Today's vehicles, fuels, and transportation designs are functionally similar to those of 80 years ago. While most technological facets of life have evolved, transportation has not. The car-centric transportation system needs to be dismantled and the internal combustion engine vehicle needs to be replaced with something better. The transformations are overdue.
The vehicle part of this transformation is the most accessible piece of the puzzle. The next generation of improved technologies is already at hand, though it won't come into being easily or quickly. The breakthrough came in 1997 with Toyota's hybrid Prius, with Honda close behind. But the embrace of hybrids and electric-drive technology has been slow and tentative, with battery electric vehicles abandoned in the late 1990s and only slowly resuscitated a decade later, and the vaunted fuel cell still lingering in the lab. Companies see that each of the many electric-drive technology options is tremendously expensive to develop and that small mistakes can be ruinous. Even minor shortcomings can be devastating to a company. Unlike computers, engines can't freeze or crash intermittently. Engine control software can't have bugs. Speeding vehicles sometimes separated by just inches can't have breakdowns. Recalling vehicles for safety or pollution flaws can bankrupt a small company and seriously damage the largest ones. Companies proceed cautiously, worrying that the cutting edge isn't far from the bleeding edge.
High consumer expectations further discourage experimentation. Buyers expect vehicles to remain virtually trouble free for more than a decade and to require almost no maintenance. They're intolerant of barely perceptible noises and anything less than perfectly aligned doors. A highly innovative product such as the Toyota Prius can provide a halo for many years, but inferior or flawed products can cast a pall over a company for even longer.
With all the problems and challenges, vehicle technology is progressing. Car companies can and will lead this vehicle revolution, but they need help. Consumers, government, and energy companies all have essential roles. There is good reason to be hopeful. The vehicle transformation is just getting under way.
Far more daunting is the dismantling of the extravagant car-centric transportation monoculture. It involves offering innovative mobility services, eliminating stifling transit monopolies, strengthening land use management, and realigning financial incentives so autos pay their way. These changes aren't widely accepted in the United States, suggesting that efforts to reduce vehicle travel, while desirable for many reasons, face large though not insurmountable barriers. The urgency for change is even greater in fast-growing developing countries, where vehicle travel—especially in private autos—is ramping up. For these countries, adopting a car-centric monoculture with conventional vehicle and fuel technologies simply isn't a sustainable option.
It's time to test new strategies. Many actors and interests are involved in making decisions about the diffuse global transport system. The aggressive greenhouse gas and fuel economy policies introduced in Europe, Japan, and California will help usher in a new low-carbon transportation system. And all eyes are on China, India, and other high-growth nations to determine how they might be assisted on their own best path to sustainable transportation.
Central to the transformation of vehicles and travel is an enhanced understanding of the tension between private desires and the public interest. No longer can all vehicle efficiency innovations be diverted to serving private desires, as they have in the United States. And no longer can the public benefits of efficient and sustainable transportation be ignored. The advent of hybrid electric vehicles, clean energy investments, and more enlightened policy is leading to a rebalancing of individual desires, corporate objectives, and social imperatives.
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Hybrid Cars! Man! Is that a HOT topic right now! There are some good reasons why hybrids are so hot. If you’ve pulled your present car or SUV or truck up next to a gas pumpand inserted the nozzle, you know exactly what I mean! I written this book to give you some basic information on some things<br />you may have been wondering about.