photo from inside a moving trishaw
With petrol being so nuts, there is surely a price point for some Indian engineer to devise an electric tuk tuk. I mean there is one, running on solar power to boot. I think the drive-train is expensive and it’s not commercial. The price point you need here is really the Tata Nano, which costs 1 lakh ($2,500). As petrol prices rise that car gets less competitive against the electric engines that people are designing now. The current rise in oil prices (and the move to cap-and-trade incentives for power plants) is going to lead to a much better life for humans, where more of us have access to transport without stanking up our cities or paying so much. At the moment we just need to let the market work.
And the market does work. Right now investment and actual development of hybrid/alternate vehicles is booming. Not cause companies feel bad, but because they can make money if they do it right. In India (and China), also, the potential market for smaller, smarter cars is huge because we have a population that 1) really can’t afford petrol and 2) doesn’t feel bad in riding around in tiny, dinky looking cars. As in trishaws. Smart cars are kinda dorky which really does prevent their uptake in America. In the East, however, we’re used to it, we just need the price to be right. If you mix the Indian cost-cutting esthetic with high electric technology you can have a real winner for the trishaw/motorbike market. Which is huge.
the Tata nano is gas, but demonstrates the price point and ingenuity of the Indian market (by Shailendra Pandey)
The Tata Nano is a gas powered car, but it’s innovative in terms of price point. You still have to put expensive petrol in it, so there’s a market opening for an electric/hybrid version. As oil prices rise that market sweet-spot becomes bigger and sweeter. There is no way in hell you want millions more petrol cars in India. Global Warming aside, those cities are really dirty already, nobody wants them to get nastier. India has the market that’s ready to but an electric/alternate trishaw, and the rising oil prices are a great incentive to produce such a machine. Indian companies like Mahindra (which has a hybrid) and Tata have shown that they have the strength to take advantage of business opportunities like this.
Plus, other countries are contributing a lot of the R&D work, because they too are incentivized by high oil prices/global warming/fuck the Saudis.
image from GM Blogs)
The US automakers have hybrid offerings, but the Japanese are way ahead. However, these guys do have significant R&D money and breakthroughs in technology really do happen. We can invent some pretty amazing stuff when we work at it. There’s an Atlantic article on the investment they’re making at General Motors.
When one of the worldâ€™s mightiest corporations throws everything itâ€™s got at a project, and when it shreds its rule book in the process, the results are likely to be impressive. Still, even for General Motors, the Volt is a reach. If it meets specifications, it will charge up overnight from any standard electrical socket. It will go 40 miles on a charge. Then a small gasoline engine will ignite. The engineâ€™s sole job will be to drive a generator, whose sole job will be to maintain the batteryâ€™s chargeâ€”not to drive the wheels, which will never see anything but electricity. In generator mode, the car will drive hundreds of miles on a tank of gas, at about 50 miles per gallon. But about three-fourths of Americans commute less than 40 miles a day, so on most days most Volt drivers would use no gas at all.
The Toyata Prius is a total success in that it’s a normal car now, it’s the first truly commercial hybrid. Its obvs not as killer as a solar or hydrogen car, but Honda makes those for use in Southern California. There’s an interesting Jeremy Clarkson YouTube on the latter
Which is just to say, the technology is extant for an energy and transportation revolution. That it will happen this century is doubtless, just as it happened in the 1900s with internal combustion. The economic incentive of high oil prices now will make it happen faster, I think within 10 years. With a President that supports clean energy (Obama or – to a much lesser extant, largely by virtue of being tied to the Republican party – McCain) America can lead in that ultimately lucrative adventure, but this thing is happening anyways. Japan is certainly not sitting on its hands and there are some world-class auto manufacturers in India.
I think there is an environmental wave which simply wants people to drive less. I don’t agree with that. Transportation gives you so many economic opportunities, and people in India and China and here need there. We can’t . Luckily we’re humans, and we’re damn inventive, and we have all the bits of technology in place. It’s just a matter of some Henry Ford putting it all together. Or Hari Faroud, as it were.
We really have to remember that last century gave us internal combustion and nuclear energy. This century has even more promise.
Note: electric three-wheelers would not save Sri Lankans much money because we burn petrol and diesel to make electricity. Because past politicians made really poor investments in our future.