow the physical joining or sensor-based 'platooning' of vehicles travelling on the same route to travel in a 'chain', 'disconnecting' as they branch-off to their final destination
    • An individual vehicle made of modular core components, allowing for example, an extra row of seats, or additional storage to be added
  • Autonomous vehicles are coming, with most manufacturers promising at least one model by 2020/21.  I am expecting a split though:
    • A.) the technology and user experience that allows passengers to avoid driving all together, perhaps exploiting super-fast internet access to watch entertainment, do work, or even keep fit on the move
    • B.) less intrusive autonomous driving capabilities, which do not detract from the enjoyment of driving, but enhance it, whilst providing the option to communicate with other autonomous vehicles and improve occupant safety
  • There's rightly a focus on exhaust emissions from vehicles, and of course EV powertrains will prevent that.  However, one of the 'elephants in the room' is that there's significant energy involved in manufacturing the vehicle in the first place.  As society moves from individual ownership to shared fleets, we should see increasing focus on extending the life, durability and maintenance of vehicles, with
    • Sensors to monitor all aspects of vehicle health remotely, to support preventative maintenance
    • Modularity / ease of disassembly to allow damaged components to be swapped-out
    • Simple battery swap-outs
    • Use of remanufactured parts, whilst retaining (or exceeding) existing warranties
    • Safety features meaning a step-change reduction in accidents
Mobility Ecosystem (including Vehicle to Infrastructure - V2I)

I expect to see a significant increase in the ways vehicles interact with the environment within which they are operating.  There are some barriers to this, including the need for common standards, data privacy and cyber-security, but some concepts are very likely to gain traction, as the 'Internet of Things' (IoT) starts to create the 'smart city' of the future:


  • Traffic signal integration. Essentially an evolution of existing sensors which can detect traffic queuing at red lights, interaction between the approaching vehicle and lights will help smooth traffic through an area, much like what Audi have trialled in the US. Prioritisation could be made to the emergency services, or perhaps even those that pay a premium?
Audi's V2I traffic-light integration
  • Street light integration.  Even with LED luminaries, street light costs are significant - yet often unused roads are being lit.  It's straightforward to detect upcoming traffic (or pedestrians) and turn on lights, only when required.
  • Street light EV charging. With the need for a significant rollout of public EV charging points, allowing vehicles to plug into street lights seems like a pragmatic approach to take.   

Charging an EV via a street light in London, UK

  • Smart parking.  As a precursor to autonomous vehicles being able to park themselves to charge, we are going to see a proliferation of 'smart parking' solutions. These will help drivers find, reserve and pay for parking spaces, with costs determined by factors like day of week, time, and local traffic and weather conditions.  As around 30% of drivers in urban areas are actively looking for a parking space, this has a huge opportunity to reduce congestion and air pollution.  A virtuous circle could exist where redundant car parks could be converted to green spaces, helping improve air quality further.
  • Vehicle to Home (V2H) / Grid (V2G).  A charged Electric Vehicle is portable energy storage - potentially an important asset to the local electricity grid operator, especially when aggregated across a fleet.  We will start to see incumbent energy suppliers and new aggregators offering incentives for vehicles to be charged (or not charged) at certain locations and times.  And within the home too, a connected EV could act as battery storage to store excess generation from solar panels, and conversely used to power the home at night.
  • Dynamic Wireless EV Charging.  After a recent successful trial by Renault and Qualcomm, we may start to see charging of electric vehicles whilst they are travelling, eliminating the need for static EV charging points.  More generally, inductive charging will grow, removing the hassle of managing burdensome EV cables
  • Dynamic Road Pricing.  Road charging today is relatively crude, either tolls on stretches of road, or charging zones.  In the near future, we will start to see more innovative charging models, based on other factors, such as the number of occupants, which powertrain mode is used, local air quality, etc.
  • Smart-ready Roads.  Autonomous vehicle technology relies on clear road markings and signs.  We are starting to see trials of smarter roads, surely an important prerequisite to facilitate the safe transition to fully autonomous fleets.
  • Inter-modal Integration. With superfast connectivity and big-data solutions, there isn't an excuse now for better integration between different modes of transport. Expect to see boundaries continuing to blur between public and private transport, with incumbents and start-ups offering a seamless experience between rail, road and river, with integrated ticketing systems, timetables (or on-demand), and route optimisation. Deutshe Bahn are looking at providing on-demand last-mile autonomous vehicle pickups from train stations, for example.


