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The Future is Now
The Rise & Rise of the Electric Car
The viability of the electric vehicle divides many but car manufactures and car–sharing companies rolled out countless partnerships in 2013, whether it was Toyota and City CarShare in California, Renault and Autolib in France or Nissan and the city of Yokohama, Japan. Perhaps it’s no coincidence, then, that electric vehicle sales were up about 300 percent on the year through November, according to the most recent sales data. Leading the segment were Nissan’s Leaf and Tesla’s Model S, which experienced triple– and quadruple–digit growth, respectively. This year also featured the market debut of Chevy’s Spark EV and a strong year of growth for the Ford Focus Electric, the Honda Fit EV, the Mitsubishi I and the Toyota RAV4 EV. December 2013 saw sales of all–electric vehicles and plug–in electric hybrids cross the 100,000–unit threshold.
Think about the last time you tried to find a parking spot in town? How many times did you circle the block? How much fuel did you waste? How many pedestrians or cyclists did you almost run over? Smart parking systems that combine sensors, wireless communications and mobile apps will help drivers avoid the frustration, expense and pollution associated with parking headaches. Already launched in a growing number of US cities, big corporations such as Siemens and start–ups including Fybr, Libelium, ParkMobile, Roadify and others are creating the technology to allow drivers to reserve parking through their mobile phones or accurately predict where they are most likely to find a spot.
Self Driving, Autonomous Vehicles
Sounds like the stuff of science fiction but cars will soon be driving themselves. Imagine the following scenario: a customer uses a smartphone app to request an autonomous shared vehicle, it arrives at your door and drops you to your destination, and the vehicle then either moves on and picks up another customer or parks itself and recharges. As Minority Report as this sounds, the technology has existed for years and recent research has elevated the field from experiment to near–commercial readiness. Companies including Google, Tesla, Nissan, General Motors and Ford are making major advances in self–driving vehicle technologies, and in doing so are showing that they can eliminate many of our worst driving habits such as braking too hard, accelerating too fast and taking the most traffic–congested routes. In addition, they are unlocking efficiency possibilities by enabling self–driving cars and trucks to work together on the roads in ways that humans cannot. In what was announced as the world’s first large–scale autonomous driving pilot project, Volvo is planning to introduce 100 self–driving cars to the streets of Gothenburg, Sweden, in 2017. Semi–autonomous aspects of this work likely will be rolled out earlier in advance of completely self–driving vehicles.
Mission (not so) Impossible
It might be hard to imagine, but emerging technologies are already beginning to change the way we finance, manage and use company vehicles. At Traction, we admit to geeking out on new and emerging trends. By knowing what’s around the corner, we can give you the best possible advice for you and your business.
Here are just a few of the trends we’ve got our eye on.
In 2013, peer–to–peer (P2P) car sharing emerged as a major theme. This trend, which has the potential to transform transportation for years to come, is being driven into the mainstream by startups such as Buzzcar, founded by former Zipcar CEO Robin Chase, tech giants such as SAP and people everywhere who are willing to share their vehicles for a few extra quid. And it’s not just entrepreneurs looking at this. Even some car manufacturers are seeing the sense in car sharing. General Motors, for example, is partnering with P2P car–sharing start–up RelayRides. These type of corporate car sharing schemes will be launching soon, where cars will become available to employees on demand with easy online booking and keyless technology.
Big Data & Transport Efficiency
Despite the vastly superior efficiency of trains, railroads are highly complex networks in need of constant monitoring, maintenance and optimization. Yarra Trams in Melbourne, Australia, operator of the world’s largest tram and light–rail network, which spans 156 miles of track and includes more than 91,000 individual assets, this year credited Big Data analytics supplied by IBM with helping it operate its network more efficiently and sustainably. The Union Pacific Railroad in the U.S. also uses Big Data to manage its system and cut emissions, and companies such as United Parcel Service and Ford are using Big Data to further boost fuel economy and advance myriad other sustainability measures. Ford says Big Data technologies and analytics are helping the automaker guide decisions on fuel economy, alternative fuels and rare–earth minerals for batteries and powertrains. These cases are just a few of many in 2013 that illustrate how Big Data technologies and analytics are improving the efficiency of public transportation systems, railroads and personal vehicles to make mechanised transportation more sustainable.
Rocky Mountain Institute co–founder Amory Lovins wrote earlier this year that “lightweighting” has been “the hottest strategic trend for several years,” as car manufacturers react to stricter fuel economy rules not only by introducing EV, PHEVs and hybrids to the market, but also by simply moving to lighter and even ultra–light vehicles. “The auto industry is finally beginning the fundamental change we’ve been advocating since 1991,” wrote Lovins. “Lightweighting” is at the center of RMI’s “platform fitness” approach, which advances the notion that vehicle engineers and manufactures first should focus on optimising the structure of vehicles before even considering which fuel source or engine technology to use. Moving to lighter materials, such as carbon–fiber–reinforced plastic, can have a huge positive impact both on the bottom line by requiring “80 percent less autobody manufacturing capital,” and on the environment by saving in the U.S. alone “half an OPEC’s worth of oil.” This year showed that carmakers are clearly moving in this direction, with brands such as BMW, Honda and Hyundai bringing ultra–light vehicles into the showrooms and onto the streets. The understanding that efficiency measures such as “lightweighting” should be the first fuel of choice is definitely coming through.