The Third Transportation Revolution

, Palo Alto

The Third Transportation Revolution is accelerating. Just recently week I was struck by this article that was forwarded by a friend which states that Japan now has more electric car charging spots that gas stations.

Some might say that the First Transportation Revolution in the US was the advent of the trains. The Second Transportation Revolution was the automobiles. And now we are entering a new era. The fascinating thing about the technological and disruptive age in which we live is the confluence of a number of trends. The Third Transportation Revolution is the development of electric and autonomous cars. The number of news articles seems to be proliferating recently with various many milestones being broken.

I had two memorable moments myself in Palo Alto this time I was there. One was driving an electric car for the first time. Yes as a futurist I probably should have done this ages ago! Intellectually it is one thing to know that these things are the future, but experience is another thing entirely.  I was only driving a Nissan Leaf and I thought that the performance was incredible for such a tiny little thing. I was most surprised when I was at a traffic light next to a regular sized saloon and my friend told me to accelerate hard, we just pulled away. My friend, Geoff Ainscow, was a member of one of the oldest electric car clubs in the United States and has met with Nissan many times to give them feedback on the cars development. He was also one of the first engineers at HP. He tells people that the electric engine is significantly more efficient than the internal combustion engine as very little energy is wasted as heat. The electric car is so efficient in this sense, car heating in the winter is actually a problem. Most of the energy is used for forward propulsion.

He certainly convinced me.  If that wasn’t enough, another friend Krishna Vedati who runs Tynker took me for a ride in his Tesla. The image of the electric car used to be one of inferior performance and not so cool. But it was good for the environment so there was a trade off. That is no longer the case. The Tesla S has blistering performance and keeps up with any super car getting close to 0-60 in 3 seconds!

The other event was when my airbnb landlord, who was dropping me off somewhere, got excited seeing a google car and wanted to show me so we chased and played with it for a while. I was very impressed by its ability to drive safely (safer than us!) and smoothly, and its sensing ability was incredible. Apparently some people now are so confident about the cars abilities, they are more likely to walk in front of a Google car than a regular car. I definitely don’t recommend this but it shows you what peoples experiences are in these areas where they see them more frequently.

Electric cars are clearly going to proliferate rapidly. Tesla announced in recent weeks that it has ramped up production of its Model S and Mode X,  increasing deliveries by 70% in the 3Q q-q. It will continue to increase production in the 4Q.

There are many reasons why I think electric cars will proliferate but one of them is simple: young people are much less interested in driving than before.  John Zimmer of Lyft recently wrote:

“The age of young people with driver’s licenses has been steadily decreasing ever since right around when I was born. In 1983, 92% of 20 to 24-year-olds had driver’s licenses. In 2014 it was just 77%. In 1983, 46% of 16-year-olds had licenses. Today it’s just 24%. All told, a millennial today is 30% less likely to buy a car than someone from the previous generation.”

Over the coming weeks and months we will explore the reasons why the adoption might be very fast and more importantly what the impact will be on society and the way we design our cities: I think it will be profound.


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