Tuesday, July 21, 2009

New Series: How can Streets save the world auto industry?

The world automotive industry churns out new cars, buses and trucks at a clip of about 70 million vehicles per year. And whatever the difficulties facing certain manufacturers in countries and regions in which they are located, and whatever may be your personal preferences, it is not about to go away. What can World Streets do to help?

For starters we can tell you about the streets, the very place in which all those vehicles you design and produce have to make their way. And if you tune in here you will see that the world's streets are changing fast, and in their new life they are very different from the ones that you planned for and cohabited with in the past. It will be important for you now to dig very deep to have a sophisticated understanding of what the streets of the (very near) future are going to look like. Because that's where your product and your business is going to make it, or break. And the winners will be the first ones out of the gate.

Cars, buses and trucks are part of our mobility future. In addition to the new ones that are coming in at that healthy deca-million clip, we currently "enjoy" an inventory on the order of not far from one billion motor vehicles of all types and sizes in various parts of our gasping planet, not including, famously, the rising swarm of motorized two wheelers that are baffling planners and policy makers in cities around the world.

Of course 99 out of 100 of these vehicles burn fossil fuels, and most of them not very efficiently at that. The environmental and climate implications of this cocktail are of course enormous.

But, like it or not, motorized automobiles are part of our future and thus it would be cosmically silly to turn our back on them for reasons of personal preference or hopes that they might just go away.

For this reason the realities of automobiles, including the ways in which they are designed, produced, marketed, packaged, paid for, owned, used, and eventually disposed of are a very important component of the New Mobility Agenda. It is thus our intention to give this our full attention, and as of next week we will begin to post the first articles in this important series.

A hoped-for dialogue and synthesis between old and new mobility. Stay tuned. Better yet, jump in and be a part of it.

Share your ideas with the editor here via editor@worldstreets.org.

Thanks to http://strangenewsnow.blogspot.com/2008_06_01_archive.html for the original of our well tempered image above.

Print this article


  1. I expect that you are familiar with Daniel Sperling and Deborah Gordon's Two Billion Cars: Driving Towards Sustainability? It is worth a read!

  2. For what we have to help to save the car industry?

    The car industry, together with oil and road-building lobby is very effective in helping itself. It reaches its goals by misinformation, advertising and lobbying (in many different ways, with some of the actions rather suspect).

    Actions of motoring industry in terms of sustainability are a typical example of negative feedback, a downward spiral:
    -- Cars in the cities make the cities unpleasant to live, so the people tend to move to the suburbs. As a consequence they buy more cars to travel to work (to the cities, those became more jammed) and more ground is getting concreted-over to make the roads for more cars...

    In US alone the cars kill every year ca. 70 000 people. It was estimated that bankruptcy of General Motor will cause loss of ca. 50 000 jobs.

    The question is: what is more valuable? (of course, one may estimate a job of any car company CEO and v-ce CEO as valuable, as lives of one thousand ordinary people ;-])

  3. Commentary on message to "Save the world auto . . . " section

    Thanks Marek. Those are excellent points and definitely part of the problem.

    As I see it our challenge, via World Streets and all the other channels available to us for this, is specifically to do what we can to help reshape the mental architecture of those who take the decisions in this sector.

    This we can do in two ways:

    1. Most urgently, by doing our bit to directly influence public policy so that the “operational envelope” in which they design, produce, market, package, and eventually dispose of their products is appropriate to the special conditions of our difficult and very different century.

    That is the task of good governance --and as we are seeing it is not one that the policy establishment has yet quite mastered. We can help them to this.

    And of course there are better and worse ways of going about this. Just one example because it is so flagrant and so current: Government should not try to specify technology in any way. Now we have known this for years, but the hard-earned lessons of the past appears to be easily forgotten. The goal of good governance is to create and enforce ambitious but do-able performance standards that will move us step by step toward sustainable mobility. Be as smart as we can, set the standards, and then step back and let them get on with the job. Let the experts figure out the best technologies to get the needed job done -- many experts, many choices, but that is what the market is all about. But let’s make sure they are working on all this within our policy envelope.

    2. Beyond that – and perhaps it is here where you may think me naïve – we should be finding better ways to dialogue with and eventually even work directly with the automotive industry to help them get a better handle on what this future mobility system is going to look like.

