Expert Blog

The inside track, V1

The intersection between tech and transport is a place we often travel to on this blog. How could we not? Car manufacturers are incorporating more and more sophisticated technology in their vehicles. And tech firms are doing more and more to muscle in on the car manufacturers’ trade. Google’s appearance at the latest Detroit Motor Show was a good example of this, but Google aren’t the only ones. Apple, Tesla, Vodafone – all are looking to influence the future of motoring.

Which is why we thought we’d introduce a monthly series of posts – of which this is the first – rounding up some recent stories about that future. If you want to catch up with electric vehicles and self-driving cars, then our hope is that this will become your best starting point. Here goes:

  • The challenges of autonomy. Vanity Fair’s Brett Berk wrote a fine article about the impediments in the way of a self-driving utopia. As he puts it, “the self-driving car is predicated on finding solutions to a multiplicity of dilemmas – societal, social, anthropological, infrastructural, moral, regulatory, human, machine – that we have barely defined, let alone figured out.”    
  • Expect resistance. The tech guru Ben Thompson alighted on some similar themes in a blog-post entitled ‘Cars and the future’. As he sees it, the electric, autonomous future is coming, but it might meet more resistance than some of its eulogists expect: “the biggest mistake consistently made by technologists is forgetting that for most people technology is a means to an end, and for all the benefits we can list when it comes to over-the-top video or a network of on-demand self-driving vehicles, change and the abandonment of long-held ideals like the open road and a bit of TV after supper is an end most would prefer to avoid.”   
  • The pace of change. So far we’ve talked about impediments and resistance. What about growth? Last month, PwC’s AutoFacts division produced a two-page briefing on the rise of electric vehicles in Europe. They note that registrations of purely electric vehicles increased by almost 80 per cent in the year to last September, and they expect the production of them to increase by a whopping 652 per cent by 2021. They do sound a note of caution, however: “On a percentage basis, growth numbers look impressive, however, volumes remain low. Current EV, plug-in and hybrid production in Europe represents a mere 2.5 per cent of the total market, and continued transformation of consumer preferences will be needed if true mass penetration is to take hold.”
  • State funding. The British Government is doing its bit to hasten us towards the future. In January, it committed £40 million to four schemes designed to encourage the uptake of electric cars. And it found another £20 million for eight experiments in autonomous motoring. The Transport Secretary described it as nothing less than “a landmark moment [that] will allow Britain to lead the way in the testing of connected and autonomous vehicles.”
  • A cleaner present. Gazing too far ahead can make us lose sight of the present and its more urgent needs. The Indian Government recently trialled a scheme for reducing pollution and congestion levels in Delhi, and it didn’t involve a single electric or driverless vehicle. What was it? Simply limiting the use of private cars, as Chandrahas Choudhury reports: “Delhiites are realising that they’ve accomplished something substantial through collective action, and that the rebalancing of the most vital urban space – the street – away from the dominance of the car has made for a better city for all.”    

Tune in next month for The inside track V2...

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