Regulation

Finally, it's worth noting the local, regional and national governments, law-enforcement agencies and standards bodies will have an important role to support this rapid change. The following areas will be of particular interest:

  • Managing the transition away from diesel (and perhaps petrol too), with changes required to support scrappage of vehicles, vehicle excise duty, support for dwindling fuel retail outlets, etc.
  • Ensuring compatibility and quality standards for EV charging points
  • 'Rules' for autonomous vehicles, e.g. how should they behave given the choice between crashing into another car, or hitting a pedestrian?
  • How best the insurance industry should evolve to support autonomous vehicles and sharing business models
  • Cyber-security and protection of personal data
  • Protecting the electricity distribution grid from additional supply and demand spikes caused by EV charging and V2G/V2H models
  • Supporting peer-to-peer EV chargepoint models, considering safety of vehicles and users
  • Competition rules, as incumbent vehicle manufacturers, and energy suppliers/distributors may exploit a potentially dominant position
  • EV battery re-use and ultimate disposal
  • Vehicle design and manufacturing standards to support the circular economy, including quality of remanufactured parts
  • Protecting customers if finance houses (e.g. from car manufacturers) have over-exposed themselves to risk with diesel depreciation (most private vehicles are bought on PCP in the UK)
  • Regulation and standards to support new 'smart city' solutions, like dynamic road pricing, smart parking and traffic light integration
  • The decarbonisation of public transport, and allowing new service entrants to challenge the incumbents with innovation business models (i.e. opening-up monopolistic routes to competition)
  • Support for hydrogen refuelling infrastructure
  • Further promotion of safer cycling
  • Standards for inter-modal ticketing solutions
  • Skills training for professional drivers, who may see their roles being taken-over by autonomous vehicles
  • Managing our skies (and underground?) - supporting drones for deliveries and movement of people



To summarise then, we're about to enter an unparalleled level of change in how people and goods move between places.  If we get this right, we'll be moving around in a much cleaner environment, more quickly arriving at our destination, and turning wasteful commute time into productive, creative, social experiences.  Exciting times indeed...



16 February 2017

London's Air Pollution - Tactical Fixes?

As air pollution in cities continues to make headlines and health impacts become clearer, national governments and cities are under pressure to introduce new regulations.  There are of course a large range of options in the regulator's tool-box, from congestion charging (e.g. London's upcoming T-Charge), and tailpipe emission regulations, through to incentives to promote vehicle sharing or temporarily banning certain vehicle registrations.  Specific 'anti-diesel' measures are also emerging (e.g. parking surcharge in Westminster Council, UK), as a broader appreciation of impacts from carbon, NOx and particulate emissions is understood.  And technological innovations will continue to provide solutions, from powertrain advances, to 'Mobility as a Service' propositions and V2I solutions.  

UK's capital, London, is far from immune from air pollution, in fact it's breaching all sorts of limits.  It's also where I work, with part of my regular commute being between Waterloo, over towards the iconic St. Paul's Cathedral.


St. Paul's Cathedral, London
There are plenty of ways to get between these two parts of London - all of them (except taxi) being relatively sustainable - Santander Cycle Hire, the Electric-powered 521 bus, the underground tube, or my choice - walking.


A BYD Electric Bus on the 521 route in London, 15th Feb 2017


London's cycle hire scheme, 16th Feb 2017

However, none of these sustainable forms of transport mean the user is immune to air pollution (in fact, perhaps surprisingly, it's particular bad on the underground).  Whilst Sadiq Khan (The Mayor of London) continues his focus on shaping strategic interventions, below I've outlined three relatively simple tactical things, which might improve things in London just a little...

