Looking Out - The Podcast: Ep. 2
That’s right, folks! It’s time for another auditory deep dive in to the most popular topics from Looking Out #27.
In this show, we explore:
- the EV charging clustercuss,
- why a car costs more than your house,
- and cars in the cloud.
We also share some thoughts on the end of the age of abundance, and the emergence of AI art.
Click ‘Read more’ for show links and the transcript
The end of the age of abundance
Hello, I’m Drew Smith.
And I’m Joe Simpson,
And welcome to Looking Out the podcast. Auditory sidekick to the newsletter in which we connect the dots across mobility, design and culture.
Coming up in this show, we talk about:
The state of EV charging and its potential to derail the adoption of electric vehicles,
The incredible costs of owning a car, and what it might mean for a car making industry under pressure.
And cars in the cloud, or what can the car industry and consumers learn from a big tech revolution,
Right! Let’s get this show on the road.
The automotive industry is rushing headlong towards electrification. Buy 2030 sales of internal combustion cars will be banned in some countries, but many people nervous about being forced into an EV, and it’s going to take a lot more than just great cars with longer range batteries to convince them.
One of the major factors people reference when it comes to EV adoption, or should we say hesitation, is the public charging network. In issue 27 of Looking Out, I highlighted a collective angst mainly from a pro EV. US technology and business press highlighting how badly maintained and unreliable the US’s fledgling public fast charge network was.
Articles in Ars Technica, the Wall Street Journal and Autoweek all had tales of woe to tell about long road trips, which had taken several times longer than planned due to faulty charges. Charges, which wouldn’t talk to cars. And deliver a charge or charges, which were delivering only a fraction of their quoted speed making for long charge stops now.
So dire was the situation for Ars Technica, that in its editorial it suggested that this cluster cuss of a customer experience could harm the adoption of EVs and limit their sales. How you might ask? Well, if every EV driver has a traumatic tale of charging woe they’re sure to share it with their non EV driving friends, casting a shadow of doubt over whether they should themselves make the leap. And this isn’t just a problem in the US either.
In his article, Joe spoke about his experiences of the charging crapshoot he’s endured in Sweden and in the uk. Now, Joe’s a lovely, mild mannered type, but with this tale of woe, I can just imagine his blood beginning to boil kids and wife in the car.
On the return leg of a driving holiday, Joe was on the phone to the customer service team of Ionity a charging network. He was trying to have them resurrect a failed charger. Now imagine the incandescent rage as he watched a Tesla driver jump the queue, leaving him stuck for another half hour before another charger came free.
Speaking of Tesla, does partial redemption perhaps lie in Tesla’s supercharger network? It’s currently being opened up to non Tesla EVs, and after all, Tesla’s network represents about nine tenths of the fast charger landscape today.
So why is this interesting?
If the reality with the chargers continues as reported can automotive OEMs continue to outsource such a critical part of the future driving or user experience to third parties who right now aren’t doing a great job?
After all, outgoing Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess repeatedly said that the experience of using both Ionity in Europe and Electrify America in the US wasn’t good enough. Who is the primary investor and backer of those exact networks? Volkswagen. Ultimately, I can’t help wondering if we’re missing an opportunity here if we’ve got people somewhere for 15 to 20 minutes.
Can’t we do better than dump them in the back of a seedy business park with nothing to do? Or in the car park of a McDonald’s where your only food choice is a burger and fries? , isn’t there a bigger business and commercial opportunity? What do you think, drew?
You know, it’s so funny, I’m just remembering the fact that in about 2018 I wrote a series of articles on the increasing importance of customer experience design in the automotive sector and service design specifically, and of course the big case study that I drew upon in this series of articles was the Tesla Supercharger Network.
And it blows my mind. It absolutely blows my mind that however many years later we’re now talking, we still have not really moved the game on. And while I think, you know, opening up the supercharger network is a start, you only have to look at what happens in California, for example, on the way to or from Lake Tahoe where you have, you know, literally tens if not hundreds of Teslas kind of lining up to use an already scan resource.
What’s gonna happen when you know that resource is then diluted across even more EVs, as you know, the case will soon be in Europe.
