Sunday, December 28, 2008

Re-inventing mobility

Re-inventing mobility

Car makers are designing a new vehicle for an era of sustainability as the industry braces for its worst crisis ever
by Reino Gevers

CAR factories from Detroit to Tokyo and Munich are grinding to a halt as the car industry faces its biggest shake-up in decades with millions of unsold, new cars standing idle in the parking lots of dealerships and storage depots.

But while analysts are asking themselves whether big names such as General Motors, Chrysler and Ford will survive the winter, engineers are looking at nothing less than re-inventing the car for a new era of sustainability.

Paradoxically, the crisis in the industry comes at a time when car makers are announcing almost weekly, new innovations in clean-drive technology and dealerships are offering special discounts. Cars have never been safer, more efficient and versatile.

But it is a Catch-22 situation. Buyers are postponing purchases of new cars in the hope of even cheaper deals in future and in the assumption that current, fuel-efficient models may not be as good as those on offer in 2010.

Do I keep my old petrol or diesel car until I can afford a cheaper hybrid or electric car?

That is a question car makers will have to answer.

Speaking at the recent Los Angeles Motor Show, Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault-Nissan, said: "We are reinventing mobility," and pointed out that by 2020, sales of electric clean-drive vehicles would increase to seven million units annually from the current level of a mere 50,000.

Once derided as a cumbersome technology for backyard freaks, electric power is fast becoming a real alternative to vehicles powered by fossil fuels.

BMW was the first major car maker to launch a fleet of 500 electric-powered Minis in Los Angeles which will be available initially only for lease.

The Mini E is driven by a 150kW/204hp electric engine, powered by lithium-ion batteries with a range of 250km on one electric charge.

The lithium-ion battery technology is expensive and takes time to set up the loading station infra-structure.

German car expert Prof Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer said the German car industry was at its worst since the 1973 oil crisis.

He has predicted that electric cars will become a mass phenomenon by 2015 with sales picking up in 2011.

German solar energy producer, Solarworld, recently made a bid for the ailing GM subsidiary Opel.

The company would become the first mass producer of high-tech cars with zero-emission.

The bid was quickly rejected by GM, but it was an indication of where the car industry might be headed.

"The car industry is facing a major shake-up," says car market analyst Christoph Stuermer. "Old players will disappear. New market participants will appear including some who have previously not been engaged in the field of mobility." – dpa