Here are the three simple steps I'd consider:

1. Update the Routemaster timetables to avoid peak times

Tourists and Londoners alike love our classic Routemaster buses, so it was great to see them reinstated on 'Heritage routes' in 2005.  Since July 2014, they only serve Route 15 (between Trafalgar Square and Blackwall).


A Routemaster Bus on Route 15, London, 15th Feb 2017
Although they've been refurbished since being originally built, they certainly aren't using cutting-edge powertrain technology - and are often stuck in congestion, with engines running.  On the assumption that these buses are some of the least emissions-friendly running in London, should timetables be updated, so they only run when there is less likelihood of traffic jams?  Or should they be taken off the roads altogether?  Longer-term, hopefully a Euro VI compliant Cummins engine could mean their emissions can be reduced dramatically.


2. Discourage drivers leaving engines idling at traffic lights

In England, leaving an engine idling whilst parked is actually illegal, but doesn't apply when waiting at traffic lights or in a traffic jam.  However, for a large number of London's roads during rush hour, cars are only inching forwards over a period of minutes, with engines left on.  Start-stop technology means this is not a problem for some new cars, but the vast majority of cars, vans and lorries on London's roads today don't yet benefit from this.

Take Blackfriar's Bridge Northbound in the morning as an example.  Whilst cyclists, buses and walkers continue unhindered, the rest of the traffic can be stuck in traffic for an extended period.


A queue of traffic Northbound over Blackfriar's Bridge, London, February 2017

A cost-effective 'nudge' might be to erect signs on the lamposts (helpfully next to the driver's windows in the centre of the bridge) asking drivers to switch off whilst queuing.  How else could behavioural change be used to make switching engines off the 'social norm'?

3. Adapt taxi ranks to be on downward slopes

Whilst we wait for taxis to have hybrid powertrains, taxi ranks are currently full of diesel-powered taxis, nudging forwards every few moments, as a new passenger at the front of the queue heads-off (often to pay for the privilege of being stuck in traffic around the corner).  It would take a bit of re-positioning, or some adaptations, but wouldn't a downward sloping taxi rank mean the engines could be left off, allowing drivers to move forwards without the engine being on?


The front of the (very long) taxi rank at Waterloo Station, London, 15th Feb 2017

All images © Richard Waters 

30 September 2016

Paris Motor Show 2016 - Sustainability Highlights

The Paris Motor Show (Mondial De L’Automobile) may not have attracted all of the big automotive brands, but even so, from a sustainability perspective, it may just mark the tipping-point where the electric vehicle becomes a realistic proposition for mass market consumers, with several key launches outlined below.  For a few years now, I have been writing about sustainability-related news from the motorshow circuit, and the majority of stories a have been about hybrid powertrains entering into most model lineups. It's therefore really exciting to see the growing dominance of pure-electric solutions, with traditional barriers of range anxiety and availability of charging points reducing.  Ironically, 'Dieselgate' may be one of the most successful catalysts in society's transition towards sustainable mobility.

As an aside, we are also seeing some fundamental shifts in business models for the whole industry, with the previously aspirational concept of car ownership being challenged.  New technology using autonomous fleets will introduce a blur between private and public transport.  It's actually at another venue in Paris where some of this is being explored and showcased, at the Autonomy Festival of Urban Mobility.  But manufacturers are starting to respond slowly, but surely, leaving an interesting mix of OEMs and startups vying for the same revenue streams.

Anyway, back to the cars...

Mercedes-Benz Generation EQ

As a potential competitor to Tesla's Model X (and an electric Jaguar F-Pace), Mercedes have introduced an all-wheel drive electric concept car, called 'Generation EQ'.  A range of 500km is touted, with a power output of up to 300kW.