I think it’s worth picking up on two points there. So for those listeners that don’t know and haven’t used it, one of the things about the Tesla supercharging network that maybe isn’t obvious if you haven’t used it or you’re not a Tesla owner, it’s not simply that they are more numerous and have more charging stalls than say a network like I, your Tesla knows where Tesla supercharges are.
Your Tesla’s navigation system will direct you to a less busy supercharger if it knows that a supercharger station is getting full, like you mentioned. When you arrive at the Tesla Supercharger Station, your Tesla knows it’s there. It knows which store it’s at. You can go and plug the plug in, and it starts charging because the car already has your account and everything kind of deep linked into it.
Whereas one of the things that’s deeply frustrating about the charging networks that are kind of sit around operated by other third parties like is it can be so difficult just to fire them up. You’re trying and fiddling with this combination of credit cards, RFID tags, another RFID tag from a third party umbrella company or an app. And they often don’t work.
And it’s, you know, I spent time last summer where it was only by my sheer bloody mindedness that I managed to get the char card to charge. I think most people would’ve given up after three or four attempts, but on the eighth attempt I managed to get it to work. So I think that’s the kind of big thing to hold up when we talk about service design and what Tesla have actually done really well that others don’t seem to get,
And I think if we look at the challenges that Volkswagen, for example, is facing in terms of developing in-car software, right? So the human machine interface, so the navigation systems and climate controls and so on and so forth.
And the fact that, you know, we were talking about this just today, the fact that, you know, three or four years into Volkswagen’s push into EV, they still haven’t managed to sort the basics of good user experience in what are meant to be, you know, mass market electric vehicles.
I really do worry that it’s gonna be a long time yet before we really start to see that deep integration that you just spoke about in the Tesla ecosystem start flowing into the way, other makers and the customers or other makers are, are able to support charging behavior.
And, and I think this is without even considering. So many other factors. You know, the, the kind of the wait time, the whole idea that this kind of charging your car actually presents a bit of a fundamental change in mindset to the last hundred years with the way we’ve used cars. But let’s put those aside for a minute.
What about safety? What about, you’re slightly vulnerable, you’re in a car, which doesn’t have much range at this point. You’re plugging. You’re around the back of a fuel station, it’s dark. You’re a woman on your own, maybe. Is that a good situation? Do we, do we want to start to think about how we might make our you know, customers feel safe, feel like it’s a place to even want to spend some time?
I mean, clearly I reference McDonald’s in the piece. McDonald’s get it. There’s a charger in nearly every McDonald’s car pack. Now they know we’ll bring you here. You can charge a car up, you will go into the store and buy some of our food. But surely they can’t be the only one. Surely there’s a, there’s a bigger and better way of thinking about this, that that presents a business of and commercial opportunity.
Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, if you just look at the kind of installed base. Petrol stations. Right. What’s gonna be happening with that land use over time? How can that be repurposed to take advantage of people who are gonna be stopping for, for just a little bit longer? Might have a little bit more time on their hands when they, when they pull up. It’s a fascinating conversation. It’s one that I have absolutely no doubt is gonna keep on coming up as we kind of continue our journey into the Looking Out podcast.
But coming up next, let’s have a conversation about owning a car. What it costs you to own a car and what it costs the rest of us.
In issue 27 of Looking Out the newsletter, I wrote about an eye opening YouTube video that explores the incredible costs of owning a car. We’ll put the link in the show notes if you haven’t yet. Read it now. Say you lived in Germany and owned Volkswagen golfs for the 50 years of your driving. You’d pay out over 400,000 euros simply to buy, maintain, and drive your car on German roads.
Now, when I mentioned this to my fellow podcaster, Mark Pesce of the next billion seconds, he said, so people are spending more on their cars than their homes. And I was like, wow. Yeah, they. And in fact, depending on your income level in Germany, you can expect to give up 15 to 40% of your lifetime income just to own a humble golf.
But here’s the thing, you’re not the only one who pays to drive your car, the state, or in other words, your fellow German taxpayers contribute another 250,000 Euro. To build and maintain the infrastructure you use and to repair the environment you damage and to offset the impact from the accident you or drivers like you have caused.
As governments look to transfer the cost of the climate crisis to those most responsible, we can expect more and more of those external costs to be transferred back to the end user car drivers. Under such a scenario, your humble golf could end up costing you 650,000 euros, or between 24 and 66% of the average lifetime income.
