Auto writer Gavin Green, who always makes a lot of sense, is spending a lot of time right now writing about the crisis the car faces in cities. Here's his latest piece, on the Car Magazine site. Posted by Mark.
The guys working in MIT's 'Smart Cities' lab are an extremely clever bunch. Pooled from a cross-section of backgrounds, and freed from the constraints that restricts the people working in the behind-closed-doors world of the auto-industry, they make a convincing case as the people most likely to reinvent 'mobility' right now. Following their Robot city car concept, which stacks like a shopping trolley at transit stations around the city, their next move is a foldable scooter, developed together with SYM and ITRI.
The idea is that it works in a similar manner to the Velib' one-way bicycle rental system recently launched in Paris - and that it then folds up to cope with the lack of space constraints that exist in many European and Asian cities. The master stroke is moving the engine to the wheel - an electric hub motor - which means that MIT's scooter has around 150 parts, whereas the average Vespa has around 1000 - and its two-stroke engine is pretty bad in terms of its contribution to local pollution. MIT's of course, is emission - and noise - free. It looks pretty good too.
And the best bit? This was pointed out to me by my friend who is a vehicle designer. Even the car guys think this is cool...
Images: Michael Chia-Liang Lin, Smart Cities, MIT Media Lab and MIT Smart Cities Group
- to be updated with more information and details shortly -
Posted by Joseph Simpson on 28th November 2007. With thanks to Florian Seidl once again.
Bertone Carabo at last year's MitoMacchina exhibition in Rovereto, Italy
One of the world's greatest automotive styling houses and one of Europe's few remaining coach builders appears to be on the brink of bankruptcy. Carrozzeria Bertone, founded by Giovannia Bertone in 1912, has produced and designed some of the most pre-eminent car designs of all time. Taken over by Nuccio Bertone after world war II, Bertone consists of two parts - the styling house Stile Bertone, and the coachbuilder carrozzeria.
Badge on an Alfa Sprint
The company has a long history of working with Italian car makers - notably Alfa, Lancia, Ferrari and Lamborghini - and has been responsible for some of the most beautiful and striking cars ever made, from (a personal selection of favourites this) the 1954 Alfa Guiletta Sprint and Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta SWB to perhaps its two most famous cars - the Lamborghini Muira, and the Lamborghini Countach - both styled under Marcello Gandini.
Lamborghini Muiras. White is a very cool colour for these cars...
But now, sadly the production lines sit idle. Capable of producing 70,000 cars a year, Bertone reportedly has a break-even production figure of 30,000 a year, which even the most optimistic would struggle to see it achieving, particularly in light of the breakdown of a deal with Fiat and Lancia to build some future models.
Sadly, it seems that Bertone may soon therefore be no more, and that the pretty Barchetta concept car shown in Geneva last year might be its last.
Posted by Joseph Simpson on 27th November 2007
Adding to the Pininfarina Cisitalia - a picture of which sits resplendent on the wall behind where I type at home, the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) now has another great piece of car design in its collection - the E-type Jaguar (XKE in the States). Judged by many to be one of the most beautiful cars ever built, there's a great video here featuring Paola Antonelli - Design and Architecture curator at the museum - explaining its importance, and the reasons for it being exhibited.
I found the video through a great site called 'Eliza-Beth' - which describes itself as 'Motoring for the international Woman', and is full of interesting, cool stories on all things car related - but with a slant towards design and sustainability. Its stories link to videos only, and it's part of the 29HD Network - a group of sites delivering TV-over broadband, cleverly billed as 'TV for your thirties'. The whole site's just rather nice - it makes a really refreshing change to the usual gear-head stuff. Worthy of your attention.
Images: Screengrab of Eliza-Beth site by The Movement Design Bureau
Posted by Joseph Simpson on 26th November 2007
This is Oscar Niemeyer's Museum in Curitiba - one of Brazil's other great architects.
When most people talk about Brazil, they think of places like Rio, Sao Paulo and rainforests. For me it's somewhere entirely different - the city of Curitiba. Curitiba is an 'anomaly' because it's a city in South America (i.e. a place classed by many in the west to still be the developing world), that's held up as an example from which western cities can learn. In urban design terms, Curitiba broke new ground - and that is mostly down to the man known as the God-father of the city, and three times mayor Jamie Lerner.
