The EV might be the French answer to clean air compliance

One really “welcome” aspect for climate change here in France is “how we will meet the goals” of our climate change commitments when most of our greenhouse gas emissions come from our cars & scooters, not power production as would be the case in most countries. That means if we are going to do our part, we will have to cut the use of petroleum based transport systems massively!  To even put a “small” dent into the pollution, whether you count that pollution as CO2 or other toxic emissions, our cars will need to be electrified and/or shared in some new “type” of system. This, in and of itself, is one of the most encouraging things for me as it definitely means the EV will have to be taken seriously.

Unlike most of the countries in the EU, and even I would dare say the world, almost all of the cities in France are plagued with air-toxicity levels that are directly linked to tailpipes, not smokestacks. Exacerbating the problem is noise pollution, road rage linked to over-saturation of vehicles, and of course our favorite daily activity, the battle for parking that is simply nonexistent. All of these things cry out for a better understanding of how EV technology is well suited for people that live inside a city or its perimiter; a topology that would not have to fret over EV range or charging time constraints.

Moving to an electric based transportation system for inner-cities is simply common practical sense; yet embracing adoption by consumers is maddeningly slow moving. We indeed have installed many stations for charging EV’s in most of the cities around France; but alas many of these sit empty and/or under-utilized.

One of the things you learn by living in France is how much we are an “electric” society. Everything in your daily life from the cooktop, oven, heating and even the BBQ is electric! It took me a while to adjust to an electric BBQ on the poolside being from California, and even longer to explain that it is common place to my family and friends back state side. So, if we are so entrenched in electricity and the prices are reasonable and the generation is “clean power” what are we waiting for?

If you happen to live in a city, you know that most of the city is cluttered with parked cars doing nothing. You also know that finding a parking place is a skill that one has to acquire by living in that city for a while and learning the secrets. Adding to the equation is the “cost” of parking; which is either quantifiable by excruciating painful frustration in life, or monetary dispersement thru fees and of course fines. I am of the belief, having owned an EV for nearly 4 years, that parking is one of the “golden keys” to attracting or adoption of EV ownership. It was the sole reason I purchased my initial EV and remains a big motivational factor in the ownership of my car today as I can charge cheaply or for free in many shopping centers and public places.

Advocation does not only have to come thru generous “subsidization” of ownership per se. I do believe during the nascent phase of the evolution of the Electric Vehicle ecosystem, some rebates are a matter of due course. However, I think that we could do far more by simply adjusting how we look at prioritization of parking for EVs and some stronger regulation on dirty cars entering the densely populated urban area as have become common practice in Paris, Munich and NYC.

Many of our EV charging stations around Nice in the south of France are packed on any given Saturday; but before you get excited that EV use has taken a foothold, have a closer look at the photo. Those are not EV’s in the slots……..I typically find 9 times out of 10 the charging stations are filled or blocked with diesel cars because they the parking spaces are  too irresistible for drivers searching for a space to pass up. The EV stations are clearly marked in bright green color with big clearance space to maneuver, they are typically clean (no oil drops) and usually close to the entries of buildings, just like dedicated handicap parking spaces. Yet, when I have asked drivers why they park in these EV spaces and not the handicap? they often tell me because in the handicap spots you can get a ticket or have your car towed!

So, while enforcement sounds great, it is a resource that costs and is difficult to monitor. I am of the mind that if we had more EVs on the road and in the stations, they in some ways would be “self-policed” and would become more valued when utilized. That does not mean I think we should ignore abuse, not at all. I actually think the fines are the wrong way to go and it would be better to hit the true “pain point” of drivers; the penalty points on your drivers license.

Fact: Far less than .05% of the cars in the inner-cities are EVs on the road and we probably need someplace around 40% to change the toxicity levels in any meaningful way amounting to meet our goals. Another frustrating phenomenon is that EVs are even under attack form ecological minded people themselves! Many ECO-techies confront me when I park to charge and say my EV makes more Nuclear power usage! For some, on the side of “green energy” it is far better to have diesel and move our Nuclear power to say gas or worse coal (like in Germany); brilliant idea!

Even with the decommissioning of Nuclear based power plants and adding in energy production from solar, thermal, and wind generation systems, we have a zero effect on greenhouse gas emissions in those swaps. Thus, we will need to slash our petroleum based transport significantly to meet any objectives we have committed to.

It will be interesting to watch how we deal with our pollution problems here in France and if in fact the Electric Vehicle will be the golden goose or the dead duck. We have signed up for a hefty amount of change, in terms of cutting our emissions and if we hold to that agreement, this obviously means the diesel is going to be on some presentation deck, in some meeting room, being shown to some political  leadership as the main root that has to be pulled from the dirt it is based upon.


EV sales and use statistics:





The Grand Prix goes Electric


The geeks in us had to check out the 2nd “electric Grand Prix” this year in Monaco to see how technology has transformed the way cars race. Indeed the organization has transformed the way we think about EV’s from being a “cheap toy” type of car that is not strong or powerful enough to be in a “real race” into not just a contender, but perhaps the future of racing!