You can’t help wonder if that’s going to seem like good value for something that on average sits unused and basically useless for 23 out of 24 hours per. The thing is these figures are based on recent conservative data that doesn’t account for the fact that we are now likely to be healthy enough to drive longer than 50 years that inflation is spiraling and that cars are getting way more expensive.
As manufacturers race to equip them with sensor suites that they hope will enable autonomous driving, and as they transition to more costly electric proportion, they’re going to have to pass these costs on to the consumer. So why is this interesting?
Well, Joe, the question running through my mind is, Who the hell is going to be able to afford a new car? And how are we going to be able to provide mobility for those who can’t? Because whether it’s Paris or London, or even these days, the city of New York or the State of California governments and citizens are supporting policies designed to drive the adoption of cleaner vehicles and the creation of more equitable mobility scenarios.
But as I mentioned in the last episode, manufacturers are already starting to prioritize the creation of larger, more expensive vehicles from which they can extract greater profits. So what’s gonna happen to the low end of the market? Will less affluent consumers be left for dead by OEMs? And if so, how are we gonna keep folk moving?
Joe, what’s your take?
I don’t think I have good answers. I, I feel that this is the stuff that we are in this moment of transition for cars where, you know, the technology, the batteries, everything else is, is making them more expensive. And you know, OEMs need to make money. I think we are facing this really thorny question of how do we continue to keep people moving? How do we provide mobility?
And, you know, not that many people in the great scheme of things can afford 60,000 euros or the monthly payments on a 60,000 euro new car. So I, I think, and I, you know, not to give away the next section , I think. It becomes even more interesting to talk about fractional shared mobility.
And yet what this piece actually made me think about was your piece on micromobility and the last issue and what keeps ringing in my mind is, You came back from the conference in Amsterdam saying that there was a sense that micromobility shared micromobility wasn’t the way forward. The way forward was gonna be people owning e-bikes and owning scooters, and we are seeing this huge uptick in sales of E-bikes particularly here in Europe.
And I wonder whether this is the point where we are gonna end up with a transition where we tip, where the will actually start to be fewer cars on the road in some places where the car will go back to being this not a kind of, you know, the people’s wagon, the thing that everyone can aspire to own, but is the, this sort.
The vehicle of, of the lucky wealthy few and I, that obviously has good and, and, and bad points to it.
Yeah, absolutely. I was, I was, it was only today I noticed that Jeep has announced their first pure EVs and there was a commentator on Twitter talking about the fact that you know, the new smallest EV was gonna be absolutely perfect for the European market.
And another commentator kind of popped up and said, yeah, but if it’s based on the Corsa E platform, so the Stellantis kind of small CLA small car EV platform then it’s already gonna be kind of out of reach of the vast majority of kind of, you know, entry level small car consumers in the European market.
And I did some fag packet calculations. And you know, if you look at, say, the average household income in a country like Spain, the monthly payments currently on a Corsa E are about 30%.
And that’s, that’s coming on top of like, I guess listeners don’t need, you know, to be, to be reminded of this, but a situation where in many European countries, the estimate is that the average energy bill for your home is gonna become 25% average take home income before long and where I think for most people, the rule of thumb of rent or mortgage has typically been a quarter or a third of your monthly income. So if you put those three things together, that’s broadly three quarters of average monthly income. I mean, do you choose to buy food or do you choose to travel?
And in some ways it’s quite a scary scenario. Yeah, I, I think it will be really interesting to see how this pans out to see when we talk about cars, which OEMs stay in the lower end of the market. We’re already seeing what’s typically known as the A-Segment hollowed out. I think there’s only Hyundai, Kia, and Toyota, and then a cup, a handful of others still left there. The Volkswagen group will leave that once they’re up and cars have gone, you know,
And just for the listeners, you’re not familiar with what an A-Segment car is. It’s something like a Volkswagen Lupo or a Toyota Aygo, or a Renault Twingo.
A Hyundai i10
A Hyundai i10. Exactly. But Joe, I have a feeling that we may be about to talk about a potential solution to all of this
Coming up next on Looking Out the podcast cars in the cloud.
