Electric Cars – Remember Them?


Electric Cars – Remember Them?

It seems that just about every day we have another a seismic shift in the way we move around, and this will, interchangeably, spell the end of our industry and/or change the planet. We are all going to use Uber/Lyft or whatever, meaning that parking won’t be needed because we will divest ourselves of our cars in droves and rely on others to move us in theirs. And after all isn’t an Uber just a form of autonomous vehicle, with an already fully developed and tested driving system? 

This doesn’t quite hold up outside the US of A at least, as there is gradually growing avalanche of countries and cities where, having looked at the downside of this future decide “Thanks but no thanks”. Uber has quit SE Asia and seems to be in trouble in India where the first few drivers earned big bucks, so much so that people gave up jobs and took on loans for new cars. Now there are so many drivers that drivers claim that they can’t earn enough to cover their costs. 

Of course, none of this matters because, probably next week, we are all switching to environmentally sustainable autonomous vehicle which we will rent by the trip, never own and won’t need to park ever again. Or not. I believe that autonomy is inevitable, computers and systems inevitably develop and get better, but really don’t see the connect between automation and many fewer cars. 

Cars are used about an hour a day, but here’s the thing, they are mostly used at the same time, so all the cars head off to work in the morning, and then nobody wants them until the trip home in the evening. What are they going to do, cruise round for eight hours? No, they will be parked, by us, as now. 

Sure, this is simplistic, but in gross terms correct. And given our indissoluble attachment to our status symbols/fashion statement/sex aide, do we really want to be waiting for a beige jelly mold that has just been vacated by someone with a personal hygiene problem who ate garlic sausage for lunch? They will come but as a supplement to the fleet, not as a replacement.

Oh, the electric car thing? Well apparently, diesel is the work of the devil, although here at least, just a few years ago we were being encouraged to buy “new”, “smart” “low pollution” diesels to save the planet. Then along came Volkswagen with its cheat software and the hero became the villain overnight. Several manufacturers, seeing a good thing, announced that they were dropping diesel and the world will be saved by the electric car. 

This conveniently ignores the research that I reported a while ago that actually shows that electric vehicles produce just as many pollutants as diesel, just of a different form. It also ignores both where the power is generated and end of life issues like where to dispose of the batteries.

Last year in the UK all electric vehicles made up just 0.5% of total new car sales and, imagine my surprise, so far this year sales have dropped by just over a third. Talk is that the four Rs: Retail Price, Range, Recharging point availability and Resale value are the main reasons for this. The giddy height of 0.5% may have only been reached because any new electric vehicle starts life with a hefty $5,000 government subsidy. But this ends in April and, a few Tesla fashionistas apart, I suspect that will just about see the end of the experiment. People who want to be green are buying more hybrid vehicles, but these still have a hefty price premium because of the dual power system. I kind of wonder if they have much of a future unless someone starts to chuck in buckets of subsidy, or someone works out how to reduce costs.

Two Weeks, Two Continents, Two Shows

I have just come back from Intertraffic and then PIE, combing my visit to Amsterdam with a couple days spent with my daughter and son-in-law who are moving there. I haven’t been to the Netherlands for a year or two and it’s interesting to see a different slant on the world. N.B. any pedestrian is in continuous and imminent danger of being wiped out by cyclists or motor scooters.

We stayed in Haarlam; no not NY, or Chicago, the original one west of Amsterdam. Despite the signs which suggest that the centre is the exclusive domain of those on foot, cyclists and scooters race through with total abandon. The bikes are bad, but in Holland low-powered motor scooters can be ridden on cycle routes so you suddenly find yourself confronted by a scooter with two people, going at 20 mph and totally oblivious to the pedestrians that scatter as they approach. Surprisingly, in a country so safety aware riders do not even have to wear helmets. If you go there, take care!

I was talking to Julie Dixon at the show who explained the drive in some places to lose cash payments. I think that this is a regressive step. By all means add other options like cards and phones but none of these are universal and not everybody wants or can access these systems. The kids tell me that there is a trend in Holland for shops and restaurants to move away from cash. 

The problem is that the “universal” credit cards aren’t, universal that is. VISA, Mastercard, and their debit card siblings are universal here, but in Holland the VISA brand is not as popular as Mastercard and Maestro and a local chipcard brand. 

My daughter has occasionally been left as surety for a meal while her husband went in search of an ATM. I think that as an industry we suffer from a little bit of middle class elitism/wish fulfilment. We all have cards and cell phones, but many of our customers don’t. The private sector can be selective, it is selling a service under its terms. Municipalities should be universal providers with their services open to all.

PIE, the best ever in my humble opinion. I had SWMBO with me so spent less time at the show and in the sessions but I attended the last day symposium on Smart Parking, whatever that is. The numbers staying on endorsed the decision to run this session.

BTW I saw that John appended my March column with the comment that he would ask me my opinion on charging handicapped for parking. He didn’t but I will answer anyway; I am totally agnostic; it is a policy decision for policy makers. My comments were about the complete hypocrisy of the person that I was reporting.

Article contributed by:
Peter Guest
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