05 November 2017

45th Tokyo Motor Show - Highlights

The Tokyo Motor Show is back again, allowing mainly the Japanese manufacturers to showcase their latest design thinking in new concepts.  Technical details seem a little hard to come-by, so this post is simply a run-down of some of the more interesting visual concepts - giving us hope perhaps, that we may not all be driving (or being driven in) bland homologous shapes.

Honda Sports EV Concept

Hot on the heels of the Urban EV Concept revealed recently at the Frankfurt Motor Show, and teased a few weeks ago, Honda have now revealed their gorgeous Sports EV Concept.
Honda Sports EV Concept

Honda Sports EV Concept

Mitsubishi e-Evolution Concept

In the UK, Mitsubishi had a surprise hit with its Outlander PHEV, helped considerably by tax incentives (now significantly reduced for private buyers, as it's not a pure EV).  At Tokyo, a new e-Evolution Concept has been revealed, under the design philosophy of "Robust and Ingenious".

Mitsubishi e-Evolution Concept

Mitsubishi Electric EMIRAI 4 Concept

Mitsubishi Electric (not to be confused with the automotive brand above which is part of the Renault/Nissan Alliance), revealed a concept called the EMIRAI 4, exploring how connectivity and autonomous features can improve safety, convenience and the environment.
Mitsubishi Electric

Nissan IMx

Nissan has a worldwide hit with the Nissan Leaf, and with a new model recently launched, no doubt will continue to drive higher sales.  They also have innovation coming with some of their vehicle to grid (V2G) initiatives.

At Tokyo, Nissan revealed the IMx EV, which has a planned range of 600km, and can drive fully autonomously, with the steering wheel disappearing into the dashboard. Is this the car which will bring sustainable motoring to the masses?  

Nissan IMx


Back in the 1980's, Suzuki had a near monopoly for small 4WD cars, with the Jimny/SJ413 and Vitara models.  The market evolved though, and with SUVs and crossovers the form factors of choice, and 4WD powertrains available from most manufacturers, Suzuki have lost market share.  So, as they approach their centenary in 2020, how are they embracing the market for four wheel drive EVs?  Well, take a look at this, the e-SURVIVOR:

Yes, it's a slight contrast to the rest of the bunch... but actually could carve out a useful niche for certain applications.

Toyota Concept-i Series

Toyota have been one of the vanguards of powertrain innovation for many years, and if rumours are true from the motor show, their developments in solid-state battery technology and cost-effective hydrogen power, could give them the edge in coming years too.

Alongside some innovative new hybrid-powered designs, Toyota added to its Concept-i Series, with the RIDE and WALK.
Toyota Concept-i Series

Toyota Fine-Comfort Ride

Fuel-celled powered comfort has been provided with Toyota's slightly peculiarly named Fine-Comfort Ride.

Toyota Fine-Comfort Ride

Toyota Sora

Another reveal of note was their concept fuel-cell bus, called Sora.  We should expect to see an evolution of this concept on the streets of Tokyo during the 2020 Olympics, with an additional application of being an emergency power source in case of natural disaster.
Toyota Sora Concept Bus

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


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


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.

    • 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.


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