Vrooooom goes the auto industry- but where to?


I don’t really like them.

True, cars gave us our freedom ala Jack’s “on the road” and I can’t pretend like I would have wanted to walk those 10km in the snow every morning to get to school. So yes, it’s unfair for me to say that I don’t care about cars, especially when the auto industry makes up about 4% of the US economy and directly and indirectly employs one out of every seven Canadians or so.

The industry as we know it though is failing. And (I can see some comments coming…) rightly so – they have failed to keep up with the changing times… I don’t care to go into too much detail about the auto industry bailout (enough news out there for you!), but you can see where I stand on the issue.

What does this mean though? It’s clear that the auto industry needs to revamp itself, but where do we go from here?

We have a few options worth exploring.

Cheap, lightweight, fuel efficient cars. i.e. THE NANO CAR

Shumaucher was right: small is beautiful (although he may be rolling in his grave with this one). The Tata Nano car, released almost a year ago will be the world’s cheapest car on the market – made out of lightweight composites that click together to form the body – and better yet can be shipped in “kits” to be made by local entrepreneurs), has lower emissions than the average Volkswagen and high fuel efficiency.

This is however, a double edged sword… having such a cheap car will boost the Indian car market by 65% (now stretch that thinking to the global market…). Fuel efficiency aside, great, exactly what we need BILLIONS of new cars on the road! This means more roads, parking lots, garages, and so forth – quite an unsustainable package at the end of the day.

But, we had this discussion in a class though and again I was sitting on the fence and arguing on both sides (as I often do on my own…) Who am I to tell some person who is just moving up in the world to stay on their bike? Excuse me, can you please strap your 2 children on your back and bring them to school on your bike? Thanks! There are some things that are quite hard to argue… especially when you’re living quite well on this side of the world.

So, even though I disagree with cars, Tata has done an impressive job in INNOVATING a new kind of “green” car. If one of the big three had done this we would have been hailing them as revolutionaries in the industry. But they didn’t. They marketed SUVs during that development time…

*** Check out the comments on this one. Hendrik and I have started some good stuff – would love to have your opinions!

Another possibility? (yeah, plenty).

Next post: A Better Place with Car 2.0

I would keep writing but I need to start studying for MY LAST EXAM EVER! Wow, can’t believe this program is coming to an end soon… will discuss what it is that I’m doing with my life at some point on here.

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6 thoughts on “Vrooooom goes the auto industry- but where to?

  1. Hendrik says:

    I need to disagree with you, what Tata has done is a step in the opposite direction, and you pointed it out yourself. Making cars available for people in low income classes, while from a business standpoint a genius idea, from an environmental standpoint it looks like one more nail in the coffin of planet earth.

    If I see already nowadays here in Finland the youths of 16 years drive in those small cars (don’t go faster than, what, 50 km/h, driven with a moped license) I ask myself if it is smart to educate people to this kind of lifestyle. On a moped your at least outside, and need to think twice if you take a ride with that rain outside. But with those cars, hop in and drive.

    I honestly hope that the big three die, and with them a whole bunch of other car manufacturers (Looking at Porsche, Mercedes, Audi, BMW). You killed the electric car decades ago, concentrated on the combustion engine, so now just lay down in that grave you dug yourself.

    There’s a simple solution to bring your kids somewhere: take the bus! Wanna go somewhere else, like Helsinki? Take the train or long-distance bus! And if you keep your car for “emergencies”, well, I guess that one or two times you really have an emergency you also can take a Taxi.

    I don’t have a driving license, and never needed one. Bus, train and taxi are sufficient, and my bike takes me also quick anywhere in the city.

  2. janeporter says:

    Hendrik. I agree & disagree with you 🙂 This is what perching on the fence is all about!

    I agree with you on the ideological level. We would be better off without cars. Private transportation on its own is unsustainable. And on the aggregate level, this is bad news.

    But, from a realistic point of view, the market for cars will still be here and innovation in this arena (aside from faster faster!) has been on the sidelines for far too long.

    What Tata did would have been done at one point or another and how do you tell a company to not innovate? They took a product and made it greener (not greener than a bike obviously) but much greener than the incumbant.

    There are 50 patents locked up into this car – this type of innovation will likely lead into other areas of transportation – i.e. public transit and not to be forgotten – they are looking at other sources of fuel. The electric nano (e-nano) is in the making.

    You can’t and likely shouldn’t put a stop to this kind of innovation – that’s what stopped the electric car.

    From a public policy point of view though, yeah, the Indian gov’t should have put more effort and money into public transit (ala Brazil or Bogota) since they’ll be the ones who’ll have to deal with the infrastructure pressure & increased pollution coming up in the near future…

    But, at the end of the day – its hard for us to tell emerging economies what to do when they’ve whooped us with a better product. Even though YOU are a good role model, WE (as a society in the West) have not been… we dug our own graves long ago.

  3. annie says:

    i’m going to have to say that at a time when city buses go on strike and taxis come with a minimum 40 minute wait and it’s minus 30 degres celcius and your work is at least an hour’s walk away, private cars become more appealing. i don’t think we can do away with them completely but i definitely see the need to re-fashion the industry to meet current environmental and economic needs.

  4. Steven Kivinen says:

    I have to disagree with two things.

    First, as far as I can tell the auto industry is doing just fine. It’s the American auto makers that are suffering, but who cares? The Japanese build what people want and at a lower cost. Let them take over the North American market.

    Second, I think poverty is a more pressing issue than climate change so you can probably guess where I stand on the nano car.

  5. Avery Henderson says:

    Annie, are you in Ottawa?

    Toyota just opened a new plant in Southern Ontario. The grand opening was on the radio about a week and a half ago.

  6. Hendrik says:

    Tata actually could have gone the extra mile, rank up another 20 patents and make their nano car a green car right away. The way it is now, it is a negative innovation which will likely, should it prove popular, be bad for the environment.

    The first electric car was developed in 1900 (http://www.spiegel.de/fotostrecke/fotostrecke-37861.html#backToArticle=595000), what put a stop to the innovation back then was that manufacturers concentrated on combustion engines because gas was abundant and cheap.

    The documentary “Who killed the Electric Car?” is worth a view, if you haven’t yet. WIRED also has an abundance of articles on the topic.

    I stand by my point, this is a bad development for the planet. I hope the normal nano is not successful, and that Tata hurries up with the e-nano 😉

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