It’s only a good idea if you can sell it…

Four weeks into my PhD and my head is full of countless fuel cell and electric vehicles, as well as hybrids of both systems. So many great success stories – but the ones that stick in my mind are the failures, some astronomical sums are invested and my first thought is – well that was a waste of money!

Let me backtrack slightly. I’m doing a PhD at Warwick University, based in the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) and also working with the High Speed Sustainable Manufacturing Institute (HSSMI). Indeed that is a bit of a mouthful. I also have access to Ford intellectual property and with a company that size, let me tell you – that’s lot of property.

My PhD looks at the current technologies we have to reduce our CO2 emissions in the automotive industry and asks the question – why aren’t we at zero emissions already? Of course, there are a plethora of issues with the technologies and one of the most influential (and definitely why I don’t drive a Nissan LEAF around) is the love the human race has for the internal combustion engine.

Ultimately at the end of my studies, I would like to think I have contributed in some way towards the industry’s aim of reducing the impact we are having on our environment. If you’re a global warming sceptic then let me remind you that the Earth revolves around the Sun, you share about 98% of your DNA with a chimp and man has landed on the moon. If you don’t get where I’m going with that – science has advanced enough to know with 95% certainty that the planet is changing – not because of volcanoes or farting cows – but because we humans are belching out tons of a multitude of gases into the atmosphere. We are causing a potentially devastating change to our climate and it’s our job to fix it.

Cute Chimp

I’ve definitely digressed. I’m concerned that my thesis will be subject to the same treatment resulting in: a meaningless, vain attempt at trying to justify what I’ve been doing with myself for three years and where the money the EPSRC invested in me has disappeared to. Wait. That’s just like any thesis. Not to worry.

Waste of money. Let’s get back to my original point. I’ve had discussions with friends and colleagues about how incompetent the intellects of our planet are and if such and such an idea was implemented we’d have world peace, unlimited energy and freedom for all. But – it’s not really that easy is it? I mean the simplest thing that we want to do can end up costing us so much time and money that we end up at the end of the process wondering why we bothered at all.

Looks Comfy

I’ve talked about ideas for battery swapping for electric cars (because the batteries of our time are crap). I’ve said that the EU is useless and doing nothing active to reduce our impact on the planet. I’ve felt that the UK government just wants to milk us of money and will find a way to tax the very air we breathe. I think that we would be so much further down the road of zero emissions if we as drivers weren’t so fussy – I don’t need AC, cruise control, padded leather seats, 5 star NCAP safety rating, power steering, speakers, radio, rear seats. I’m going too far. I really like having AC and cruise control is bloody useful.

The problem is: all these things add weight. They add money. They add carbon. They require energy to be implemented. Despite the argument that energy cannot be created or destroyed, the quality of that energy is always decreasing. We are prisoners. Time is our jailor. By time I mean of course, our greatest adversary – entropy.

So we must manage our energy, remove the non-essential – but how do we decide our non-essentials? My grandparents always tell me – back in my day we use to play with clay toys and didn’t even have a TV. Cool story gran, but we don’t live in your day. Today it’s all about Apple vs. Android (the latter wins), Facebook, Google, Richard Branson and eating your five a day. To fit all this new stuff in we need more time. Saving time requires money. Money buys energy. So in order to grow our economies and look at cat pictures, we need more energy. But, I’m afraid we don’t have enough. At least, not enough of the one we like the most. The black gooey stuff. Not marmite.

So, some clever people have started looking at other ways of getting us more energy. We have battery powered cars, fuel cells, combinations of the two and of course interesting ways to make the ICE friendlier.

There are people much more intelligent and experienced than me that have thought up fantastic and novel ideas that work. They work perfectly. The problem is, that you and I are only comfortable with what we are used to. We wait for the weird guy to go off and buy a Prius. When we realise that it’s safe and comfortable and hey – it’s saving me money too. Then the whole thing takes off and we get to 5 million Prius’ sold. Woop. It’s not enough. More importantly, it’s not happening fast enough.

V8 Monster

The problem is. We are engineers. We are not good at selling things. We think everyone will understand the brilliance of this new technology and it will catch on like wildfire. But it won’t. Not because it’s a bad idea. We are just bad at selling things. I’d struggle to sell gasoline to a petrolhead. I’d end up talking about its viscosity, combustion characteristics and how he can tune his engine to make the most of it. Do you know what he wants to hear? He wants to hear his engine roar. The guttural sound brings a smile to his face. And he wants it to happen now. He doesn’t have time to waste, he’s missing out on cat pictures.

We have to learn to tell people that this is going to benefit your life personally and directly. Not: three generations down, your family will have drowned in a freak flood in the Sahara desert unless you drive this poor excuse for transportation. We have to make that statement loud and clear and quickly. You will save time. You will save money. (You will save the planet).

Better Place. Read up on it. Fantastic idea. Great company. It should have worked. Why didn’t it work? They couldn’t sell the idea. The statement wasn’t clear.

We are all geniuses in our own way. Even Justin Bieber. We all have great ideas. Game changing ideas. You know the ones that work? The ones that sell. Ask Apple.

And if you fail? Try again! Keep trying. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Not really true is it? If I keep kicking a ball, my legs will get stronger. The ball will go further and further each time with more power and accuracy.

I know what Einstein meant.

But do you know what I mean? 

Good Ol' Bertie