topbanner ad

Tuesday 1 October 2019

Comment by Editor-in-Chief, Robin Bradley

My Green Rant

By 2050 it is estimated that more than 70 percent of the world's population will be urban dwellers, one way or another, including in the suburbs.
To prepare us for that density of living and in response to the calls for transport policy to abandon hydrocarbons, the message we are being force-fed is one of a future in which the majority of riding will be nice, clean and quiet urban and suburban commutes on simple, user-friendly machines that speak convenience and safety to mainstream, traditionally non-riding consumers.
I think not. Regardless of whether the traffic surrounding you is autonomous, electric and (theoretically) safe urban riding, it is never going to be "pleasant" as such. At the end of the day downtown riding will remain high stress, frustrating, expensive and challenging. All historic notions of a smooth, clean, efficient, on-time, low-cost downtown transit environment have proven to be a myth - from Fritz Lang to Coruscant, all have proven to be well wide of the mark. Riding, indeed any kind of travel downtown, will forever remain more Blade Runner than Utopia, and will forever remain overcrowded and underfunded, and the more people that are crammed into our ever larger metropolitan areas the worse it will become.
For sure the world is headed for a crossroads in environmental terms - that is assuming we haven't already run the red light. The intersection between sustainability, affordability and suitability will require us to embrace fit for purpose solutions that meet the needs of consumers who regard the implications of the increasingly compelling arguments in favor of addressing climate change as "self-evident". 

However, those fit for purpose solutions will require real world practicality that replicate the expectations and habits of existing transport users that real world incomes can fund.
But are the solutions we are seeing being touted 'currently', including Harley's, really viable? Do they really have the answer? It seems to me that we are still at a juvenile stage in the evolution of this particular future and that, as was the case when planes, trains and automobiles first came into being, we are a long way from understanding how to really tackle the transport and environmental issues that electric vehicles are supposed to address.

new battery chemistry

I was at a conference three years or so ago, a motorcycle industry trade association conference in Europe, when I and the audience were told that present battery tech "is was it is" and there would be no major advance that would improve range, charge times and user convenience; specifically that there will be "no new battery chemistry" to come riding out of the sunset to our rescue.
Wrong. As reported elsewhere in this edition of AMD Magazine, there are new Lithium-ion battery chemistry solutions under development - ones that will radically improve charge times, durability and power cycles. We report on two such projects from different parts of the world- but there are many others in the wings too.
I mention this as just one example that demonstrates what early days these are for our electric future. Another would be the hotly debated issue of electricity generation capacity (that is not actually as difficult an issue as some people would have you believe) and the requirement to produce that capacity cleanly, through renewables, if one isn't going to cancel out the perceived and supposed benefits of abandoning hydrocarbons.
We do not yet have the tech solutions that would be required to deliver on the promise. The existing "solutions" that we are embracing are short-term compromises - it seems to me that we are being dragged into a fix it culture without really yet having actually understood all the questions. 

At present, consumers using their own transport rather than public transit systems are able to fill up and get back on their way conveniently and quickly, but with reasonably long periods of time between needing to do so. Acceptable, practical, fit for purpose alternatives will need to replicate (or improve on) that convenience if policy makers hope to take consumers with them, get them on side.
Indeed, the whole issue of multiple charging standards, connectors and battery architectures, to say nothing of the chemistry, is another feature of our nice, clean, modern future that is absurd. It is the equivalent of early cars from the likes of Ford needing one gasoline formulation, GM brands another, Chevvies a third etc. Regardless of the improved charge times that new battery chemistry will deliver, ultimately a modular, swappable, standardized common battery platform will surely be the "settle down" - but we appear to be years away from that yet. Similarly, the penny doesn't appear to have yet dropped about the role that synthetic gasoline can play in a hybrid future.
Then there is the issue of 'Final Mile' as it has become known, and in the case of PTWs (Powered Two-Wheelers) it is much more likely that the solution lies in journey start and journey completion rentals, rather than whole journey solutions with most of the distance being undertaken by mass transit of one kind or another.
Urban mobility is said to be the key that will unlock a golden future for the broader PTW industry - the white knight that will charge to our rescue and persuade millions to embrace two-wheel culture. Well, if that is to be the case then, as with the convenience of existing fill practices, the motorcycle (and automotive) industry's urban mobility products are going to have to compete on a level playing field with existing urban riding and transport solutions.
Anyone who has ever been to cities such as Rome, Milan, Paris or pretty much any major Asian metropolis will have seen just how valuable and vital PTWs can be to downtown transit. However, if our industry thinks it is going to be able to cure the problems of the future and return a healthy balance sheet while it perpetuates with presently proposed price points, it is in for a rude awakening.