In fact, Generation EQ is heralding a new electric sub-brand, EQ, which stands for 'Electric Intelligence'. Additionally, a newly announced sub-division called CASE (Connected, Autonomous, Shared, Electric) will hopefully herald a raft of sustainable innovation.


Mercedes-Benz Generation EQ



Although not destined for the UK, the Ampera-e is launching in Europe with an impressive range, ahead of some of its competitors.  Its US sibling is the Chevrolet Bolt, and the stats are impressive, with an 150kW motor offering-up 50kph in 3.2s, and range of 222 miles.


Opel Ampera-e



Renault Zoe Q90

The Renault Zoe has been upgraded, with a 41kWh battery offering 250 miles of range (somewhat less for 'real world' conditions), all helping to alleviate range anxiety.
Renault Zoe

Renault Trezor

Renault have launched the sensual Trezor ("Treasure") at Paris, with a 260kW motor, helping the 2-seat 4.7m long GT get to 62mph in less than 4 seconds.


Renault Trezor

Smart Electric Drive

Due for a European launch in early 2017, the three sibling models (fortwo, forfour and fortwo cabrio) will offer compact electric city driving.  A 17.6kWh battery and 60kW motor will offer a range of around 155km.  Although the non-petrol versions have been around for a while, they haven't had a huge success.  However, when clean electric power is combined with urban car-sharing schemes, you could see it as a really potent mobility solution for our cities. 


Smart fortwo cabrio electric drive


Volkswagen I.D.

Due to be launched in 2020, the VW Golf sized I.D. is part of VW's strategic response to 'dieselgate', and part of the stated ambition to have sold a million EVs by 2025.

The I.D. has a retractable steering-wheel, so it's out of the way when used autonomously in 'I.D. Pilot mode' (likely to be supported from 2025).  The 125kW electric motor has a range from 249 miles (potentially more with different battery configurations).

We'll expect to see a similar 'design language' echoed in a wide variety of EVs from VW in the future...


VW I.D.





And finally...

There were some nice hybrid concepts too - here's a couple:

Citroen CXPERIENCE


Citroen CXPERIENCE (concept)


Mitsubishi GT PHEV


Mitsubishi GT PHEV



24 July 2016

"Tesla Master Plan - Part Deux" - initial reflections

Earlier this week, Elon Musk released his second 10 year Master Plan, outlining his strategy to help deliver Tesla's Mission of "accelerating the advent of sustainable energy".  By bringing SolarCity and Tesla together, the foundation is very strong, and Elon's plan is summarised in his own words as:
  • "Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage
  • Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments
  • Develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual via massive fleet learning
  • Enable your car to make money for you when you aren't using it"
Below, I'll outline why I believe Tesla is absolutely tackling some of the key challenges we face in order to live more sustainably - and shaking-up entire industries in the process.  But I'll also outline the importance for Tesla to:
  • Understand what Tesla's core competencies are, which lead to long-term competitive advantage
  • Understand which parts of the value chain it should play an active part, versus which it should play a supporting role
  • Decide whether it can continue to be an aspirational consumer brand and be attractive to other customers, across a breadth of propositions
I'll take each of Master Plan bullets in turn and provide some thoughts - I'd welcome your feedback.

Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage

The cost of solar PV continues to plummet, and despite the reduction in government subsidies in some countries, it is an increasingly attractive technology for providing reliable, clean energy.


Solar panels

In isolation though, one of the constraints for residential solar is that it's often generating the most energy during the middle of the day - whilst the property may well be unoccupied.  Smart appliances (e.g. washing machines, dishwashers) may go some way to better match energy supply with demand within a home (they can be scheduled), but energy storage is arguably more attractive, allowing energy generated during the day to be stored for use during evening peaks.

Tesla Powerwall
 
Tesla have released their Powerwall and with the incorporation of SolarCity, they are looking to provide "One ordering experience, one installation, one service contact, one phone app".  This could be a real differentiator in a fragmented market, especially with limited competition in energy storage (although the competition is coming fast, e.g. Sonnen have  just reduced their costs by 40% in the US, and Daimler have entered the market).
 
