Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Car futures

So the world oil price continues to rise ... the cost of petrol (gas for my transatlantic readers!) continues to rise and governments like the UK continue to tax these substances heavily.  They also plan to tax the purchase of cars that consume the most fuel and give the highest emissions.  Of course the green lobby think this is pressure on people to use cars is insufficient and wonder why people don't simply want to give up their car for public transport.  Well its quite simple really.  People generally like their cars!  

Car owners tend to look after their cars.  They personalise them, customise them and enjoy the individual freedom that transport dedicated to them gives them.  They like the door to door and anytime of any day nature of the car.  And many of the nicest cars on the road are not actually owned by individuals at all; rather by leasing companies who provide the car on behalf of employers as a part of their reward package.  So why is it that some people imagine that these car users want to leave their cars (which are inherently also a symbol of their success) on the driveway at home to get on a bus?  This assumes that a bus is actually available as an alternative.

Of course technology is gradually meaning that manufacturers can offer lower consumption cars; my favourite hybrids are from Lexus but they are of course many others.  Honda have just announced details of experiments they have done with a hydrogen powered car, for example. And elements of the green lobby will still rant on about the whole lifecycle cost of such cars to the environment, but fail to see that changing the automotive industry to newer greener mechanisms than the combustion engine is like turning a super-tanker.  It will happen through small steps and gradually.  And people will gradually get used to these new-fangled types of car and begin buying them in large numbers (as with Toyota's Prius).  

But eventually, the answer is not to take people out of their cars which they love, but to make the car and road systems more efficient.  Journey times could be faster, congestion and accident rates much lower (if not extremely rare at all) on major trunk routes by allowing technology to control the cars.  The inter-car gaps could be smaller and more traffic carried.  People will be unable to manually join a motorway or freeway; only the computerised automated systems within vehicles will be able to manage this.  

The answer in the longer term I believe is to apply technology to give people what they want but in a greener, more environmentally and safe way, rather than tax and charge them to change the social behaviour of what others would like them to want.  So I hope this latter approach is just one of the stepping stones while we await the technological change that is necessary.

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