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Dan Sturges designed the first Neighborhood Electric Vehicle, the GEM,
Dan Sturges designed the first Neighborhood Electric Vehicle, the GEM,

Dan Sturges and the Future of Micromobility

In an recent interview with GreenBiz, designer and visionary Dan Sturges sees an emerging third tier of transportation in the 21st century: one of micromobility options that include autonomous vehicles and last-mile shared vehicle systems.

I've know Dan Sturges for something like a decade, at least. We chat every now and then just to catch up on what the other is doing. Dan is the designer of the world's most successful neighborhood electric vehicle or NEV: the GEM, now owned by Polaris. He's spent pretty much most of his professional career thinking about how to make personal mobility sustainable. As he puts it in his interview with Green Biz, we live on planet dominated by an automobile 'monoculture,' and as biology tells you, monocultures are a dangerous thing, susceptible to disruption by a single aggressive pathogen: in this case the availability to fossil fuels and the problems they create.

This is why Dan has devoted so much of his life thinking about, talking about, and designing systems for the nearly 50% of all trips we make that are less than 3 miles: and over a quarter of those are less than a mile, he notes. In those situations, 'far cars,' as he calls them, are overkill. In fact, one stat he doesn't mention is that 70+% of those 3-miles-or-less trips are made by car, which is bad for the ICE-age engine, bad for the environment (the catalytic converters doesn't have a chance to warm up sufficiently); and, obviously, bad for us as our expanding waistlines confirm.

So what are some of the micromobility solutions Dan sees evolving as we inexorably plow further into the 21st century; one currently on a collision course with climate change, population overshoot, and resource limitations?

Here are some excerpts from his interview, which I encourage you to read in full over at GreenBIz.com:

To me, both Silicon Valley and Big Auto are not very focused on the massive opportunity that comes with a broader selection of optimized vehicle designs in the future of shared mobility. Today, we generally use two classes of mobility.

One, mainly, is our cars and light trucks to drive us each day around our cities and metropolitan regions. The second is the airplane that we fly to far-away cities and countries. What has been missing is a third tier — one focused on local transportation. That would be a travel environment for walking, bicycles and a wide range of upcoming micro-mobility (powered) vehicles.

Dan points out that the average automobile today consists of some 25,000 parts and costs, on average, $32,000. Why, he asks, "would anyone need all that to travel a mile or two for a meeting at a coffee shop?"

Nearly 50 percent of our trips in urban areas are less than three miles, and 28 percent are one mile or less. Our cars are over-engineered for nearly every trip we take in them. It’s overkill. It’s like killing a roach with a shotgun. We could not do anything about this before the auto tech revolution, but now we can.

The centerpiece of the local mobility future is the bicycle. While auto mobility develops in the future with the cars we drive, autonomous vehicles or other inventions, we will be redesigning our cities to offer amazing pedestrian, bicycle and active mode facilities first and foremost.

Okay... but not all of us are into walking or biking, GreenBiz points out. What then? Well, turns out there are a number of evolving solutions, many of them engineered about the world's growing 'shared economy.' [Note: Dan isn't the only one who sees the proverbial handwriting on the wall here. Check out my EV World blog entitled, Adam Jonas and the End of Automobile Ownership. ]

For those of us that want more than a bicycle for a nearby trip, we will choose from a growing array of local vehicles. This will include electric bikes, e-scooters, senior mobility scooters, golf cars, Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEVs), and a likely wide array of new types of near cars.

All of these vehicles require far less land and energy than a car, and cost far less to own, share, or operate than our cars of today. They are optimal vehicles for a short trip.

He continues...

Think about a metropolitan area divided into two vehicle categories: the local vehicles I am talking about, and the far cars – the conventional vehicles we know and use already today by the billion.

It’s helps to think of the neighborhood you live in as a small island, maybe two square miles. Let’s say you live in Palo Alto, California and you are a telecommuter, so your needs for an automobile are already really reduced. You might use a new-type of local shuttle service, ridesharing, carsharing, bike or walk to get around Palo Alto.

If you're a commuter, there will be another option: a narrow car. The Nissan Land Glider concept vehicle paints a picture of a new type of car to drive around your region. Cities encouraging the right-sizing of personal vehicles will benefit by reducing traffic congestion, along with reducing the amount of land needing for parking.

Of course, finding city leaders with vision and political courage it do this is a major challenge. Additionally, an uninformed citizenry is a major impediment to change, especially to the status quo. They have to see and appreciate the benefit of change to their lives and pocket books. That's why it's so important to have people like Dan Sturges and Adam Jonas speaking out and pointing a way forward.

Posted By: Bill Moore [12-Apr-2015]