Cities are where almost all of our economic and cultural activity takes place today, and on an evermore crowded planet, inevitably, cities will continue to attract the majority of growth in human settlement and jobs. In turn, this will increasingly reveal a constrained urban resource – transportation – the ability of city streets to carry people around efficiently.
Such is the state of the urban world, as explained to me earlier this week by Michael Keating, CEO of San Francisco based start-up, Scoot Networks; and it led to Scoot devising a business (launched in public beta in San Francisco last week) that provides an alternative way to get around congested city streets.
Scoot will now rent you a zippy electric Scooter (by the hour) from one of four locations in the city’s South of Market neighborhood, providing an urban mobility solution designed to be easy, cheap and fast as well as fun and sustainable.
Here’s how it works.
It’s probably pretty safe to say that nobody really likes commuting. Whether you’re sitting in traffic or dealing with public transportation, it’s a waste of time, money and just plain stressful. Many large Silicon Valley companies recognize this and provide a company shuttle-bus to ferry employees to and from work.
Nathalie Criou was one such employee – a regular user of the company shuttle when she worked at Google. But after leaving the company, she was faced with a situation where there was no choice but to drive or take public transit to get to work – and that was unsatisfactory.
Recognizing a gap in the market, Nathalie co-founded RidePal a little over a year ago, with the goal of bringing company shuttle services to people working for smaller organizations, who are unable to hop on an in-house provided bus.
To make it work though, RidePal needed to be able to match riders, routes and vehicles to bring a critical mass of people together. Technology was the facilitator to make that happen.
Discussion on electric vehicles often seems to be polarized around two different worldviews. Advocates will point out they are the way of the future, a viable way to wean ourselves off oil, and with millions of miles driven in the hands of consumers already, a proven technology.
Detractors will assert they are an unworthy tax-payer subsidized experiment – as someone I know put it. Others cite manufacturers falling short of sales targets and the high expense and poor range of today’s EVs as reasons to doubt the technology’s longevity. In the case of the Chevrolet Volt, it has also become a political artifact – one which symbolizes the Detroit bail-out, and one which commentators often like to point out is struggling to gain traction.
The objective take on electric vehicles is a little harder to extrapolate. The “Charged: EV Symposium Silicon Valley 2012″ presented by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and hosted by SAP last month, helped to clarify the health of the industry, by bringing together leaders within the EV industry, and the broader EV industry ecosystem.
Here are the main takeaways about the state of the industry today and what can we expect going forward:
Last week, a team of two cyclists, Boris Mordkovich and Anna Mostovetsky, began a two and a half month, 4,000 mile ride across America on a pair of electric-assisted bicycles to promote awareness of electric bikes as an alternative form of transport, and to prove that their machines are a reliable and efficient way to get around.
The ride began in New York City on April 7th and will end at the end of June in San Francisco. Along the way, the pair plan to hold talks in 15 cities, and meet up with commuters, cycling enthusiasts and advocacy groups to find out what’s preventing people from cycling for the many short trips that they routinely make.
So, how did the whole trip come about?
March turned out to be a big month for auto sales in the United States. Reuters reported that total vehicle sales were up 13 percent for the month, ending the best quarter in terms of total sales since 2008.
The industry sees this as a sign of general economic recovery, but with high average gas prices prevailing at the pumps, hybrid cars and plug-in vehicles enjoyed a strong month, indicating fuel economy matters to many when making new car choices.
So what about plug-in electric vehicles? Without doubt, the sales figures for these vehicles are small by comparison with top selling vehicles today, but they could perhaps be a barometer reading for how these cars may do in the market over the next decade.
Treehugger reports that 10,000 General Motors customers, and another 20,000 citizens have signed a petition to urge the company to stop funding the Heartland Institute, due to that organization’s position of climate change denial.
To fund such denial – even if indirectly – would fly in the face of a building perception that GM is becoming a more environmentally responsible company, with an increased range of fuel efficient vehicles, and with perhaps the most demonstrative product of the new GM, being their halo car, the Volt.
Last week I attended the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, where Climate One interviewed GM CEO, Dan Akerson, on the future of the auto industry and GM’s role within it. The action of the Heartland Institute was a topic that came up for discussion, and a clip of the segment can be seen here. So, what’s Mr Akerson’s take on GM’s role in the matter?
Every successful start-up begins with a great idea. But, of course, transforming a great idea into a viable business is anything but assured. Fortunately, help is at hand for the most promising enterprises.
Increasingly, entrepreneurs can turn to a growing number of start-up accelerators – organizations which provide seed funding, mentoring, work space and importantly, access to investors – all designed with the purpose of improving the odds of success, within a very short space of time.
Last fall, Greenstart, an accelerator focused specifically on the clean-tech industry, successfully completed its first program with a small cohort of four start-ups, and this week, they begin a second round with five new companies, and with a renewed focus.
