Automotive & transport

The Future of Flight

A growing complaint in Europe, and now in the US, is the environmental impact of the rising number of commercial jets. The European Parliament has voted that now any airlines flying within or into Europe must be part of a carbon-trading scheme or buy carbon credits on the open market. In the US, the public have petitioned for the EPA to regulate carbon emissions from airlines. The airline industry only generates 1% of global CO2 emissions, but this is equivalent to 10% of all emissions from transport in the US. The industry is also the fastest growing carbon polluter, with passenger levels expected to double in the next decade and possibly triple by 2025. The industry is working towards complying with the inevitable regulations, but reducing airline emissions is not as simple as with a car, for example. The first issue is the fuel. It is technically possible to run a jet on 100% biofuel, but at present it is not a viable option for the long term. Trial runs have been performed using a mixture of regular jet fuel and 20% biofuel, and there are hopes to reach 50% biofuel in the next ten years. There are still some fatal flaws in this solution though: biodiesel freezes at the same temperature as water, and we still need to find a growable source for the fuel. Changing the way planes are flown could also help reduce emissions. Changing flight patterns and landing mechanisms could see a reduction in the fuel used for each flight. Finally the industry is looking at the way planes are built, using lighter materials and smaller engines. A proposed hydrogen-powered supersonic airliner from Reaction Engines, named the A2, could solve all these problems. If built, it could travel from Brussels to Sydney in just four hours, emitting only water vapour and a trace of nitrous oxide.
Ref: Popular Science (US), February 2008, ‘Fly the eco-friendly skies’, Dennis Gaffney.
Search words: Planes, airlines, jets, travel, environment
Trend tags: Carbon
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Fly Me to the Moon

It is always difficult to predict the commercial success of new technologies, but it is likely that if affordable space access ever became available, it would be revolutionary. Private enterprise is heralding the day when you don’t need to be a trained astronaut to go into space, just rich. Virgin Galactic is leading the way for a new era of space travel, with test flights due to take place in mid-2008. The important part of Virgin Galactic’s plan is the combination of a carrier aircraft and space ship. The carrier aircraft (with a wingspan equivalent to that of a Boeing 757) carries the spaceship to an altitude of 15km where it is released. Using this two-craft system is more economical than using throwaway rockets, and also means the spaceship doesn’t need to wait for a suitable window in which to launch. Better still, both the aircraft carrier and the spaceship can carry paying passengers. Virgin Galactic expect initial flights to cost around $200,000, and although passenger flights will not be offered for at least a year after the test flights, so far some $30 million has been paid in deposits. Of course there is the possibility that these craft could be used to carry other payloads too. Virgin Galactic has also hinted that its craft could be used to launch small satellites, which if the price came low enough, could be used by all kinds of organisations. All of which of course, will help to bring the cost down for thrill-seekers.
Ref: The Economist (US), 26 January 2008, ‘Virgin birth’. The Economist (US), 26 January 2008, ‘Starship enterprise: the next generation’.
Search words: Space, space travel, Virgin
Trend tags: Extreme experiences
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Car Sharing

Zipcar, the darling of the foundling share-car industry, has announced its plans to go mainstream, and in doing so hoping to claim a chunk of the rental car market. Although Zipcar’s mission has always been to reduce the number of cars on the road, it plans to downplay the environmental issues and instead focus on convenience and economics. Renting a Zipcar goes something like this: book online, walk to car lot, swipe your credit card across the windscreen and you’re away – insurance and fuel covered for US$11 an hour.� This kind of ‘cars on demand’ model seems to be working. Zipcar last year merged with Flexcar to become the industry’s dominant force, with around 180,000 members, who are spending at least $50 a year in access fees. CEO Scott Griffith believes that the edge Zipcar has over rental car companies is that Zipcar aims for lifetime memberships, rather than one-off transactions. With that in mind, Zipcar has targeted university campuses, hoping to ingrain in students the culture of car hire, before they become car owners. Zipcar currently have car lots on 70 US campuses, with aims to expand by a factor of three or five in the coming two years.
Ref: Fast Company (US), March 2008, ‘Zipcar makes the leap’, Alex Frankel.
Search words: car rental, renting, fractional
Trend tags: -
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Links: Fractional ownership

The New Consumer Morality

It seems consumers are making the shift towards more environmentally-sensitive, budget-conscious spending, and making purchases that represent value for money. The rise in demand for hybrid cars is one area this can be seen, with vehicles like the Smart Car offering a low-cost, environmentally-friendly car that takes up less space – meaning more for others. Some believe this is a natural product of the rise in corporate social responsibility over the past five years. Bernard Salt, social researcher with KPMG, says that there is a sense of conservatism in generations X and Y, and that we now live in an age of sensible consumption, rather than conspicuous consumption. The general shift is evidenced by the Catholic Church’s recent decision to add polluting the environment and excessive wealth to the list of seven deadly sins. This trend doesn’t seem to have made any difference to the demand for McMansions or massive televisions, but companies looking to cash in on it will need to incorporate this social consciousness into their culture.
Ref: The Australian (Aus), 5-6 April 2008, ‘Underconsumption is Smart way to go’, Simon Canning.
Search words: Environment, climate change, CSR, ethics
Trend tags: Environment, ethics
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Japanese Bikes

Power-assisted bicycles are finding a new market in Japan, with many young people now making the switch to the vehicle for their daily commute. Power-assisted bicycles have been traditionally considered the realm of older people, but efforts by the manufacturers to modernise the design have paid off. Yamaha’s Pas City-X, the first to use the brand’s motorcycle logo, has more slender tyres, less visible wiring, and less conspicuous welding seams. When the bike was released in 2007, Yamaha sold 500 units – half the annual sales target – in two months. Panasonic Cycle Technology Co has also released a power-assisted bike for the style conscious, which is selling 10% faster than anticipated. The market looks to expand in future, with touring or collapsible models likely.
Ref: The Nikkei Weekly (Japan), 12 November 2007, ‘Power-assisted bikes pick up speed’, Kosei Fukao.
Search words: Bikes, transport
Trend tags: -
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