Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Where are the electric compliments?

Andrew D Atkin

-The best form of hybrid is two separate cars.

What I have crudely drawn is a schematic of what I believe would be a good car to compliment the standard petrol 4-seat car that most people own.

It has these characteristics:

-Cheap to buy, safe (due to the 'roll cage' style design), excellent handling, very convenient to use, extremely cheap to run around town and dead easy to operate.

However, my hypothetical car is not completely weather proof, only takes one person, cannot go faster than 80km/h and only has a range of 60km before the batteries have to be recharged. This is why it would be bought as a compliment and not a replacement to your traditional 4-seat petrol driven car.

So is it worth it? Is it worth buying this completely stripped-back electric car (for probably less than NZ$8,000 new, if mass-produced) for the advantages? For a very large portion of the market a vehicle like this would rapidly pay for itself, because if it is used for the times when you don't need to use your traditional car (and this car could substitute about 80% of most people's trips) then your traditional car could last a literal lifetime, with 80% less repair and fuel bills.

What I am suggesting is that people adopt a "tool kit" relationship to their cars. Rather than having an expensive and inefficient one-car-to-do-it-all car, why not just have an ultra cheap car to compliment your traditional car, so that you can only use the "big tool" when you actually need it?

It makes sense to me that we should be marketing electric compliments if we are serious about improving transport efficiency, and reducing carbon emissions. This is where we can get by far the biggest bang for our buck from vehicle design. However, we instead only ever seem to hear about gimmicks such as the Toyota Prius, which most people cannot afford and are no way near capable of the transport efficiencies that can be achieved with an appropriately designed electric compliment.

I believe there is one good reason why practical electric compliments don't seem to exist, and are not mass-produced. If they did exist and they were highly popular (and they surely could be popular if people found them to be fun and easy to use), then they could devastate much of the auto industry as it stands today.

Sure, an electric compliment cannot replace the need for a traditional car for most people, but it can certainly reduce the demand for traditional cars. Likewise, a major reduction in demand would, on its own, create a chronic glut of traditional cars and in turn cripple the existing auto industry until it contracts to the new (reduced) demand levels for traditional cars.

The giant counterparts of the auto industry have good reason to suppress or delay the development of highly effective complimentary cars. So, I would not be surprised if the highlighted concern is the real reason why we aren't all getting around in simple, cheap electric compliments today; and why the auto industry keeps on going on about the range problem of batteries, as though any car that we buy has to be able to do everything we would ever need on its own (nonsense!).


Update: 28-7-13:

This is the TWIZY. It's basically exactly what I have suggested, as an ideal electric compliment. It weights about a quarter of a standard car, and for normal urban operation would be about 5-8x more efficient. The application of the doors would make it considerably more efficient for 80_km/h driving. No windows means it will be very stable in response to side wind gusts.

The TWIZY has been on sale for a little over a year, and is already the top selling plug-in electric car in Europe.

If the price of fuel goes through the roof - so will the sale of cars like the TWIZY. Obviously we do not need to reinvent our cities, and force everyone onto public transport (which is 5 to 10x more energy intensive than a TWIZY) in the name of "peak oil" or reducing carbon emissions.


  1. Electric cars are a suppressed technology. As well, if we re-engineered our society, we could cut down travel quite a bit and use trains more as well. Cars are way out of hand in the USA. We are a spoiled extravagant bunch here. We got this country wide open and fairly undeveloped so we just went form horse to car without much train development whereas in Europe, everything was so developed that cars had little to no room to grow.

  2. Well, looks like Nissan made my idea anyway.


    1. Well done, Andrew, you ruined their patent opportunities. Maybe Nissan is begrudgingly preparing for Google's onslaught of tiny electric driverless freight vehicles. When those little ankle-tappers start to flood the streets, we will see major shrinkage not only in the car manufacturing industry, but in many other industries as they give way to the giant, fully automated factories that will happily deliver their products (including fresh food) to our front doors. I think traditional cars should be banned from our roads within ten years, or whenever the automated snowball effect kicks in.

    2. Don't worry, Richard. I'm pretty sure you can't patent a design philosophy. At least not on the level that I publish them.