Carless traveling is meandering in the fast lane at the Consumer Electronics Show, with firms showing off electric bicycles, scooters, skateboards while many focus on making the internal combustion engine a past tense.
As the percentage of people around the world living in cities has increased, so also has the cost of owning a car and more traffic congestion.
Nowhere was this clearer than at the annual tech conference in Las Vegas where some 170,000 attendees jammed the streets.
“In a lot of huge cities, cars are not defensible any longer,” said tech analyst Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates.
An AFP reporter running test on the car-free idea through the week at CES by focusing on a newly released GenZe electric bicycle often went past congested traffic close to the convention center and on the famous Las Vegas Strip.
Riders too weak or reluctant to pedal concurrently can twist a throttle to glide along almost at local street speed limits.
GenZe spokesman Tom Valasek, an ex auto industry marketing executive, said that many car makers had come to assess the company’s CES exhibit.
“There are lots of curiosity at the moment about where things are facing,” Valasek told AFP.
“I know a considerable number of people in the auto industry who are quite concerned that ownership of cars is fading away.”
The advent of smartphone-summoned rides from services like Uber and Lyft are featuring in the trend, with technology titans investing largely in self-driving ability that may soon see automated cars available on-demand.
“We feel car ownership won’t be necessary in the future,” Lyft chief executive John Zimmer said at a CES dinner event.
Zimmer dispute that his daughter, still very young, will desire to own a car when she’s grown up. Instead, he said: “She’ll want entry into transportation.”
An increase of autonomous cars is likely to prompt vehicles to be more similar to rooms on wheels: sleeper cabins in trains, or private offices, Zimmer added.
Shifting away from owning and depending on cars was also expected to end in traffic and parking being less important in urban design.
GenZe, a US-based section of the Mahindra Group in India, this week disclosed its e-bikes will be added in April to a Ford GoBike ride-share program in San Francisco.
The e-bikes will “help making San Francisco more livable and minimize congestion,” Metropolitan Transportation Commission executive assistant Alix Bockelman stated in a release.
Facebook has a fleet of 100 GenZe bikes for staff to get around its Silicon Valley campus, delivery services DoorDash and Postmates are also making use of them, according to Valasek.
Scoot, Skate, Ride
In spite of negative exposure about hoverboards some years ago — centered on their possibility to explode—the manufacturer Swagtron was present at CES with some of the devices with skateboards and bicycles powered with electric motors.
“We’re seeing with personal mobility that some people like skating; some people like scooting, while some people like riding,” Swagtron chief operating officer Andrew Koven told AFP.
Koven saw alternatives to automobiles as an “absolute necessity” which was part of a “systemic shift” toward moving around in ways that are money-saving, also socially and environmentally responsible.
“If I am going a short distance to work, do I actually require a car?” analyst Gold asked rhetorically.
Cities are already showing interest in autonomous shuttle services.
A self-driving electric shuttle developed by Navya was found here last year in a test that segued into a program offering rides on a route in downtown Las Vegas.
Swiss-based Rinspeed also displayed its autonomous shuttle, and Toyota introduced a boxy concept vehicle which is good for ridesharing, deliveries, medical services or as an extension of retail stores.
Several new cars were displayed at CES including a number of self-driving models. But some attendees are of the opinion that the vehicle of the future may be something different.
Automakers “have been developing vehicles from the driver’s point of view,” said Ankit Jain, head of the Ola Play software platform for the India-based rideshare group.
In future vehicles which may be independent, “the passenger being the only one paying,” Jain said. “You need to fundamentally have a rethink on the car.”