Lerner is an architect, who through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s held the position of mayor several times, and used his power to radically alter the urban form of the city. The most radical step was the pedestrianisation of massive portions of the city - completed, in moves worthy of a revolution - overnight, much to the surprise of car drivers. Lerner had a plan though, and that was to make the bus system a really viable alternative to the car, which was duly achieved by the implementation of a world-class system, which runs both in concentric rings around the city, and crosses through it, is simply coded by colour to identify routes, and uses cylindrical 'tubes' as bus stops. The buses themselves can hold up to 300 people. The whole system has the feel of a tramway - much favoured in Europe - but done at a fraction of the cost.
Passengers getting off the bus in Curitiba. Note the 'bus stop' design.
But the impact was much greater than just putting in a load of buses. Lerner is a real city visionary - he understands the importance and the need to be sustainable, but uses that as reasons to make things work better:
"A sustainable city is the one that integrates housing, work and leisure, while preserving its history and investing in public transportation."
He practices what he calls "Urban Accupuncture", a wonderful phrase that he explains as:
"My intention is to encourage people to understand their city, to plan their city. However, sometimes for determinate problems it is necessary to 'stick some needles' of good local [government] action that can create new energy, which is the principle of accupunture."
Posted by Joseph Simpson on 20th November 2007
The Venturi Eclectic on the streets of Los Angeles
It's being reported that Monaco-based car maker, Venturi, is to commence production and sale of its two electric vehicles in the spring of next year. The Tesla roadster-rivaling Fetish has apparently garnered six firm orders so far and is likely to cost a Ferrari-rivaling figure when it officially goes on sale in April 2008. This car has been a long time in gestation, having first appeared a couple of years ago at the Paris motorshow.
Like the Tesla Roadster, Venturi's Fetish hails a new dawn in battery-powered car performance. It'll nip to 60mph in around 4 seconds.
Even more interesting however is the Eclectic, said to be going on sale with a price tag of less than 30,000 euros. The Eclectic is a quadricycles - a small sub-car vehicle, which seats three people and has a maximum speed of around 50km/h. It is in part powered by an array of solar cells mounted on the roof, and - somewhat comically - an optional wind turbine. Doubtless the autonomous ability that these feature lend the vehicle will appeal to the environmentally-conscious campuses and hotel resorts that the vehicle is aimed at. But the real treat will come for the passengers and dignitaries who get to ride shot-gun in the vehicle and experience this car's real joie-de-vivre, or 'dolce-vita' feeling that designer Sacha Lakic has so successfully invoked in this car.
Deep in the bowels of the satellite television channel menus here in the UK (I'm not sure about the rest of the world), there's a channel called Audi TV. It's mainly just a format for the brand to pomp and advertise itself, but every so often they run quite an interesting feature on a new technology, design or other.
So it's unsurprising to hear that BMW have obviously thought 'whatever they can do we can do better', and recently launched their own web-based TV channel for everything beemer-related. Similar in style to Audi's channel, it's worth flagging up here namely for the explanation and videos related to BMW's 'Efficient Dynamics' programme, which has been rolling out across their Mini, 1, 3 and 5 series range of cars. I'd been intending to write about the idea for a while - it deserves highlighting for dramatically cutting the fuel consumption and emissions levels of existing vehicles under the philosophy of 'making things better' - i.e. put in new - but largely simple - technologies, take out weight, and not only do you save the environment, but you create a car that's more fun to drive into the bag.
But I don't need to do that now - the TV channel's efficient dynamics strand gives a better idea of what they're up to, and explains everything in a way that's much more involving than I could by writing 500 words on here...
BMW Web TV link here
Posted by Joseph Simpson on 17th November 2007. Thanks to Florian Seidl for highlighting this.
Jay Richards, our new Third Man at The Movement Design Bureau, dips his toe into the sea that is media on migration.
There must have been quite a few heads being scratched last night. The nation's press hounds had scrabbled to get to grips with latest migration figures from the Office for National Statistics.
The figures for 2006 are these:
- 591,000 people settled in the UK - 400,000 people left the UK "permanently" (the highest recored by the ONS)
- Of which 207,000 were British nationals (567 a day)
- Of which 193,000 were foreign nationals returning home
- The British population grew by 191,000
So how did the papers bend the figures to match their established rhetoric? Well put it this way, we didn't get much in the way of rivers of blood. In fact, it was all rather milky.
