With car makers closing down & threatening to do so lately citing high labour costs & overheads for transportation in Australia, it is time to take a step back to gain a broader perspective.
Germany has similar constraints but manages to thrive by focusing on having many niche high tech engineering businesses and so too could Australia – particularly targeting the Asian market were it not for a burden of uber-regulation. For example small all electric vehicles need to be light yet government safety standards make that very challenging at a competitive price point.
Government rules in many countries and fear of litigation thwart those who dream of automatic cruise control of vehicle speed based on GPS & mapped limits. Developers of Apple device applications are currently bound by rules prohibiting such initiatives. However, other platforms are around and, remember, airlines were once stifled by fear of unsustainable insurance premiums until payout limits were capped and an international consensus achieved for that. What looks like an unassailable constraint may actually turn out to be an opportunity for those who manage to find a way around it. Building in interfaces on vehicles to make this idea possible to implement should be a given in anticipation of solving the legal constraints.
Should Holden close down, State Government ought to be ready to set up a public/private consortium to hire the displaced designers and develop innovative vehicles and systems to sell into Asian & African third world countries, rethink design standards making products uncompetitive, and change legislation blocking same. Furthermore, the flexible robotic manufacturing plant could be acquired at much cheaper than new prices and reserved for a new generation of products.
What about all the skilled workers? The non recurrent development and engineering design staff are not the only ones with their livelihood at risk. The challenge would be for the latter to come up with some quick simple products to get the former back in useful work quickly. Government and University cooperative projects could be set up with a view to getting mobilisation underway for design, regulatory reform, jigs and set to work planning… even marketing, procurement and distribution planning.
The scope for innovation does of course go somewhat deeper than just the basic ideas canvassed above:
- Hybrid vehicles ought be designed in a modular way; say electric engines in wheel hubs that can scale up by adding one, two, three or four units.
- Body configurations suggestive of a bicycle-built-for-two with weather protection might also be considered but flexible options should be the driving mantra.
- Visualise optional modules for electrical generation using LPG gas, or petrol and solar energy. Those could even be sold or even leased separately as plug-in add-ons.
- Grid charging and small home/business charging units could also be developed & marketed.
- Weight needs to be kept down so safety impact constraints need to be relaxed for light weight electric vehicles with lower speed limits – after all though how much impact protection do you get on a bicycle? Titanium-Alluminum alloys are very strong and yet light but expensive and those metals are plentiful in Australia so finding making progress in their exploitation and economic production is a longer term opportunity.
- More useful in a safety context might be to require electric cars to make a sound – say either an electronic whine or the simulated clip-clop of horse hooves in a speed determined manner.
Modules to implement GPS or even smart phone hosted cruise control and sound effects could be integrated with such smart initiatives and marketed as the new cool tech-savvy way to go. Taxes & Government charges could be configured as an incentive for buyers to try the new products for a reasonable product lifetime – say three years – after which the consumer might want the next model. We do not need a war to harness the drive and spirit of cooperative endeavour – just strong and enthusiastic vision underpinned by good Government policies!