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Thinking differently: The future is coming

December 10th, 2008 · No Comments · Industry, Politics of Riding, Technology

This is only tangentially about motorcycles, and only in the sense that it points to how the world of the future will work. But it’s an important insight into our future. This NYTimes editorial by Thomas Friedman (author of “The World is Flat” and “The Lexus and the Olive Tree”) is about a new kind of car company called Better Place, based in Palo Alto, CA.

The revolution that Better Place is betting on isn’t in what they’re doing — electric cars — but in how they’re doing it. The company is taking the business model Apple Computer used to revolutionize the music business and applying it to green transportation.

The Better Place electric car charging system involves generating electrons from as much renewable energy — such as wind and solar — as possible and then feeding those clean electrons into a national electric car charging infrastructure. This consists of electricity charging spots with plug-in outlets — the first pilots were opened in Israel this week — plus battery-exchange stations all over the respective country. The whole system is then coordinated by a service control center that integrates and does the billing.

Under the Better Place model, consumers can either buy or lease an electric car from the French automaker Renault or Japanese companies like Nissan (General Motors snubbed Agassi) and then buy miles on their electric car batteries from Better Place the way you now buy an Apple cellphone and the minutes from AT&T. That way Better Place, or any car company that partners with it, benefits from each mile you drive. G.M. sells cars. Better Place is selling mobility miles.

So what’s the motorcycle connection? Maybe it’s KTM and their Zero Emissions Bike or their patented hybrid, two-wheel-drive technology. It doesn’t appear to be the existing behemoths of the industry, including Honda, Harley-Davidson, or BMW.

But Friedman’s point is that, wherever it comes from, it will come. And probably sooner rather than later. As motorcyclists we should be prepared for what entirely new business models could mean to our pass-time, and to the political environment in which we exist. Greater access to quiet, green transportation will make our loud, smoking bikes even more of an outlier, and subject to even greater regulation.

We need to get our act together now, and figure out how to create a united effort to protect the rights we still have, while we still have them.

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