Wireless Technologies

Deluded: Tech-obsessed car industry could be missing real threat

Electric cars have yet to fully take off as there has not been many incentives yet to do so. One survey found that 75% of the respondents “underestimated the beneficial aspects” of electric cars. The co-author of the study believes that the “lack of accurate information” about electric vehicles has been a contributing factor in their slow adoption.

But in May, at the FT Future of the Car Summit in London, Japanese car manufacturer Nissan painted a picture of electric cars plugging themselves into the National Grid through charging stations at night and powering offices and homes during the day. Issues around how battery-powered infrastructures will hold up over time were not addressed.

Then there were comments made by Volkswagen’s UK Director, Paul Willis about car manufacturers becoming nothing but “makers of steel” which raised a question about how the car companies are really adjusting to a period of change they haven’t witnessed in decades with driverless cars, car-sharing and electric vehicles slowly disrupting their entire business model.

Gordon Tait, Inventor at Battery Fueling, was also at the FT Future of the Car Summit and has some outspoken views about the electric car industry. Tait is trained as an industrial designer and worked in the U.S. film industry for a while before moving into merchandising and then eventually patent design. But his stint at Lego helped him learn the ‘modular aspects’ which he has taken with him into the non-toy world.

Tait was left unconvinced by the talks at the summit and says there were a lot of issues that were purposely avoided by the car manufacturers on the day. 

“I feel that at least 80% of what we were being told on that day was actually misdirection. And if it wasn't misdirection then they are in big trouble,” Tait tells me when I catch up with him over coffee at Paul’s Café in London.

One point of misdirection Tait is referring to is the lack of discussion on charging the batteries themselves.

“50% of the value of an electric car is ownership of the batteries. You wouldn't accept that when buying a petrol car. Plus, if you have a battery like the one in a Tesla you can obviously charge up the amount that you want. But if you have 70% of fuel left and need to travel 30% more, you wouldn't let 70% of the petrol be sucked out of your car and have 100% put back in. And yet people accept this nonsense. I maintain that's why the sale of electric vehicles is still only 4% of total car sales. And why people won't take that leap of faith.”

But Tait says his creative approach rubbed people up the wrong way at the summit: “I tend to ask questions which can really upset people,” he admits. “How can an inventor approach an electric vehicle company with ideas?”

Tait argues that the customer should want more than what the electric car industry is currently trying to sell us. His battery fueling method gives owners the choice to refuel the battery as much or as little as they want just like a normal fossil fuel vehicle. He says this will provide a happy medium for the driver.

“If you go into one of the petrol stations, you can be advised that you need a minimum of £15 worth of new batteries to get you to where you want to go because you tell the computer where you want to go next and it will tell you where the next filling station is. And you can fill up with £15 worth of motive power and still have £10 left in your pocket. So it deals with Mr Joe average, not the person who is going to go into a showroom and, in Tesla's case, buy a £100,000 car.”

At the moment Tait runs Battery Fueling but tells me he thinks the website and name has ‘had its day’ and is currently setting up a new company to licence each one of his 40 plus inventions as the primary business model. 

Tait is happy to talk about other issues surrounding the car industry so we delve into threats facing the car industry.

Many car companies are partnering up to tackle these threats together rather than alone. Apple invested $1 billion in Chinese car-hailing app Didi for “strategic reasons” and to better understand the Chinese market. Google, and possibly Apple later down the line are really starting to rattle the car companies.

But Tait doesn’t feel the threat will just come from the software companies: “Well everyone is expecting that to be the case. Why wouldn't it be the tobacco or petrol companies? They are not looking at the other places it could come from.”

He talks about how Kodak went bust because it refused to recognise the existence of video.

“They stayed with film because they thought video was going to be a fad. The cigarette companies refused to recognise e-cigarettes as a competition.  Now e-cigarettes are bigger sellers than cigarettes.”

Then Tait refers to the “very nasty” competition between Betamax and VHS over TV video tape recorders.

“The reason why VHS won, which by the way was a very inferior recording system, was that they cornered the pre-recorded market. Betamax didn't think the pre-recorded market was off any value. There is lots of these nasty little twists that will define the whole arena. If you take that parallel denial… I would suggest that it might well come from the tobacco industry.”

Why the tobacco industry?

“The cigarette companies can put 10,000 cigarettes into packets every minute. My take is that if a cigarette manufacturer can put 10,000 cigarettes per minute into packets, it can put 10,000 batteries per minute into a car. It will be a lot easier and less vulnerable.

“The cigarette companies would almost have to do nothing except change the size of the cigarettes they are transporting to battery size. The tobacco industry missed out to e-cigarettes, are they going to miss out again?”


Also read:

Technologist sees car as one big computer empowering our lives


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Ayesha Salim

Ayesha Salim is Staff Writer at IDG Connect

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