We love a good analogy here at Looking Out. I guess you could say that a good analogy makes the world easier to underst. By taking something that the audience already understands and transposing its principles into a new domain, an analogy can make that new domain understandable too. Take for example, Steve Jobs description of the personal computer as a bicycle for the mind.
Put humans on a bicycle and multiply the powers that we contain in our legs through the gears, and all of a sudden we can go much further. For every bit of energy we expend. By calling a computer a bicycle for the mind. Jobs, wanted to illustrate the capacity for the personal computer to dramatically expand the realm in which the human mind could operate.
But what about the future of the car? Like what’s an analogy that might help us envision a world in which we only use as much car as we need to get the job done and then let it go for somebody? A world in which we offload all of our worries about maintenance and parking and upgrades and just pay for access.
Well, whether you’re a corporate or a consumer, you already do this In the world of information technology. Increasingly, rather than buying, installing, and maintaining their own servers and software licenses, corporates have been buying access to what we call cloud services from companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft.
This gives them access to computing resources that are always up to date and scalable as their needs change. And if you are a user of services like Apple’s iCloud or Google’s suite of work apps, then you are already doing this too. Gone are the days of having to upgrade your hard drive for more storage or buying a city rom to update your software for the price of a subscription.
Everything is taken care of for you. So what about cars as cloud services as an analogy, could it be a helpful way to think about the future of car based mobility? I’ve gotta be honest, I’m flailing in the dark here, dear listener, and I genuinely love to hear your thoughts on this topic.
But this is why it’s interesting?
I would love to see subscription and share models succeed because I believe they have a place in a mobility future that’s more diverse, more equitable, and more sustainable. But for years now, car makers and others like Zipcar six and Share now have been trying to make subscription to cars a thing.
They’ve manifestly failed to break our addiction to the ball ache of owning, maintaining and upgrading our own devices, I mean cars. And having pondered this for a few weeks, I of a few thoughts on why that might be. But Joe, I’d love to hear your thinking on this.
So I think this subject is fascinating and I think somewhere in this as some kind of answers and ideas for, you know, the future of mobility for all of us.
Why has it not become a thing? Why has it not worked so far? Well, a few thoughts. Back to that point we were talking about in the charging section the service design has not been that great. That’s clearly one point. But the fundamental here I think, is that the reason people are prepared to pay so much for cars is a combination of two things.
One of those for many people is the kind of avatar qualities as our friend Chris Bangle would say. What it kind of can do in terms of who you are and how your neighbors and people perceive you. But I think arguably a bigger part is convenience. And I think the problem with the analogy is that distributed cloud software fundamentally relies on the fact that it’s software. So it’s in the cloud, we can use — I’m gonna sound like a luddite — pipes and, you know wires and they’re not anymore, but to kind of, you know, bridge, the bridge, the geographical distance between where those servers are and where we are. With a vehicle, be it a car or a van, or even a bike or a scooter is fairly tricky.
If it’s distributed and many people are using it, or you’re paying for just when you use. The problem is that because someone else might use it, it then isn’t where you want it to be when you want it. And so suddenly we create this factor of inconvenience. Now, As you pointed out, the funny thing is it’s not like owning a car today is particularly convenient when you consider paying for it, trying to find parking for it, traffic jams and so on.
So again, I’m back to wondering where’s the tipping point when we might accept that maybe it’s better for paying for that fractional. And occasionally we might have to walk five minutes to find it, or we might get left standing in the rain for 10 minutes.
I, I agree. I agree wholeheartedly with all of that, I think there’s another aspect which to date probably has not been sufficiently well addressed, and that is the culture, like the question of the culture around car ownership now.
I know from my kind of professional experience and my day to day working life in a corporate environment, a, a successful transition to cloud services requires a radically different mindset amongst the folk who are gonna use them. Right now from a consumer perspective, apple and Google have spent decades.
Evolving their services and educating consumers about the benefits of their cloud offering. At work, we specialise in helping employees understand the benefits of moving to cloud services at a very personal level. And we support them on that transition. Now, this helps create a con culture that’s conducive to change and to adoption of new things.