    Now for years the auto industry has by and large locked into an old vision of society and aspiration. Most of it pretty much unquestioned for half a century. Old habitws are hard to break. And that of course is the reason that they are suffering so much today. But my hope is that we may now be able somehow to help them develop a more accurate picture of the future which in many ways is already upon us.

    This will not I am sure be an easy process. But it is one that we should be engaging.

    Remember what William Gibson wrote” The future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed”.

    We have to help distribute it a bit more evenly. Our fellow citizens who go every day to work in the automotive industry are, after all, part of the solution. Time to get on with the future.

    Eric Britton

  4. Ian Wingrove, London.gov.ukMonday, 20 July, 2009

    A few critical thoughts on the New Mobility agenda and low carbon vehicles. I think that we need to distinguish more between what can be acheived on car reduction and what we have to 'live with' and mitigate on freight and mass transit.

    For example, Greater London has reduced its car/motorcycle traffic by 9.5% between 2000 and 2007. However, overall traffic has only reduced by 2%. This may compare well to the rest of the UK where traffic has risen by 10% over the same period, but it shows how the overall traffic reduction figure disguises a large increase in the number of light goods vehicles and buses on the roads.

    I feel that the New Mobility Agenda focuses heavilly on car reduction and provides very little information on how to deal with freight. For example, how many car clubs offer small electric vans? It also dismisses any move towards low carbon fuels as a distraction, when it should adopt a strategy which is reasonably critical of low carbon cars, but more sympathetic towards low carbon technology for vans, lorries and buses.

    I know that there are things we can do on freight, such as consolidation centres, higher fuel taxes etc... but the main changes involve large scale economic reform based upon local production for local need. Even in my more optimistic moments as a greenie, I have to admit that there will be a lot of vans around for a very long time. Finally, there is the CO2 impact of buses - there is no reason why any city in the world shouldn't follow London's example and ensure that all new buses are hybrids (at the very least).

    Thoughts welcome.

    Ian Wingrove, London.gov.uk

  5. Nice letter Eric. This agenda of open technology standards, rather than specific devices (and closed proprietary systems to solve major government needs) is one of my current agendas here in the US.

    As we all know, reduced carbon can and will be acheive by low carbon fuels, low carbon modes, low carbon behaviors, transactions, and access. The trick is how to achieve this at the lowest cost and with the best speed.

    Robin Chase, Cambridge MA

  6. Robin Chase, Cambridge MAMonday, 20 July, 2009

    Nice letter Eric. This agenda of open technology standards, rather than specific devices (and closed proprietary systems to solve major government needs) is one of my current agendas here in the US.

    As we all know, reduced carbon can and will be acheive by low carbon fuels, low carbon modes, low carbon behaviors, transactions, and access. The trick is how to achieve this at the lowest cost and with the best speed.

    Robin Chase, Cambridge MA

  7. Dr. Odile Schwarz-Herion, GermanyTuesday, 21 July, 2009

    Current barriers regarding New Mobility in Germany

    In Germany, there might still be a rather long way to New Mobility. Why?

    First, the interest in fast and large cars seems to have been intrinsic to the typical German mentality since cars for showing-off had been considered a most popular status symbol in German until recently. Possibly, it is due to this mentality that most German car companies continued to focus their advertisement on large and fast cars and have pushed the production of high-tech and high-consuming fossil fuel cars over the last few years.

    Additionally, there is still no speed limit on German highways. Both - German mentality and lack of legal regulation in this field might be responsible for the fact that most German car producers (Porsche, BMW and even Mercedes) and car component suppliers have not considered the optimization of fuel cell and electric drives as a priority until 2008 - arguing that this would not be an issue to be seriously considered before 2020. Managers and engineers of Japanese OEMs and car component suppliers, in comparison, told me in 2005 already that they would bring cars with alternative drives into series production by 2012 or latest by 2014 because, otherwise, they would not be competitive on the global car market. Germany, in spite of its technological know-how is still behind in advertising, selling, and driving cars with alternative drives for the reasons mentioned above.

    Eventually, the situation in some countries is similar to the one in Germany (USA, France, etc.)? Or is Germany the only country in the world where car companies continued the promotion of large and fast cars with high consumption for such a long time and where there is additionally no legal regulation regarding a speed limit on highways?

    Dr. Odile Schwarz-Herion, Germany


Thank you for your comment. You may wish to check back to the original entry from time to time to see if there are reactions to this. If you have questions, send an email to: editor@worldstreets.org