Some thoughts to consider though:
  • The 'sexiness' of the Tesla cars appeals to buyers, and Tesla is hoping some of that magic will wear-off into domestic energy storage.  However, although there may be some differentiation in phone apps and aesthetic design (but will the mass-market want to show-off batteries on the wall?), solar + storage is a relatively commoditised proposition - and it may lead to it being very price competitive.  Of course, Tesla is hoping its economies of scale through the Gigafactory will help. 
  • In the Master Plan, there's no explicit mention of integrating an EV's battery in a 'Vehicle to Home' way, albeit I'd assume software could be developed for the car battery's integrity to be maintained, whilst also offering the chance to provide energy for the evening domestic peak.  I recently wrote about how Nissan (and also BMW) are trialling such a concept.
  • Tesla with SolarCity appear to be looking to cover a large part of the value chain, from building the batteries (the cells are sourced Panasonic and Samsung), through to product design (hardware and software), installation, operations and servicing.  It's unusual for a young organisation to be able to continue to maintain excellence across such a diverse range of capabilities, without exploring franchising, licensing, outsourcing, or different routes to market.
  • Solar and storage solutions aren't going to penetrate every household.  Challenges of house ownership, inappropriate rooftops, installation inconvenience, buyer apathy, costs of technologies and local regulation are all barriers to be overcome.
  • Energy Storage also has significant potential in commercial buildings, industry and within the smart grid itself.  It's not clear if Tesla see that as a significant route to market or not.  It would help deliver economise of scale... but are Tesla/SolarCity the obvious choice of supplier for potential buyers?

Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments

Tesla's plan was always to introduce EVs at a more affordable pricepoint than the Model S and Model X, and with the upcoming Model 3, it's well on the way to achieving that - if it can produce at the volume and quality required. 

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model X

As well as a suggestion of an electric-powered pickup truck (a popular format in North America, but not in Europe), and a more compact SUV, the latest Master Plan aims to tackle two other areas - mass-transit, and freight.


Mass transit ("high passenger-density urban transport")

With air pollution a growing problem in cities, and the need for shared transport to have a growing role to help tackle congestion, EV-powered urban transport must be part of the solution for future smart cities.  In fact, some manufacturers already have solutions (e.g. BYD) and there are also hydrogen fuel cell powered and induction-plate charging solutions.  Meanwhile, Mercedes recently showcased some impressive autonomous features of a bus.

Elon hints at potentially reducing the size of buses, and I strongly believe there is a huge opportunity there - on-demand services which sit in size between traditional scheduled buses, and ride-sharing taxi services (like Uber Pool).  Such 'micro-bus' services are very common in some parts of the world, and I assume it's partly regulatory barriers which prevent them being more prevalent.

Smart cities must support the full breadth of shared mobility solutions, and to maximise the sustainability of travel, it may also be that light-rail, trams and trolley-buses have a growing role to play.

For Tesla's mission then, tackling 'high passenger density urban transport' is an obvious segment to go for - the question for buyers (not users) of such services, e.g. city authorities, is why Tesla?

Freight

With freight, there's a real challenge with electrification, as batteries take-up precious space and are an additional weight to shift.  ***UPDATE July 27th - Daimler have just revealed their eTruck which seems to meet this challenge***

Daimler eTruck

Scania have approached the task in an innovative way, with their Electric Road Trial - using overhead cables to provide the electricity.  Other ways to move freight more sustainably are using technology to provide safe 'platooning' - conveys of lorries travelling very closely behind each other, much like a team of cyclists does.  It's been successfully trialled in mainland Europe, and the UK Government has approved a trial there too.



Scania's Electric Road, Gävle, Sweden

It will be interesting to see how Tesla tackle the freight challenge - and they've promised 'fun', which is intriguing (and terrifying) in equal measure.

