Mar 30, 2012

Change is Gonna Come

As I write this, I'm watching "The Revenge of the Electric Car." This is the follow-up, story-wise, to "Who Killed the Electric Car." It's a killer story, one of how Detroit (especially GM, the one-time front-runner of electric car design) got kicked in the ass by Silicon Valley (Tesla Motors), Japan (Toyota, first, followed by everybody making cars in Japan), and Europe (Audi, VW, BMW, Renault). The filmmakers got incredible access to the inside workings of GM, Nissan, Tesla, and Toyota. The story is not about how difficult the technology would be, it wasn't about how hard it would be to convince consumers to make the switch, the story is about how the industry, suddenly, realized the electric car's time had come. In fact, some of the executives realized the time had past and they were catching up to their own customers.

Incredibly unlikeable characters like Bob Lutz, GM's head gangbanger, demonstrated how their leadership imperfections created an industry that collapsed into a smoking heap of history. The inside view of that company and the brief commentary from Congress that disrespected automotive executive capabilities to a pretty realistic level provides a powerful perspective on how a once-great-and-powerful industry became near-obsolete. The Tesla story was pretty amazing, too. He decided to build a high-end, top dollar electric sportscar right at the time the economy crashed into a dying trash bin.

The major motorcycle manufacturers apear to be as clueless as Detroit, when it comes to where electric motorcycles fit into the future. Silicon Valley (Santa Cruz, CA), however, is moving into the future without pause. Zero Motorcycles is making a practical vehicle for a reasonably credible price (about $9k after the 10% federal tax credit for the ZeroS) for an 88mph, 114 miles/charge, $1/charge motorcycle. Zero may not be the eventually winner in this technology race, but they have a shot at it. Harley and Polaris, on the other hand, don't have a clue that there is a race.

Four years ago, I wrote an article called "A Technological Dead End." Apparently, my editors didn't like the column much, because it's still on the waiting list to be chosen or for me to give up on it and put it in this blog. In that article, I wrote about several technologies I've watched that peaked about the time the technologists realized the business was dead. Oil is dead. The peak oil curved topped in 2003 or 2004, even according to uber-conservatives like Dick Cheney. The world is overheating, our air is practically chewable, the world economy is tanking and a lot of that decline and instability is energy-based, and all the wrong people are getting rich in the process.

Oil and the oil economy is dead, we're just to dumb to know it. With it could go motorcycles. On the other hand, it's hard to beat motorcycles for the kind of single-passenger travel most of us do every day.

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