Bragadeesh Selvarajan, Langone MBA Class of 2016
Last week I paid a visit to the New York Auto Show, at the time thinking, “What better way to spend a long weekend than to ogle cars that I can only dream to afford someday (even with a Stern chip on my shoulder)?”
But something was different this year – it seemed that the Javits convention center was home to an automotive revolution of sorts. There was a spotlight on the Chevy Volt, the Toyota Prius, the Nissan Leaf and other eco-friendly cars. On the bottom floor, there was even a track setup where thrill-seekers could test drive a compact electric car.
Even when I wasn’t looking at the decidedly “green” cars, never in my life have I heard so many beautiful women speak so passionately about improvements in highway MPG. It was certainly not what I was expecting, but I became fond of the idea very quickly.
It seems that the automotive industry has been whole heartedly pursuing the consumer demand for more efficient cars and driving towards the presidential mandated targets of higher fuel efficiency. But what does this mean for the automotive industry? Does it really spell out the death of the internal combustion engine? I don’t think it’s that extreme, but things are certainly changing.
Whether it’s pressure from consumers, or the looming threat of powerful newcomers such as Tesla Motors, the major automotive companies are doing whatever they can to appeal to cost and environmentally conscious consumers. All electric cars and plug-in hybrids are certainly becoming more popular in not only in TV commercials, but in dealerships and suburban neighborhoods across America.
I am a big fan of new technology, especially developments that seek to make a positive impact on our lives. Hybrid cars that were once a new and experimental technology are becoming more and more mature as well as practical. Over the next few years, we may be looking at nearly 10% market penetration of electric cars and up to 20% for hybrids of all makes and models.
But what do I think of this trend? Personally, I can say that I enjoyed taking a good close look at the BMW i3 concept car. For a small hatchback, its surprisingly roomy inside, is very peppy, and has a good range of over 100 miles. Knowing concept cars, the final revision could be very different from the model on the floor, but I know that I’d have a good time with something like that in downtown Manhattan. Is it worth the $45k sticker price? BMW sure is willing to bet that are people out there that consider it a bargain.
Right now, the lithium ion battery technology powering the hybrids and electric cars is prohibitively expensive. It keeps vehicles like this out of reach for the average American and European consumer.
Several corporations, including automotive manufacturers (Tesla, Nissan) and battery makers (Panasonic, Proctor & Gamble), as well as universities around the world are racing to develop battery technology that not only makes these automotive batteries cheaper to manufacture, but also chemically safer. These breakthroughs have the potential to drastically change our landscape and predictions, if they happen.
Sure, there will always be the fans of traditional gasoline engines – I myself am a big fan of the Mazda rotary engine – who are apprehensive about the upcoming changes. The other side of this coin is people who are looking forward to the reduction of smog in our major cities. This is a debate that will follow any developments in the automotive industry for the next few decades and one that is constantly on the minds of car company executives everywhere.
Either way, it is an exciting time for car fans everywhere. There is no telling what is coming next, and I for one welcome the future and the innovations that lie around the corner.