Before we recorded this episode, I went and took a look at the websites of Lynk & Co and Care by Volvo and Sixt. None of them really seem to be making a particularly compelling case for making the switch. There’s no calculator that helps me understand, kind of, you know, or do some kind of cost benefit analysis which might appear to appeal to my rational side and from an emotional perspective, there’s just not a whole lot there, which kind of makes me go, oh yeah, shared mobility is the future and it’s the answer to my personal mobility challenges that I’m currently facing. I think there’s, there’s two things that we’ve got here.
As you are talking about, there’s the fundamental convenience factor. There’s the lack of ubiquity that, you know, people experience when they own their own car. It’s always there, it’s always available for them. But I think there’s also, there’s much broader cultural question, like how do we educate people that this is not just a legitimate replacement for owning a vehicle, but in many cases is manifestly.
It makes you wonder, though, whether it can be done. It’s not the right analogy, but it brings to mind for me; do you remember when Daewoo launched in the UK and they had rehashed GM products that were 10 years old, but they brought this for the time, and we’re talking about the 1990s when this was launched, and I, I’m too much of a little Englander to know whether it was done kind of you know, pan-Europe and, and the rest of the world. I dunno if it was, but in the UK they launched these dealerships, which weren’t dealerships. They were more like a destination, and there was kind of no sales pressure and the prices were fixed. And at this point it was kind of really radical. And then you got this car serviced at Halford’s, which was a kind of you know, a third party.
And this whole different approach to the way you bought and sold and maintained a car. Actually really worked. They had very big success. They were really popular in the UK and I think that maybe gives a clue to the fact that I think right now it’s like the alternative isn’t clear. Why doing it in the way that you are describing is better is not something that is apparent to people. And I think when someone comes along, Maybe, let’s use a cliche, maybe it’s Apple, that I think people can understand why this might be better and what the advantages are.
Then we might see a shift, but it will take a cultural change in the mindset of the companies that are doing it and delivering the ability to then educate and bring the consumer or the user along with them on that journey. As you say, right now, everything’s too set up, still around dealerships, three year cycles, blah, blah, blah.
That’s what people know how consume and purchase.
Well, that’s it for the headlines, but Joe, what else have you found interesting of late?
So I’ve been reading Emmanuel Macron’s speech which he delivered in late August when the French Parliament reconvened. And why am I talking about Emmanuel Macron and his speech? Well, He talked about the end of the age of abundance and the beginning of the age of scarcity.
And this touches up to, I think a couple of the topics that we discussed tonight on the podcast and what he was really holding up. And the reason I think is important is this was really the first time that a leader of a major, developed nation really talked about the fact that, hey, we may be reaching this tipping point.
We may be at this point where a assumption that an abundance of raw materials, products, technology, and a kind of never ending flow of cash and access to natural resources, even water was potentially. Tipping, changing, ending that the war in Ukraine had kind of acted as a marker, and that from this point onwards, we were in this period where people might have to reconsider how they do things.
And now he’s received a huge amount of criticism for this speech because the way that a lot of people have taken it is, Actually, you know what? There’s 10 million people in France that are already in poverty, and you’re saying to them, oh, but you’re gonna have to live even worse in the future. That’s, you know, that’s not a kind of great way of setting up your stall as kind of the, you know, the head of state.
But I think it’s important in that, I think it might be the first of many times that we see not just the leaders of countries, but kind of important figures, public figures start to talk about a change in the way we fundamentally consume and, and think about life.
And I think in Europe with the energy pressures, both in terms of availability of energy and then the cost of energy, I think this winter’s gonna be, well, really quite painful and unpleasant for some, but it will be, I’m curious to see how this plays out and whether we can accelerate opportunities in other areas because of it, because we need to change and do things differently. So I thought that was fascinating.
Yeah, and I mean, given the conversation we’ve just been having about how we keep people, you know, who can’t afford cars moving, Right. This starts to ask some very difficult questions of an industry that that is predicated on consumption.
Exactly, and I think if you, the reason to bring Macron into it is, you know, heads of state and governments will, if you suddenly have a large proportion of your population literally left behind, unable to afford to move, unable to afford to heat their homes and stuff, you’ve got a situation where you potentially got a very dire situation in that country.
And the conditions for significant un. And people chucking governments out. So governments are gonna want to make people like energy companies and mobility companies move on this and, and solve some of their problems. So Drew, While I’ve been, become obsessed with French politics what have you been reading about, surely more interesting things.