But lets start with the righties, who never miss the chance to toss the political hot potato of immigration figures in the direction of the Home Office. The Telegraph put the numbers in jumbo font on the front page. Inside, it dined on the opportunities for increased controls presented by the new figures:
"Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the pressure group Migrationwatch, said: "Two thirds of yet another record level of arrivals come from outside the EU. They could and should be subject with much tighter controls".
So much for EU expansion causing all the trouble.
There was of course the usual business about 'arrivals' increasing pressure on public services. An interesting point came from Sir Simon Milton, the chairman of the Local Government Association, who said that the government had "no clear idea of where all the immigrants were going and their impact on services". Which slightly jars with the comment of Damian Green (the Conservative immigration spokesman) quoted in the same publication, accusing the government of not considering the impact of immigration on public services. To 'not have an idea of the effect' is not the same as 'having a negative effect'. But the government could probably do with throwing a few home office flunkies together to look at this one.
The Telegraph was one of the few 'papers that tried to explain the surprising number of Britons seeking a new life abroad. They are 'the biggest outflow of nationals since before the First World War', so clearly something strange is happening.
The answers were vague at best. It identified higher wages, lower living costs, more sunshine, high taxes, intrusive government, and cheaper air travel as contributing factors. It couldn't resist smuggling in dirty hospitals and unsafe streets as motivating factors also.
But other than these it admitted there was "little hard evidence" to explain the 'exodus'.
A friendly welcome
The Mail ploughed a familiar furrow, focussing on the non-EU immigration which gave the much-maligned eastern Europeans a bit of break (20,000 of whom returned home in 2006, perhaps prompting a nervous look under the sink by some Mail readers).
Naturally there was a good opportunity to criticise the governments "open door policy" and Gordon Brown's commitment "British jobs for British workers".
The spotlight shone resolutely on the "scale of the influx". Explanations for the emigration figures were thin on the ground. It sniffly referred to the leavers as having 'turned their back on Britain'. There was a palpable sense of a crestfallen Maiden Aunt whom you've just told you won't be summering with in Scarborough this year. 'What? They're leaving?' seemed to run between the lines.
Moving on. In a very rare example of collusion the Guardian and Daily Express united in burying the story deep in their news pages.
The Express quoted MP David Davis who accused immigrants of leaving skill shortages in their homelands. The Guardian laboured through the stats and pointed out that London was the favoured destination for new immigrants, although less so than six years ago.
It also quotes Danny Sriskandarajah from the Institute of Public Policy Research who claimed Britain was becoming a "revolving turnstyle" but also that immigration figures had probably peaked.
It was left to the Independent to blaze the trail for the liberals. A massive Union Jack flag on the front page sits beneath a lead line sending up the bigots' traditional rallying call "Are they parasites? Or should they all go back to where they come from?" And under the flag "Thats Britain, by the way". In other words: "look, Britons are immigrants too you know, just in other countries. And there are more of them than ever". It's a point that needed to be made.
The smiling émigrés on pages two and three tell us how nice it is living abroad professionally and in terms of lifestyle, chiming with the Telegraph's reading that good jobs and increased leisure time are two key motivating factors in movement (100,000 emigrates are moving into new jobs and 82,000 are leaving to find work).
Also, we are reminded that due to the relative strength of the pound, retiring abroad is now an attractive option for elderly couples.
The press, in the main then, has either reverted into well-worn rhetoric or anecdote. This is a sure sign that they're not entirely sure what to make of it all. It is not obvious yet, perhaps also to politicians, where political capital can be gained. Who's to blame? Is there one cause? Should we be worried?
One thing's clear. The needs of those coming into the country are different from those on the way out, in terms of their aspirations, wages and willingness to 'lump it'. The age and financial backgrounds of our leavers is also strikingly varied. Young professionals and pensioners alike are heading to foreign shores. It's not surprising that the hacks had a rough time with this one - no comfortably compact explanation is likely to be found.
What's useful, then, is to turn the question on its head. Why didn't people move before now? Does broadband, cheap calls and almost as cheap air travel change everything? Have the children of the first package holiday generation bought into the permanent package holiday? Answers on a postcard, please. Or should that be email?