I spoke to Mitch Lowe, Managing Partner of Greenstart to learn more about how Greenstart’s new focus will offer enhanced value to to cleantech entrepreneurs, and how it aligns with the key opportunities in the cleantech industry going forward.
The controversy over the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), and the inclusion of airlines into the program from the beginning of this year, continues to escalate, with the announcement that China has banned its airlines from participating.
Under the European scheme, all carriers, regardless of nationality, must account for every metric ton of carbon emitted for any flight originating, or landing, in the EU. Carriers must then purchase allowances for 15 percent of their total emissions in Europe’s carbon markets.
China’s ban makes it illegal for their carriers to pay for these carbon allowances, as well as disallowing them from hiking ticket prices to account for them. Though China’s reaction is the strongest so far, they are not alone in opposing the ETS.
This March, Chevrolet will start providing customers with information on a number of the environmental features of their vehicles, via “Ecologic” environmental window labels that will initially appear on the 2012 Sonic, the company’s new sub-compact car.
Later on, labeling will be rolled out across the entire 2013 vehicle line in North America, and in doing so, Chevrolet will be the first automotive brand to provide a label of this kind on its vehicles.
The Ecologic labeling initiative provides a life cycle assessment of sorts, since it provides information over three distinct phases of the vehicle’s life, which Chevrolet defines as follows:
Business advocacy Coalition, BICEP (Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy) has endorsed the California Air Resources Board’s, Advanced Clean Cars Program, which passed last week – citing benefits which they say will spark economic growth.
The program is in line with BICEP’s aim to work with policy makers, “to pass meaningful energy and climate legislation that will enable a rapid transition to a low-carbon, 21st century economy that will create new jobs and stimulate economic growth while stabilizing our planet’s fragile climate.”
The coalition includes some heavy hitters in the business world, including Nike, Starbucks, and Gap Inc. amongst other well known companies. BICEP was joined by California business organizations such as Patagonia, Applied Materials and the California Ski Industry Association in an advertising campaign promoting the strong standards.
The Alliance for Biking and Walking just released its 2012 Benchmarking Report which details that between 2000 to 2009, the number of commuters who bike to work increased by 57 percent in the USA, and that 12 percent of all trips are now taken by bike or on foot in this country.
The report also highlights bicycle and pedestrian safety issues and the economic benefits that are derived from these activities. This information is worth bearing in mind since this week, the House plans to vote on the approval of a new $260 billion transportation bill, part of which would eliminate bicycle and pedestrian programs – flying in the face of bicycling and pedestrian trends.
This is not good news given the upward trend in fatalities that has accompanied the rise in bicycle commuting. The LA Times reports the largest 51 cities in the country saw an average 29 percent increase in bicycle fatalities since the Alliances 2010 report.
“Any Motor manufacturer without a compelling line up of electric vehicles [by 2025] is signing its death warrant.”
This is an unequivocally bold assertion, not made by any government, EV manufacturer, media source or advocacy group, but rather, by the independent consulting and research organization IDTechEX, who claim to be the only analyst with 18 current reports – continuously updated – forecasting sales of electric vehicles and their components.
IDTechEx has been tracking developments in the electric vehicle market for the last eleven years by touring the world’s companies, research institutes and conferences to gain insights into key technology changes and business opportunities in the EV market. They have just published their new 2012 forecast with a 10 year horizon, and whether you like EVs or not – their take is that they are here to stay.
Here are the headline forecasts from IDTechEX’s analysis.
Following Ford’s recent announcement that they will use recycled plastic bottles for seat fabrics in the upcoming Focus Electric, the company’s efforts to increase the use of sustainable materials continues with the news that they will use kenaf plant fiber material for interior door bolsters for the new Escape.
Kenaf, blended with polypropylene in a 50-50 mixture, will reduce the door component’s weight by 25% compared with conventional materials, while use of the plant fiber, Ford claims, will offset 300,000 pounds of oil-based resins annually in North America.
If you’re unfamiliar with Kenaf, here’s a little bit about this versatile material, as well as other eco-friendly attributes of the new Escape.
Consumer Reports characterized this year’s North American International Auto show as “the rise of the mainstream plug-in hybrid,” foretelling a definite trend that’s emerging among automakers: fuel-efficiency is becoming the name of the game.
This is great news for the environment, and for consumers, but with the vehicle fleet becoming more efficient in the USA, a probable negative consequence may emerge along with it. Specifically, as cars become more efficient, there will be less funding for mass transit infrastructure – an unfortunate systemic outcome indeed.
So, how are the two linked?
Fort Collins, Colorado-based start-up, Ridekick, has a new take on the electric bicycle: they offer something that’s not a bicycle at all. Instead, they think an electric powered trailer that can be easily attached to most conventional bikes is a better solution.
The Ridekick is an option for the cyclist who wants either full time, or perhaps, only occasional electric assist, but neither wants to go out and buy a brand-new electric bicycle, nor permanently retrofit their existing one.
So, how does it work?