So, a couple of weeks ago Bentley launched a multimillion pound limited run vehicle called the Batur, and it is the swan song for the Volkswagen Groups famed W12 engine. And I have to admit that when I saw this thing, Christ on a bike that is a really, really bland looking piece of design. And a friend of mine in Australia Marcus, he said, you know what it reminds me of, it reminds me of those generic cars that get used in insurance ads. Right? So it it, it kind of looks like a sports car that you might recognize, but maybe not.
What I did on that day, cuz I was so delighted by this, this simile, I said, I thought to myself, I’ll take an image of a, of a Bentley Batur, one of the press images, and I’ll do a reverse image search on it using Google image search and what was absolutely fascinating to me was what came up were at that point, not other images of the Batur, but pictures of Citroen DS concepts, of Genesis concepts, which, you know, given the kind of the shared design history between Bentley design staff and Genesis design staff perhaps doesn’t come as, as much of a surprise.
And it got me start asking kind of all sorts of questions about what happens when we start to use tools like, you know, Google Image Search, which is a mainstay of any design studio that I’ve been in as a source of inspiration and.
How is artificial intelligence essentially starting to narrow the realm of possibility? Because it’s always aiming to find the single perfect image as opposed to kind of driving a, a multiplicity of images you know, from which we can be inspired. Now, while all of that was going on, there’s a whole bunch of new AI driven creative tools that are coming to market, one of which is called stable diffusion.
Stable diffusion is different from the rest because it’s open source. And last week two bloggers, programmers, a guy called Andy Bain and Simon Williamson actually looked at the database of images that drive. Stable diffusion, you know, on which stable diffusion has been trained. And they managed to extract, I don’t know, I think it’s like a couple of million images and put it into a searchable database.
And what they’ve discovered is that, of course this database has been trained on the work of other artists. I think the majority of images within the database have been pulled from places like Pinterest. And of course this starts to open up a debate about fair use, copyright attribution, the ethics of AI driven creativity.
But as I thought about it, it strikes me on some levels that these tools are operating a lot like human creativity at the moment. So we take in stimulus as humans, we mix it around in our brain, and we create something unique of our own. The difference is that as humans, that process takes time and the effort of production is something that makes human produced art, human right.
It, there’s, there’s an effort involved in that conation and recombination of ideas to produce something new. Whereas for something like stable diffusion, it can pump out images in their thousands, with infinite varieties with a fraction of the human effort required. You just need to type in the right terms into the system and the system will start generating and refining ideas. And it leads me to start asking a whole bunch of questions about what the role of the designer is actually going to be in the future. And there’s, there’s kind of this scenario where I imagine designers basically getting in a feedback loop with an artificial intelligence, where they’re coming up with a perfect linguistic search terms to define what it is that they want to create. The system pumps something out, they’re like, oh, that’s not quite right. So they refine. They feed it back into the system and they enter into this dialogue with artificial intelligence.
I find it fascinating and as I said in the newsletter, I don’t know enough to have any strongly formed opinions, but I have a feeling that this whole thing is gonna explode over the coming months and years.
I mean, based on the conversations I’ve been having with designer friends and that I know have been happening in our studio over the past few weeks about this, I think there are a lot of people thinking similar. Thoughts to you. And I think what interests me about it is how many people are not going down the road of, oh, well we’re all gonna be out of a job, but are kind of, how can we work with this in interesting ways?
How can we. You know, and I think there’s a lot of curiosity towards it at the moment, which is I find very heartening cuz I think curiosity is a kind of key skill or fundamental of being a designer. So yeah, I agree. I think it’s gonna be fascinating how this how this plays out. But it’s very much the, the obsession of the moment with a lot of people I’m talking to.
Well, that’s it for this second episode of Looking Out. It’s been a pleasure to have you with us.
If you like the show, hit the subscribe button and if you know someone who might like it too, please share it with them. For more about the topics in our show, visit our website at lookingout.io where you can sign up for the Looking Out newsletter.
Looking Out the podcast was written by Joe Simpson
And Drew Smith,
And produced by Chris Frith.
This is Joe Simpson and thank you for listening.
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