DANCE, DANCE REVOLUTION
“…when the people in the country of 3 million were not blocking highways, going on strike and waving the tricolor Armenian flag, they were engaged in an activity altogether unassociated with revolution: dancing…With folk music blasting from the stereos of parked cars, groups of protesters would break off from the crowds to link arms and cavort in concentric circles.”
– Washington Post
And on May 8th, Armenia got what it was clamoring for: a new prime minister.
Now it faces a long road ahead with daunting challenges:
This tiny post-Soviet country sits between two hostile neighbors with economies orders of magnitude larger than it: the economic and military powerhouse Turkey and the oil-rich and militarized Azerbaijan. It faces a now two-decade-long blockade by these neighbors along most of its borders it due to an unresolved conflict. Its trade is confined to whatever can be trucked in from the north and south: Georgia and Iran. It has massive political corruption with enormously wealthy oligarchs pulling the strings. It has to play an uncomfortable geopolitcal tightrope walk, making sure not to lean too far in or out of US and Russian spheres of influence. Most of it’s energy comes from Russia, whose troops guard the borders against Turkey. Oh and it faces an 18.9% unemployment rate.
Armenia has definitely earned a break.
After the euphoria of a popular uprising and a new Prime Minister subsides, it will also need an economic break, a lot of creativity, and geopolitical leverage.
BICYCLE 2.0: RISE OF THE LIGHTWEIGHT EV
Over the past few years the humble bicycle, scooter, and skateboard have begun evolving.
First, they acquired the power of the electric motor and battery. This gave them the biggest benefit of cars: power. This translates to ease of use, drastically less sweating/panting, uphill boosts, longer range. So most of the upside of cars without the weight, size, inefficiency, emissions, traffic, safety issues, and sprawl issues.
But the fun didn’t stop there! The bicycle, scooter, and skateboard have begun diversifying in form factor.
This diversification has seeing an entire ecosystem of new, light, green, efficient, affordable, and easy to ride vehicles from electric unicycles, to electric folding bikes, to electric bicycle-cars hybrids, skateboard-scooter hybrids, to electric cargo bikes, to motorcycle-bikes, and on and on.
Electric power combined with the diversification of form factors has spawned an entirely new class of mobility: lightweight electric vehicles.
By essentially stealing the best part of the car, the engine/motor, and slicing up the chunky automobile into an ecosystem of different form factors, lightweight EVs give us all the benefits of cars with almost none of their negative side effects!
And with stunning results. Let’s compare are lightweight EVs to cars:
Lightweight electric vehicles simply blow cars away in every category.
CORD CUTTING AND LEAPFROGGING TECHNOLOGIES
For cable companies, bundling is big business: packaging hundreds of channels and make customers pay for it all, even when most probably only use between 10-20.
But just as cable companies are seeing their expensive, bundled business eroding away with customers cutting the cord and switching to Internet streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, car companies may soon see a very similar phenomenon.
In a previous post we discussed that LEVs have the power to disrupt automobiles because their lack of features, which allow for huge cost and efficiency advantages. This analysis is strikingly similar to cord-cutting: cars are essentially giant transportation bundles. They’re mini-buses, with the capacity of 5-7 passengers. They can carry two months of groceries in their trunks with room to spare. They can tow small trailers. They are race cars capable of flying 100+ mph.
And how do we use these marvels of engineering? Mostly to carry one or two people, 100-200 pounds of cargo, and their coffee cups, going a pokey average of 20-25 mph on city streets, stopping every mile or so at a red light. Worse, cars sit idle most of the time, none of their features being used, all the while consuming valuable city real estate. This is the equivalent to flipping between the few channels we actually watch compared to the hundreds on offer by cable and paid for by us!
Actually, our use of cars as our primary means of urban mobility is even more jarring than our cable subscriptions. On top of egregious under-utilization and over-payment of cars, we’ve built a massive, expensive superstructure to accommodate them: heavy-duty roads and bridges, a network of gas stations, a worldwide energy extraction apparatus due to their massive energy needs, etc. Cars are way, way worse than the most expensive, most monopolistic cable company.
In come lightweight EVs. E-bike and e-scooter sharing are already started disrupting car sharing. Upon their introduction, they started replacing 1-2 miles trips. This happened so quickly that Uber decided to buy out one of these companies, JUMP.
They have the potential to help us do some major cord-cutting to big auto and big oil.
