November 22, 2009

IT'LL NEVER FLY, ORVILLE:

The electric revolution: Your next car may be electric. We look at the rapidly developing technologies that will see motoring turned on its head and help store renewable energy to boot. (Tim Thwaites, October 2009, Cosmos)

The demise and reorientation of the U.S. automobile industry - which saw the bankruptcy of the once-mighty General Motors in February 2009 - is just the beginning of a technological avalanche that could sweep away not only the world's major car makers, but also dependent industries such as parts manufacturers and service stations - even the neighbourhood mechanic.

In their place, a plethora of new enterprises will arise that lease cars and batteries; build and operate charge stations; design, make and program smart automotive electronics; and companies which process and recycle light metals and other new materials.

"When you consider what the new technologies that we apply to sustainable automotive engineering look like, and compare them with the current industry footprint, they are substantially different," says Barrie Finnin, manager of the Advanced Engineering Components team of Australia's national science agency the CSIRO, which works on components for automotive, defence and aerospace uses.

"The plug-in electric vehicle is utterly disruptive," says Richard Hunwick, a Sydney-based energy industry consultant. This is partly because it cannot be built on conventional production lines and would require a restructuring of the motoring industry and infrastructure.

Nevertheless, he believes the shift to plug-in electric cars is inevitable. And he's not alone. Almost every major car manufacturer - Toyota, Peugeot, General Motors, Volkswagen, Mitsubishi, Audi, Renault-Nissan, Volvo, Ford, Honda, Mercedes-Benz - has an electric vehicle either in production or slated for release over the next five years.

They have no choice, says Hunwick. "Plug-in electric vehicles are coming," he told an Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering symposium on alternative transport fuels in Melbourne in November 2008. "If any incumbents resist the trend, the demand will be met from start-up Chinese or Indian manufacturers." He points to legendary American financier Warren Buffett, who has already invested US$230 million in Chinese company BYD Auto, a battery maker headquartered in Shenzhen that has begun to manufacture plug-in electric cars.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 22, 2009 7:47 PM
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