LAS VEGAS: Carless commuting is a cruising in the fast lane at the Consumer Electronics Show, with companies showing off electric bicycles, scooters, skateboards and more.
As the ranks of the people around the world, living in cities has grown up, has too much the cost of car ownership as well as traffic congestion.
Nowhere was this more evidently at Las Vegas where some 170,000 conference goers jammed the streets.
“In a lot of big cities, cars are not tenable anymore,” said tech analyst Jack Gold of Gold Associates.
An AFP reporter testing the car-free concept through the week at CES by relying on a freshly released GenZe electric bicycle consistently sailed past clogged traffic near the convention center Las Vegas Strip.
Riders too tired or lazy to pedal meanwhile can twist a throttle to glide along at close to local street speed limits.
GenZe spokesman Tom Valasek, a former auto industry marketing executive, said that several car makers had come to check out the company's CES exhibit.
“There is a lot of curiosity right now about where things are heading,” Valasek told AFP.
The popularity of smartphone-summoned rides from services such as Uber and Lyft are playing into the trend, with technology giants investing heavily in self-driving capabilities.
“We believe car ownership makes sense in the future,” Lyft chief executive John Zimmer said at a CES dinner event.
Zimmer doubled that his daughter, now a young child, will want to own a car when she is of age. Instead, he said: “She'll want access to transportation.”
A boom of autonomous cars, would probably prompt vehicles to evolve to be more akin to rooms on wheels: sleeper cabins in trains, or private offices, Zimmer added.
An AISIN Group employee demonstrating the ILY-Ai personal mobility partner during CES 2018. – AFP
A shift away from owning and relying on cars was expected to result in traffic and parking.
GenZe, a US-based division of the Mahindra Group in India, this week announced its e-bikes will be added in April to a Ford GoBike ride-share program in San Francisco.
The e-bikes should “help to make San Francisco more livable and reduce congestion,” Metropolitan Transportation Commission deputy executive Alix Bockelman said in a release.
Leading online social network Facebook has a fleet of 100.
Scoot, skate, ride
Despite negative publicity about hoverboards a few years ago – centred on their tendency to explode – the manufacturer Swagtron was at CES with some of those devices along with skateboards and bicycles boosted with electric motors.
“We are seeing with personal mobility that some people like to skate; Some people like to scoot, and some people like to ride, “Swagtron chief operating officer Andrew Koven told AFP.
The Swagtron EB-7 folding electric bicycle is seen during CES 2018 in Las Vegas. – AFP
Koven saw alternatives to cars as an “absolute necessity” that was part of a “systemic shift” towards getting around in ways that are economical as well as socially and environmentally responsible.
“If I am commuting a short distance to work, do I really need a car?” Analyst Gold asked rhetorically.
Cities are already eyeing autonomous shuttle services.
A self-driving electric shuttle built in Las Vegas.
Swiss-based Rinspeed also showed its autonomous shuttle, and Toyota introduced a boxy concept vehicle that could be used for ridesharing, deliveries, medical services or as an extension of retail stores.
Plenty of new cars were shown at CES including a number of self-driving models. But some attendees said that the vehicle of the future may be something different.
Automakers “have been building cars from the driver's perspective,” said Ankit Jain, head of the Ola Play software platform for the India-based rideshare group.
In the future vehicles which may be autonomous, “the passenger is the one paying,” Jain said. “You have to fundamentally rethink the car.” – AFP