10 Future-focused Ideas for Obama's 'Car Czar', Imagining Life After the Combustion Engine

February 13 2009 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Transportation   Year: General   Rating: 4 Hot

The FuturePresident Obama is close to naming the ‘Car Czar’ who will oversee a large portion of the federal auto loans and consult on the looming transformation of the US auto industry. Let's hope this person doesn't try to build a better buggy whip.

Most ideas out on the table are incremental (e.g. ‘better mileage’), or short-sighted (e.g. plug in batteries?) and fail to inspire disruptive changes that reflect a 21st century version of the transportation sector. 

Here are Ten Ideas for the US Car Czar: 

1) Lower the US Auto Industry I.C.E. 'Manufacturing Footprint'
The problem isn't oil, it's the cost complexities of building mechanical engines. Declare the Internal Combustion Engine ‘Dead’ by 2025 (When more than 50% of new vehicles will be powered by electric motors) Have automakers share combustion engine plants and suppliers during the transition.

2) Accelerate the Electricification of the World's Auto Fleet
At the same time expand the US manufacturing base around the 'next' generation platform for mobility: Electric Drive systems based on high performance motors, drive by wire systems, software and various energy storage devices.

3) Explain ‘Electrification’ clearly to the public
‘Electric’ refers to the motor, not just the battery.  Next generation 'electric' vehicles will integrate batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.  Fuel cells produce electricity.  A hydrogen powered car is an electric car. Let’s stop the confusion and battle between technologies.  Cars are not iPods, and will need various systems to function.  This is a multi-decade long transition.  Don't pick short-term winners.

4) Go Global - Expand our ties to Asian Manufacturers & Markets
Electric cars are not designed to be built as one unit, in one country. They are assembled systems of systems that can be constantly upgraded via a global value chain.  The line of 'new' car vs 'old' car blurs when we shift to modular electric platforms.  And all the real growth will happen outside of the US!   'Detroit' must participate in this global supply chain and be in a position to sell 21st century vehicle systems to Asian markets. (Hint: The high value auto industrial base will revolve around polymers, software and sensors, not metal frames.)

5) Software Side of Car Experience
The single greatest opportunity for the next century might be the ‘software’ side of the automobile experience.   Smarter vehicles embedded with sensors and ‘situation awareness’ systems, customized driving experiences based on ‘drive by wire’, and mobility services (e.g. OnStar).   The US can compete in this new growth market and benefit by getting 'more flow' out of our current roadway system as we make drivers and cars smarter.  (PS - Mass Transit could use some software to create service transparency)

Read on:
6) Build next generation energy systems; 7) Reinvent the Wheel; 8) Fleet only for Plug-ins; 9) Shift Revenue streams to After Market 10) New 'types' of vehicle & service

6) Build Next Generation Electric Vehicle Systems: Fuel cells and Capacitors
Nanoscale materials science changes all forms of energy storage and conversion.  Assume the energy systems that will transform the auto fleet, do not currently exist.  We need to build them. 

We’ve already lost the battle over batteries to incumbents in Asia, and must focus on next generation fuel cells and capacitors.  (Hint: These systems can also build ‘smarter grids’)  We need to create a new industry not try to displace Asia in a mature technology platform.

7) Reinvent the Wheel
Wheel-based electric motors change everything.  Study GM’s ‘Autonomy’ vision to change how cars are built.   Build multiple chassis on one factory floor by using modular motors and scalable energy storage systems. 

8) Push for Fleet-only Plug in Sales
Plug ins drive me crazy!  Has anyone sat in a cafe or airport and watched people scramble for access to a wall socket?  Batteries are only ‘Step One’, not the end game.  Contain the ‘plug in’ craze by focusing sales around Fleet Vehicles.  Let’s not build wall sockets for vehicles.  Leap frog to ‘swap out’ (e.g. solid state hydrogen, metal fuel cells or batteries) or retrofitting quicker refueling stations.  Do not act as if wall sockets are the future!

9) Shift Revenue Streams from Production to ‘After Market’
The industry has an inventory problem because it builds vehicles around the combustion engine and must produce before they sell to some magical (yet to be named) customer on a car lot.  Instead of making money on new vehicle sales, it should profit for every mile driven and every activity done inside the vehicle.

Learn about ‘after market’ and shift revenues streams to upgrades and ‘pimp my ride’ changes. Require all US Automakers to design a strategic roadmap where they make the majority of the revenue (post 2020) come from non vehicle sales. 

10) Create a New Category of Transportation Vehicle & Mobility Service 
Enough of the 'one size fits all' attitude towards vehicle ownership.  The solution might be adding new types of vehicles (e.g. Personal Urban Vehicles) to our transportation sector. 

And shifting to a 'service' model of mobility using the power of software.  

To get us there, we need new types of vehicle that combine the software side of 'smart cars' and style of 'skateboard' chassis.  

Make vehicles 'cheap, smart and abundant' and designed specifically for the 21st century metro landscape!



Image Credit: iStockphoto/GGAccount


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Comment Thread (2 Responses)

  1. Awesome list Garry. This needs to go far and wide.

    Posted by: Marisa Vitols   February 15, 2009
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