Since Nicholas Negroponte first came up with his landmark teething ring visualization of the coming together of communication, computing and content, the term convergence has become the uber buzzword. Now there’s convergence going on in the personal transport industry, with the car and the motorcycle morphing as car makers attempt to downsize their vehicles to make them better suited to the world’s increasingly crowded roads. This article begins with Nissan’s tandem two-seat, half width tilting car, the Landglider, and examines all the other work being done around the world as narrow track vehicles seriously begin to make their case.
Sitting in Nissan’s Landglider was an experience, I’d been looking forward to it since I first spied the pre-show imagery – this truly is near the point where the motorcycle and automobile meet. It’s a two passenger vehicle, one behind the other, it’s half the width of a conventional car and it leans through corners like a motorcycle.
Being fully enclosed and with impact absorption zones and a composite protection tub, the Land Glider’s pilot is a lot less vulnerable than a motorcycle rider, yet the Land Glider’s light weight and the punchy electric motors mean a motorcycle-like torque to weight ratio for quick acceleration and the steer-by-wire system leans the Land Glider up to 17 degrees – it may not be the 45 degree plus of a sports motorcycle, and the proof-of-concept will surely be in the driving experience as to how drive-by-wire feels in comparison to the mechanical systems we’re all accustomed to, but it’s more than enough to have safe, low-speed fun commuting to the office.
The Land Glider is one of a wave of new single track concept vehicles being shown by auto makers this year as they begin preparing for yet another looming crisis for the auto industry - Global Traffic Congestion!
Global Traffic Congestion
The number of vehicles on the world’s roads will double between 1989 and 2025, while the total length of commonly used roadway will essentially remain the same.
In Europe, drivers already spend one quarter of their road-going time in traffic jams, so as the number of vehicles grows, a future of extremely congested roadways looks likely unless something is done. The developing super nations of Brazil, Russia, India and China alone will add billions of new cars to our roads over the next few decades.
Automobiles per capita has long been an indicator of a country’s economic prosperity and as these highly populous nations grow wealthy, massive automobile uptake is being forecast.
Right now, China has 131 cars per thousand people and India just 12 cars per thousand.
By 2050, India will have 382 cars per thousand people, and China will have 363 cars per thousand. By 2050, India will be the most populous nation on earth with 1.6 billion people, and China will be a close second with 1.5 billion. Do the math and you’ll begin to understand the problems we face – by 2050 China and India alone will have 1.1 billion cars – and that’s more than the total number of cars in use on the planet right now, and with an infrastructure likely to be well behind the growth.
Two years ago, humanity passed the point where 50% of the world's population is living in urban areas. Cities are a relatively recent development in civilization. Two hundred years ago just 3% of the global population lived in cities, by 1950, that grew to 30%. But the numbers are surging and by 2030 five billion people will live in urban areas – more than 60% percent of the population.
Yet cities cannot build more roads because there is no more space.
Traffic congestion is very bad for economic health. It wastes the time of all caught in it and the resultant inability to forecast accurate travel time means more people add additional time to their travel "just in case" and a huge lump of non-productive time gets added to everyone’s routine.
Traffic jams waste fuel and increase air pollution, and no country knows this better than Japan where road congestion is at its greatest on Earth.
The automobile-based mobile society Japan helped build has ironically created the world’s largest traffic jams in its heartland for several decades now.