E-Bikes and Cars of the Future
Looking at the possible consequences of the 2040 petrol and diesel bans
Is Change is in the Air?
Fans of e-bikes will be aware of their huge popularity on the continent and their increasing popularity in the UK and the US. More widespread use of electric cars is now on the horizon it seems, with the UK and French governments declaring a banning of petrol and diesel car and van sales from 2040.
It’s fun to speculate how the greater uptake of electric cars might affect riding your e-bike. First though perhaps it’s worth stating that as things stand it is quite a big if – Norway is currently the only country where e-cars are really taking off – in January 2017, the electrified passenger car segment, consisting of plug-in hybrids, all-electric cars and conventional hybrids, for the first time ever surpassed combined sales of cars with a conventional diesel or gasoline engine, claiming a market share of 51.4% of new car sales that month . But others lag way way behind, the UK for example currently having less than 5% of new registrations classed as ‘alternative fuel vehicles’ (i.e. not petrol or diesel so including electric, hybrid power, hydrogen and biofuel). And if you want to know why the oil and gas industry bosses might not be too bothered by a recent spike in e-car sales read this Guardian article.
E-Cars Impact on E-bikes
To get back to the original premise for this article, how might a new world full of e-cars affect the world from an e-bike standpoint.
The primary aim behind the bans is to promote clean air – nitrogen dioxide in particular which has been shown to be at extremely damaging levels on certain town centre roads.
Perhaps a more effective and immediate solution would have been to promote a diesel scrappage plan – one that was dismissed by the UK government as not good value for money. This gives the overwhelming impression of footdragging by the government, especially when you consider that it needed to be forced to the High Court by environmental organisation ClientEarth to simply publish a draft of its Air Quality Plan, after consistently breaching EU emissions standards.
And of course, looking to the longer term, the upsurge in demand for electricity caused by an all e-car future would have to be catered for; this Telegraph article outlines the figures involved in a potential e-car revolution. It does appear rather alarmist though in failing to even mention one potential solution that may let potential electric car users have their cake, eat it and keep a clean, green conscience; smart electricity grids.
Despite the fact that government ministers have been urged to introduce charges for vehicles to enter a series of “clean air zones” again they have failed to take the direct action option. Instead they have put responsibility onto local government, announcing £255 million for local councils to clean up their emissions hotspots.
So, unfortunately, in the short term at least the answer is no, there won’t suddenly be NO2-free roads everywhere. But more people on bikes and e-bikes is clearly part of the answer. An average urban car ride with two people occupancy typically uses around 44 kWh of energy per 100 passenger km whilst an e-bike typically uses between 1 and 2 kWh of energy per 100 passenger km (source Without the Hot Air). So promoting more e-biking is clearly a no brainer and something the government could easily do right now to help bring down mortality rates caused by noxious NO2 emissions.
Yes, an e-car’s engine generally makes very little noise compared to many petrol-powered engines. At higher speed there would of course still be noise from tyres and wind resistance. Note, however that, in the US at least, 2016 regulations mean town centres may one day become alive with the beeps and audio warnings from electric cars travelling at less than 19mph.
So, your e-bike ride may just in time become somewhat quieter – but don’t expect e-cars to usher in a world of blissfully silent cycling…
Safer, Less Congested Roads with More Cycling Infrastructure – The Radical Solution
If the all the ‘ifs’ and ‘mights’ above make a better life for e-bikers in the e-car world of the future its worth considering there are those out there with a much more radical agenda.
Heard of TaaS and ADAS (just a couple of many similar acroymns)? There’s no reason why you should have but you might in the not too distant future as they may become the currency of much more common conversations about driverless cars (TaaS stands for Transport as a Service and ADAS for Advanced Driving Assistance Systems). Some in Silicon Valley and the high-tech industry it seems have the oil industry firmly in their sights.
Put simply its all about automatic, self-operating driverless cars, the most famous of which is the ‘Google car’. However, as this BBC report shows testing already appears to be fairly widespread in the US and being undertaken by several companies, though the its secretive nature makes clear assessment of progress difficult.
For bikers and e-bikers the big gain here has to be the promise of much enhanced safety on the roads. As this MarketWatch article puts it ‘Driverless cars will drastically reduce accidents because they will replace reckless drivers, they will never speed, and they will be equipped to see and hear better than any of us.’ If this promise can be fulfilled it must be a goal for governments and industry to work towards as they appear to be doing so (faster in some countries than others it appears though).
With the space freed up (assume some visionaries) more walking and cycling infrastructure can be incorporated into towns and cities: ‘Cities will become much more dense as fewer roads and vehicles will be needed and transport will be cheaper and more available. The “walkable city” will continue to be more desirable as walking and biking become easier and more commonplace.’
One train of serious business analyst thought sees a future where such electrically-powered self-driving cars will be so much more efficient that they will lead to the collapse of the oil industry and the redundancy of internal combustion engine cars. The billions of dollars invested by the likes of Mobileye, Waymo, Baidu, NuTonomy, Tesla and GM in gathering the data and perfecting the hardware is assumed to come to fruition, perhaps optimistically, in 2020 by the quoted RethinkX report.
There are huge assumptions here – as this CityLab article points out – about people’s willingness to adopt a ride share mentality and about the provision of other infrastructure that would be needed to go with a truly autonomous, accident-free future.
In the words of the CityLab writer quoting an industry insider, ‘ “Autonomous vehicle” is a misnomer, because for self-driving cars to fully realize their safety and efficiency potential, a whole ecosystem of “smart” infrastructure must accompany them. Think street lights, roads, curbs, and parking spots equipped with sensors and special markings that “talk” to the cars. “These vehicles don’t operate ‘autonomously.’ They have to operate within a larger connected world.” Meet the Internet of Things.
Although the above might sound like pie-in-the-sky (and it certainly doesn’t lack ambition) it’s worth noting the vehicle-to-vehicle communication protocols that will make this a reality were under discussion by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations this year – so it’s certainly on the regulators’ agenda. Larry Pizzi, president of Raleigh Electric and chair of the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association’s e-bike committee, is more than aware of these developments, commenting ‘U.S. industry already builds its products to European standards, and this will probably be the case with what UNECE develops for vehicle-to-vehicle communication,’ adding ‘E-bikes have enough battery power to communicate with cars, so there is potential for a cyclist to network with other vehicles on the road. That’s a pretty exciting future promising a real increase in rider safety,” (info and quotes from Matt Wieber’s article in Bicycle Retailer and Industry News).
Either way, if and when autonomous vehicles do arrive it could make for an interesting future for everyone, including e-bike riders. That’s not least because this particular vision of the future envisages large amounts of road space to be freed up by the proliferation of autonomous vehicles used, in effect, for a very efficient form of e-car sharing. And if you really want to see the variety of cycling and carrying stuff that a truly spacious cycle lane network encourages check out this video:
Will E-bikes and E-Cars Merge?
Certainly the technology for good quality European and Japanese e-bikes already has a huge automotive input; Bosch, Yamaha, Brose and Continental being cases in point for the actual crank motor element of e-bikes.
But what if the best elements of cars and e-bikes merged to form a new type of vehicle? Check out Robert Llewellyn’s video:
However the future pans out for electric cars one thing is for sure, keep riding your e-bike and you are part of the solution, not the problem.