Mobility Blockers:
(part 1) how tech fears and 2D thinking are keeping us looking in the rearview mirror

The medium is the message Marshall McLuchan declared in his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. McLuhan proposed that a medium itself, not the content it carries, should be the frame of study. He said that a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not only by the content delivered over the medium, but also by the characteristics of the medium itself. McLuchan saw the wheel as an extension of the foot and in the context of urban mobility and for the purposes of this article, the medium framing it will be our beloved dirt, cobblestone, asphalt, concrete and most recently solar roads.

blockers

Ever wondered how long it might be before ubiquitous vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) sensors might take to have an impact on your commute?  Such connectivity and autonomous vehicles are expected to reduce traffic related fatalities but up to 90% but will it really cut commute times if millions of autonomous ride sharing shuttles are on the road 24/7?

Hopes are high that the driverless future might allow us to reclaim those stolen hours behind the wheel that have caused our brains and butts to turn to mush? Indeed sitting is the new smoking and until recently, I was doing a 290 km, five-hour roundtrip daily commute through some of the worst traffic zones in North America; time on my backside that you might equate to a five pack a day habit. So yes, I’ve had plenty of time to contemplate what a smarter, more connected, more active and three-dimensional transportation world might look like.

mobility

The Shweeb PRT concept allows pedal and electric assist pods to travel effortlessly over urban congestion.

Having also worked with General Motors as Urban Active New Business Development Manager and as cleantech consultant to post-secondary institutions, utility companies and cleantech start-up clients including Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) company Shweeb; I’ve been immersed in future mobility technology research since 1990.

At the root of our mobility challenged world are not necessarily technological short-comings; evidence points to human psychology and our lack of willingness to adapt to change. For example, I’ll bet you have technology-challenged friends and family members that avoid using their smartphone GPS because they think they know better than any mapping system how to get from A to B. Of course such thinking throws a monkey-wrench into travel times for everyone because you simply can’t account for road construction, accidents, weather and a myriad of other causes for congestion that are reported by thousands of people in real time. Sure intuition might be the right choice by chance one day in a thousand, but once people get the hang of Waze and Google Traffic, the power of the internet becomes pretty obvious. So let’s examine why we think the way we think about our mobility choices and what the future might look like.

In most product marketing, the focus is on what might be termed as “fluffy non-sense” not boring old facts, and for good reason. Automotive marketing can be an insult to your intelligence but it’s what allows the industry to turn a profit at least until we make the transition to sustainable transport future. Of course what average people need are better critical thinking skills and tools which help them understand TCO (total cost of ownership). It seems probable that such information might also lead to people living happier lives and be ok with owning less stuff. The problem is we’re not taught such essential skills in school.

TCO is too boring, too mathematical and too many characters for a tweet, so it just gets swept under the rug. At least until the cost of electric vehicles (EVs) are at parity with internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, creating a viral TCO explanatory video (fat chance) might be the key to increasing EV sales. With people in North America presently owning vehicles for an average of 11.4 years and the present day electric vehicle return-on-investment being well within 5–7 years (similar to rooftop solar), there is a real opportunity to educate consumers on the financial benefits of driving electric.

TCO levels the playing field and there is a strong disincentive to TCO marketing because the more profitable luxury brands fare poorly. TCO like shared mobility cannibalizes a brand. Focusing on the nice to have whiz-bang features is the strategy that appeals to most of the public, but most often, to the top 10-20% of earners. Folks treading water financially, who really need a money and human habitat-saving EV, need the cold hard facts in a simple quick format because they’re too busy feeding their families as opposed to planning their next luxury vacation. What average Joes don’t need so much are sunroofs, fancy alloy rims and 0-60 times under 5 seconds, but we are all lured into thinking we do need the laundry list of accessories at the dealership.

– Part 1 of 4 –

author
Stephen Bieda is a Sustainability Leader
and Cleantech Marketing Communications Strategist

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2 thoughts on “
Mobility Blockers:
(part 1) how tech fears and 2D thinking are keeping us looking in the rearview mirror

  1. Perhaps looking closely at TCO might clarify why EV’s are not ready for prime time.
    Let’s compare a 2013 Ford Focus SE and a 2013 Nissan Leaf S. The Ford cost about $20K, and the Nissan about $34k. Even if a person qualified for the full tax credit, they were still out of pocket ~$26.5 for the Leaf. Right now, you can pick up a 25-30K mile Leaf for $7500-9000, while a Focus costs $12500-13000. In other words, the depreciation on the Focus cost the owner about 30 cents per mile. Depreciation on the Leaf is about 70 cents per mile. There is no reasonable argument that the Nissan’s other operating costs were 40 cents per mile cheaper than the Ford’s.

    Someday, when EV tech has stabilized, and batteries do not cost so much, nor lose range (and therefore value) so quickly, the TCO for EV’s may make sense. Right now, they simply do not have a compelling value argument. When you take into account the fact that someone, if not the owner, is having to pay the $7500 tax credit, the value proposition is skewed even more in favor of ICE.

    For $80 per month (the cost of a Smart battery lease), you can buy 40 gallons (1000-1400 ICE miles) of gasoline at current prices. Then you’d still have to pay 2-4 cents per mile for electricity. That $20-56 gets you another 250-900 miles in your ICE vehicle. It takes about 1500-2000 EV miles per month just to break even on battery costs.

    In summary, I agree that people need critical thinking skills and tools to analyze TCO. OTOH, the average person can look at purchase price and resale value and quickly realize that EV’s just plain cost too much. EV’s are still more of an ego booster or a political statement than an economically viable product for most consumers.

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