A similar phenomenon called leapfrogging occurs when an town or country simply skips past a more expensive technological stage and simply adopts a newer, cheaper technology. This has happened with telephone land lines and desktop PCs in developing countries. When cellphones started becoming readily available, countries that did not have robust landline infrastructure simply skipped laying tens of thousands of miles of copper and went straight to cell towers. And as the smartphone started becoming super affordable, citizens of poorer countries adopted them, completely skipping the more expensive PC.
Currently, in many parts of the world, we are witnessing a major technological leapfrogging in the energy sector where traditional, large scale, fossil-fuel burning power plants are being looked over in favor of decentralized solar farms.
So in the case of urban mobility, where car infrastructure is minimal to non-existent in poorer and/or rural areas, LEV adoption can allow the leapfrogging of the expensive infrastructure of cars for much cheaper, safer, greener, and healthier infrastructure of bike lanes, pedestrian sidewalks, and buses.
APPLIED TO OUR CASE STUDY
Lightweight EVs are perfectly suited for most of the transportation needs of the average Armenian due to the small size of Armenian cities and towns, with many of their streets already designed pre-auto-centrism and most trips under 3 miles.
What would ditching the car and adopting LEVs mean?
Both rich and not-so-rich cities have demonstrated the benefits of walk/bike/bus urban mobility. From Copenhagen to Bogota, the gains are substantial and very clear: richer cities, richer, healthier, happier citizens, cleaner air, less traffic, less traffic deaths, less emissions, less oil dependence, etc.
Smaller or underdeveloped countries like Armenia would gain even more by such a transition:
- Eliminate a major economic extractive sector: As cars become obsolete and the high cost of purchasing and maintaining them as well as the high cost of car infrastructure could disappear. Retiring cars would shut down a major economically extractive industry. It would eliminate the money used to purchase expensive cars from leaving a country. Even more importantly, it would eliminate the capital used to purchase oil and/or natural gas from leaving the country. It would also drastically reduce the cost building new roads and maintaining existing ones once since LEVs are so much lighters and reduce the crushing forces on roads.
- Richer country, wealthier citizens: With major extractive industries removed, both the government and the citizens have more disposable income to reinvest in other, more productive and more local areas of the economy, generating a positive cycle of local investment and spending.
- Energy independence: With widespread adoption of LEVs, Armenia could find itself gaining energy independence. Such independence comes no not just because LEVs are electric, but because they are 100-1000 times more efficient than cars due to their drastically reduced size and weight. With Armenia already an electricity exporter AND getting into solar, LEVs would be the perfect compliment for this strategy.
- Geopolitical leverage: With such a reduction in the need for oil and natural gas, Armenia would remove a giant point of leverage that Russia currently has on it.
- A new economic sector: Compared to cars, these vehicles are much, much simpler to produce and require way fewer raw materials. Armenia already has a burgeoning technology sector. Furthermore, Armenia has emerging hardware manufacturing capabilities and quite developed engineering talent. So Armenia could start designing and manufacturing these vehicles for its own domestic consumption, sparking an entirely new tech and manufacturing sector.
- A large new export sector: Adoption of LEVs in Armenia could become a giant case study/promotional marketing for this new sector and Armenian could find itself producing these vehicles of the future for the rest of the world, sparking a large new export sector.
After it’s done dancing and celebrating, Armenia should definitely get cycling!
HEED THE VOICE OF WILLIAM SAROYAN
After it’s done dancing and celebrating, Armenia should definitely get cycling.
After all, it’s most internationally recognized author, William Saroyan, was himself a cyclist and had the highest praise for the humble two wheeler as the “the noblest invention of mankind.”
AND SO CAN YOUR COUNTRY!
As our previous examples of two very different cities, Copenhagen and Bogota suggest, almost any city or country could benefit tremendously by adopting lightweight EVs in conjunction with walking, cycling, and mass transit.
LEVs are good for people, cities, and the planet as a whole. They cut carbon emissions, cut pollution, reduce car crash injuries and deaths, help eliminate traffic, drastically cut energy use, free up wasted urban space and wasted capital on oil, encourage active mobility which is great for health, increase quality of life, create more desirable neighborhoods and streets, and on and on.
And the best part is adoption is very easy. LEV/bike infrastructure is super affordable to build for the government. And LEVs are relatively cheap to buy for citizens.
So let’s cycle our way to energy independence and cut the cord and/or leapfrog big auto and bigger oil all the while reducing global warming, making better cities!