As well as improving the drivetrain of freight, from a sustainability perspective, there are (at least) three other approaches which would reap additional dividends:
  • changing attitudes to consumerism, so less 'stuff' is travelling around to meet our insatiable needs
  • modal shifts to rail and water barges
  • better logistics management, using technology to share empty return legs for other products
It will be interesting to see what Tesla has to offer in this space.


Develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual via massive fleet learning

Tesla have already gone to market with autonomous features ahead of the competition, with Elon arguing that, despite a recent tragic fatality, it is safer than relying on just human input.  As more miles are undertaken in autonomous modes, more learning will occur, systems refined, and safer roads will become a reality.  Most manufacturers are citing around 2020/21 for having autonomous vehicles available, and there's an acknowledgement that regulation may take a while longer.  So Tesla continue to push boundaries, not without its risks, but perhaps ultimately helping us all to travel safer (and more sustainably).



One of the interesting reflections for the Tesla brand and autonomy beyond the early adopters is how to manage the tension between giving an amazing driving experience for the enthusiastic driver, versus providing autonomous features, allowing the 'driver' to just be another passenger.  I sense long-term that brands, customers, ownership and business models will not happily straddle both.  Interestingly, Audi have just announced a new subsidiary, SDS, for developing its autonomous vehicles.


Enable your car to make money for you when you aren't using it

I've always been a huge fan of the 'sharing economy' (or 'collaborative consumption' to give it an alternative term).  From a sustainability perspective, it 'maximises the utilisation of a physical asset', or in simple terms, lets other people use something when the owner doesn't need it, allowing the owner to make some money in the process.  AirBnB has taken shared accommodation by storm, and there are plenty of mobility business models already - car sharing (e.g. ZipCar), ride hailing (e.g. Uber) and lift sharing (e.g. Lyft).  Incumbent automotive manufacturers like BMW are getting directly involved too, and in fact GM's first autonomous car will be electric - and launched via ride-sharing platform Lyft

Tesla's proposal for car sharing seems to be two-fold:
  • "You will also be able to add your car to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app and have it generate income for you while you're at work or on vacation"
  • "In cities where demand exceeds the supply of customer-owned cars, Tesla will operate its own fleet, ensuring you can always hail a ride from us no matter where you are."

From a sustainability perspective, Tesla is right to acknowledge the trend, and like other manufacturers, should look to make its vehicles as reliable and easily-repairable as possible to support the increased utilisation car-sharing demands.  However, I do struggle a little to see what this will look like in reality.  Some of the challenges include:

  • Would a proud Tesla owner who enjoys the driving experience of their Tesla really want to run the risk of strangers driving their car?
  • Insurance liabilities are already complex once autonomous capabilities are introduced into vehicles.  But when an owner then shares such a vehicle with a stranger who may not be familiar with the car, it's even more challenging. 
  • Although I could see third-party ride-sharing companies (or cities themselves) running Tesla vehicles in their fleet, the additional overhead of Tesla managing the local operational challenges of its own fleet seems optimistic.

Summary

Elon Musk's vision and ability to execute is unique, and should be applauded.  He's absolutely right to stretch the role that electrification has in mobility, and accompanied by renewable generation, helps distance critics where the carbon intensity of the electricity grid is not favourable.  And it's so satisfying to see such vision, leadership and investments in sustainability, helping nudge other companies to take notice. 

With the recent Master Plan though, I am left with a few lingering thoughts:
  • The 'sexiness' of the brand which has been so attractive to the early adopters may fade as it tackles a broader portfolio of propositions, aims for scale, and competition enters the market.  What is Tesla's USP in the long-term, and who is the buyer?
  • Regulatory barriers and associated enablers like insurance products may not move at the pace which Telsa needs to maintain its competitive advantage... and the emerging and established players in both automotive and energy aren't likely to let Tesla stay ahead of much longer.
  • Is Elon trying to do too much, rather than focus on 2 or 3 things and execute them brilliantly?
Time will tell, but I hugely admire what Tesla is trying to achieve and wish Elon and the whole company every success.
 
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