For most of us geeks that detest traffic jams and screaming road rage drivers, we eagerly welcome AI taking over the drivers seat. What was really interesting to learn in the ePrix 2017 event was the potential for IoT and neural network technology that is already being leveraged to squeak out seconds of time in a race. Many of us geeks know that Lidar and camera based “sensors” in EV’s that are indeed better than our “biological sensors” in the sense that they can detect “stuff” in longer or wider ranges than our eyes, ears or even nose. But, the “mesh” of data and processing it all to make decisions on “driving behaviors” and changes is evident in the horizon. That is really exciting when you consider cars will soon communicate among themselves and make decisions on their own, based on inputs from data they collect from other cars, systems like “waze”, IoT sensors in the road itself, or satellites (GPS) that will enable EV’s to cruise thru traffic 100x more efficiently with no road rage. Well at least until AI gets feelings!

The technology in the ePRIX cars is nothing short of fascinating when you have a look in the cockpit and dream about the forces pushing you back in the seat, or pulling you thru a curve. The HUD info connected back to the network is really tricked out cool and you can check out some Youtube videos like the following to get an idea:

One of the things you “become” in owning an EV today is like some kind of “spokesperson” as people stop you in the street to ask about the electric car at charing points. EV adoption is still in the nascent stages; I mean the industry of EV’s is still a transition from toxic air producing vehicles to systems that are probably a bit better inside cities especially. But adding to the entire “eco-friendly” aspects of the EV is the technology that is just flat out “cool”; especially for kids! And who is nothing short of a “kid” than a adult geek playing with cars?

We spent some time at the e-village and learned how the cars work, and the kids in all of us got to try out some of the BMW cars and examples of technology.

So the question that came to us a few times was “are they fast”? We geeks can assure you the Tesla “ludicrous”  button gives a lot of inspiration, but the throttle on the ePrix cars is one I would love to push!


Social change happens most effectively with education of kids not us old dogs

Like many companies in San Francisco we are pretty involved individually and collectively as a company to do “green stuff” related to helping improve our environment. Yes, geeks can be green too! Most of us grew up influenced by our peers and became more and more conscious of the things we need to fix to make our air cleaner and use energy more sensibly. As a company we try to push these social responsibilities further by acting and focusing on the things we can do locally. Interestingly it often means very unique things as we are a global team with some of us driving EVs in France, other biking to work in Berlin and some of us in Moscow skipping cars for the metro.

Recently one of the topics around the water cooler was the mobile app “Plume Report” . This cool app is increasingly popular not just in our SF office but also Berlin and for some of our staff in France where its origins begin. The app is pretty simple, yet powerfully educational in that is demonstrates visually how cars affect the air we breathe in the daily commute cycles. For some of our staff it was very frustrating to see how Nice is more polluted in the summer months than Paris which is notoriously filled with chronic air pollution from congested streets filled with cars and scooters.

An interesting tangent to our Plume Air chat was whether anything we are doing is going to make people wake up a bit more and realize the air and cars in our cities are a bit out of control. Some of us said that when some friends see the Plume report information for the first time they are shocked. But one of the subsequent “results’ is that people see no way “out of it” for themselves and accept the way things are; albeit a capitulation of defeatism.

This actually is perhaps more dangerous than the fact most people are not aware of the toxicity of the air. Meaning, it is quite probable that the vast majority of the population is simply blind, and Plume is doing great things to combat that problem on that battlefront. But what is more concerning is what will people do “after the fact”; or what is the expected behavior “modification” after learning? If that modification is “nil” or acquiescence to facts that are not “controllable” or the person does not see any feasible way to contribute constructively, then we have more work on our hands then thought.

Vector Vintage Style Characters School Children Set Isolated White Background
Showing kids what behaviors are good, cool and expected by example…..deliver change over time.

After hashing out the issues we came to a conclusion that education is the single most powerful tools we have to effect social change, whether that is environmental issues, or otherwise. One example we discussed was how California has chopped down smoking by teens nearly 75% in the last 2 decades. Where other countries like the south of EU have higher rates of teen smoking. Why? The efforts that were poured into education, and demonstrating the the behavior was not cool. Even to the point of demonizing smokers to the extent nobody wanted to be in that crowd.

Growing up in California most of us recalled how recycling back when we were kids was literally a real war to get everyone to participate. Now, if you do not recycled it is viewed as “weird” by the .com generation and perhaps borderline illegal by Millennials. Just ask our colleagues in Berlin to imagine they have a new neighbor that throws rubble into the recycling bin and says it does not matter…..

Taking these examples into todays’ context, for those of us that drive electric cars, we should remember that each kid that comes to my EV and says “wow, is that an electric car?” is a opportunity. Take it to explain why it is not just cool, but if they believe it is better than what us old school folks did to be cool with plumes of smoke and sounds for our exhaust pipes; then we have planted seeds of change that collectively become more powerful than what we do individually. The fastest way to cleaning the air is to change the behaviors, and that will only become significant in numbers if the kids today believe it is the norm for their generation tomorrow.