Batteries incensed Thomas Edison, and not just batteries, but battery makers. In a much-quoted 1883 interview, Edison griped about his unsuccessful efforts to find a battery that would hold a charge long enough to be of practical use in an electric vehicle. For decades beyond — into the next century — Edison would continue his quest, but failed every time, and his friend Henry Ford ended up the winner, earning a fortune with his combustion-propelled Model T.
Always, the problem was the same — electricity simply wouldn’t stay reliably stored, Edison said, and those who told you differently were simply liars. Was there any hope for finding a workable commercial battery? “None whatever,” Edison said.
Human mobility appears to be on the cusp of the next shift — to electric and perhaps driverless propulsion.
For thousands of years, one of the most dramatic historical sequences has been in how humans get around. First, it was on foot, then by animal, by ship, by wheeled cart and carriage, by rail, and finally internal combustion. With these changes came the utter transformation of civilization — of cities, towns, and landscapes, local and global economies, society, culture, and courtship. Now, the benefit of 137 years of tinkering is proving Edison wrong: Human mobility appears to be on the cusp of the next shift — to electric and perhaps driverless propulsion.
Appears to be because we can’t be sure what is coming, at what scale, at what price, and precisely when. These uncertainties are the new tension — and the subject of this blog. Reality is not as precarious as in Edison’s day — batteries and EVs for sure attract far more than their fair share of exaggerators and outright frauds — but there also are genuine, potentially transformational advances.
The signs that the mobility revolution is real this time are palpable. Automakers across the planet — in the U.S., Japan, China, South Korea, Europe — are launching suites of electrics, as are numerous startups. Front and center…