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Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

Mornings Become Electric

If you happen to find yourself in any major urban centre from about 4am onwards, there’s one unifying feature no matter where you are in the world: vans.

Although the size and shape may vary – from the delightful but filthy Paggio Apes in Italy to the vast Ford Econolines found across the USA – every day, across the world hundreds of thousands of commercial vehicles ply the streets of cities and towns making hundreds of short-hop voyages as they make their rounds.

While their necessity is undoubted, the negative impact of these often diesel-powered vehicles on the urban environment is likewise indisputable. It was therefore heartening to hear of the Movement Design Bureau’s new project investigating the potential for electrification of urban delivery fleets.

As Joe and Vinay explain in the introductory video, the limited range, short-hop nature of a typical delivery van’s usage cycle makes it an ideal candidate for electrification using currently available technology. No finicky lithium ions or expensive fast charging required.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the positive impacts of a wide scale electrification of urban delivery vehicles could be huge and MBD, over the next few months, will be looking into how such a program could be implemented and, importantly, whether White Van Man is ready to ditch the dino-fuel.

Head over to Re*Move to watch the video and keep up to date with how the project is developing.

[Image: Wikimedia Commons, butchered by Andrew Philip Artois Smith]

Update: Sue Cischke, meet Drew Smith. And Dan and Amy and Robb too!

Now with a 10 minute highlights reel of the original 40 minute interview

Last week I was offered the enormous privilege of taking part in a project being run by Joe Simpson and Mark Charmer of the Movement Design Bureau. They’ve been tasked with looking at the perception of Ford’s sustainability message, from top to bottom and inside out. Having watched the project develop over the last few months, I leapt at the chance to be involved.

I was asked to review Joe and Mark’s interview with Sue Cischke, Ford’s group Vice President of Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering and provide my observations based on what I heard. Given Sue’s long and illustrious history in the industry, it wasn’t a task I took lightly. My take on things now been published for the world (and Ford) to read and I’m looking forward to seeing the reaction.

It wasn’t all about me, however, and I commend you to read the fantastic contributions from Dan Stuges, of Intrago, and Amy Johannigman and Robb Hunter from the University of Cincinnati’s storied Department of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning.

One of the really exciting aspects of  this project is that 4 people have come together and drawn three different, but highly related (and, in my view, relevant) conclusions from Joe and Mark’s interview with Sue.

Although small in scale, the process amply demonstrates the power of the internet to enable collaboration and connection between geographically dispersed stake-holders, something that Clay Shirky talked about to great effect in his 2005 presentation at TED.

Head over to Re*Move to see the other critiques, plus a whole lot more on the Ford project.

(Over)supply, (Shrinking) demand and a way to deal with it

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Read a fantastic article yesterday penned by former CIA analyst Tom Whipple. In it he looks at the current state of the American auto industry and the very real impact of peak oil.

The most salient point is this:

In the next few years, oil prices are going up so high that ownership and use of the automobiles and trucks in their present form will be a totally uneconomic proposition. How many of the current flavor of cars and trucks is Detroit going to sell with gasoline at $10 a gallon or higher?

The U.S. already has some 250 million 2-axle motor vehicles (cars, light trucks, vans) running around and sitting in traffic jams (and only 200 million licensed drivers). With some tender care and adequate spare parts, this inventory easily could be useful for another 20 or 30 years considering how much less they are going to be driven once gas prices go up. Even the most optimistic do not see how there will be much oil around for powering private cars 25 years from now.

When one considers that we already have in operation more than enough cars and trucks with low mileage internal combustion engines to last us through the rest of the oil age, the only logical thing to do is to stop making more. That’s right — stop building and selling anything that consumes liquid fuels at anywhere near the rate consumed by our current fleet of vehicles.

Ties in nicely with the point I made two weeks ago in Sexy Old Mercs, Brand Building and Platform 21’s Repair Manifesto doesn’t it?

Tom goes on to discuss what Detroit should be doing to secure it’s medium and long-term future, acknowledging the phenomenal negative impact that the complete collapse of the American car industry would have on the economy, not to mention the America psyche.

Essentially he advocates an almost immediate halt in the production of vehicles getting less than 30mpg, much stricter (read 100 mpg) economy standards and the transition of the massive government fleets to natural gas. He also discusses the conversion of the existing passenger car fleet to at least partial electric power.

I must admit that this last point seems like a lot of ball ache for only a small improvement (this also happens to be my long-term view of production hybrids although I recognise their important transitional role). Surely a subsidised electric conversion programme would be a better bet? Especially if I could get my hands on one of these.

Happily, at no point does he discuss scrapping perfectly good cars that only need a little helping hand to keep them running in a more appropriate fashion.

Anyway, enough from me. It’s a great, well balanced article that’s well worth five minutes of your time.

[The Peak Oil Crisis: Seize the Moment found via The American Energy Crisis Image: Driek]

About DownSideUp Design

I'm Drew Smith and I'm an ethnographer and strategist. By day I shape culture and strategy at Westpac. By night I sleep (mostly). And once a month, I help teams host an event called Rising Minds in London, New York, Toronto and Sydney.

DownsideUpDesign is a place for me to collect stuff that I like, often love and sometimes hate for safe keeping. All views represented here are mine and mine alone and do not represent those of anyone else.

Get in touch at drewpasmith (at) gmail (dot) com or tweet me (@drewpasmith) to rant, contribute or collaborate!

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© Andrew Philip Artois Smith and DownsideUpDesign, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew/Drew Smith and DownsideUpDesign with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.