We couldn’t car less

Uber will be launching a flying car service, with Melbourne, Australia, chosen as the first trial location.

Wow! We really are living in the age of the Jetsons.

Imagine the convenience of being able to step out of one’s office, hail a taxi and then sit back in luxury as its electric-powered motors glide you up noiselessly and smoothly up in the air to your destination anywhere in the city under the control of the auto pilot.

Ok, you won’t be able to hail it from your office, you’ll have to got to a designated helipad.

Ok, you can’t go exactly anywhere, it’ll just be to the main airport and back.

Ok, it won’t be powered by electric batteries but aviation fuel.

And they’ll be an expensively-trained and qualified pilot at the controls.

But it definitely flies!

All right, as you were people: Uber has bought a helicopter and are entering the executive city to airport transfer market. We haven’t just stepped in to an episode of Buck Rogers after all.

What is it about using the word “car” as a suffix that makes us suspend our normal analytical skills?

Other examples include electric cars, i.e. coal-fired cars, unless the national grid has gone 100% renewable, and self-driving cars, which have about as much chance of being approved today in most jurisdictions as single malt whisky would be if alcohol was a new drug and needed to apply for a licence

Yet here we are, with gushing news articles telling us about the revolutionary future we are entering because, I dunno, boats amphibious cars have just been invented or some such drivel.

Bill’s Opinion

The only revolution that will make any tangible dent in the current economics of public or private transport is the realisation of the autonomous vehicle dream.

Every other potential change involves the same quantum of input costs as the current version. Flying “cars” that still need a qualified pilot are going to be affordable to exactly the same people who currently use helicopters.

A car that uses battery power still requires the same amount of energy to overcome friction. Unless we’ve found a new source of energy, electric vehicles are simply an incremental change. And whatever we do, let’s not mention nuclear energy, by the way…. Green narratives need to be respected after all.

Autonomous vehicles, on the other hand, would remove the requirement for an expensive, error prone, wet computer in the driving seat.

Ironically, that’s the change we’re furthest from experiencing.

9 Replies to “We couldn’t car less”

  1. Many moons ago there used to be a helo service between Tullamarine and somewhere in Melbourne. It went bung.

    The nice thing about a land car is that what keeps it falling to the ground is not the expenditure of energy but the fact that it is already on the ground. Above 70km/h air resistance is greater than rolling resistance and the cruising speed of said helicopter will probably be around 180km/h. On the other hand there is at present less traffic and there are fewer red lights up there (although if flying cars “take off” then Air Traffic Control will definitely have something to say about that) and there are fewer suicidal maniacs trying to prevent one from reaching one’s destination safely. My old banger gets around 13km/litre in town and a chopper might manage twenty per cent of that. Ultimately there’s the expensive pilot problem and flying cars will have to be autonomous.

    1. I think the Tullamarine service flew to the Yarra helipad, never done it myself. I have done Essendon to Bass Strait a few times though. Sounds like you know the lay of the land there, there is a serious discussion for a third airport at Koo Wee Rup on the east side of Melbourne, we also chartered a few smaller choppers out of there, far shorter flying time to the Bass Strait, the big work crews flew out of Burnie In Tasmania. Victorians never really got on board with the Aussies are the biggest flyers side of things, you cant fly anywhere interstate unless you charter your own.

      Got shouted a chopper trip in your neck of the woods over Durban, thoroughly enjoyed it, the pilot was ex SAAF, and like most white ex forces dudes there had seen some pretty serious action in his day. I was doing some photography and he had no problem flying low on request, top bloke he was. Got him to buzz over the Beverly Hills where we were staying, just to annoy my boss that was paying the hotel bill.

      1. Helicopters have a single point of failure.

        They seem to me to be almost as glamorous as doing heroin.

        1. Only if they have a single position engine, then they are to be avoided.

          Sometimes they are the only effective way to get from A to B, like say in the Bass Strait, or if you have some big wig, time poor guests that wants to inspect a 260km cross country pipeline.

  2. “The only revolution that will make any tangible dent in the current economics of public or private transport is the realisation of the autonomous vehicle dream.”

    Yes, that is where the real opportunity is. The Indian Uber equivalent market is where the big growth is, dude buying a phone, getting connected, buying a car is a big positive for them. Good to see the Adani coal mine getting the green light as well.

    As for Uber anything to talk the share price up it seems.

    This infographic below looks great and going in the opposite direction of Tesla share price until you look at how tiny the take up is when compared to overall market share.

    Animation: U.S. Electric Vehicle Sales (2010-19)


  3. Things that make you go hmm….

    I am a big fan of nuclear and can’t be that Europe are moving away from it.

    Personally speaking I am still bullish for coal and was looking at doing some consultancy work in that sector. But my investment guru says it’s days down under are numbered. See below, it’s a paid for subscription so can’t post link.


    The Australian election result — a ‘surprise’ conservative Coalition win — confirms for me that Australians only want to buy and sell houses to each other at ever-escalating prices.

    And they’ll love doing it by selling evermore coal to a dwindling supply of overseas buyers. There’s a classic ‘set-up’ coming. And it’s to do with 2026.

    Let me explain.

    (And I’m not even going to mention the impending tax cuts. You know where they’ll end up. I’ll also predict for you that in the electoral washout, the best predictor of the liberal swing will prove to have been debt. In other words, the seats that saw the biggest mortgage stress will have swung most against the Labor party.)

    The view from outside Australia is very different to the view within it.

    It’s my opinion that China will soon turn down the demand for Australian coal. This is because the advancing rail infrastructure within China — from the coastal cities to the far west — will shortly allow China to ship its own coal resources from within and around the country.

    And do it cheaper than buying from overseas. (I’m not the only person suggesting this.)

    This is something China couldn’t do so easily in 2012.

    In addition, coal dependent nations around the world are actively reducing their use of the fossil fuel. This is something you don’t hear in Australia. It’s rarely — if ever — reported within the country.

    The Financial Times reported back on 1 January that Japan’s SoftBank corporation last year sealed a deal that agreed to sell power from a northern Indian solar park for Rs2.44 per unit. This is way below the cost of coal power, which typically sells for over Rs3.

    The massive reduction in solar power panel prices has allowed this to happen. It’s a VERY big deal in India.

    Here’s India’s forecast power growth and where it will come from:

    Source: Financial Times
    [Click to open in a new window]

    This is suggesting a massive reduction in coal use. Which is the stated policy of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, it should be noted.

    The richest investors in Southeast Asia are not getting into coal, either.

    Thailand’s Gulf Energy Development Pcl, run by local billionaire Sarath Ratanavadi, is about to start electrifying huge areas of the local region using natural gas and renewables. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, will be done next by Sarath.

    And Asian banks have clearly outlined they are about to stop funding future coal-based power development.

    Germany has already taken steps to phase out all coal use by 2038. The head of the energy sector there, Philipp Wendel, has stated quite clearly that other countries doing this as well — pointing to Indonesia in particular — will save those countries a vast amount of money in the longer term.

    Even the larger Australian miners are getting the message. Rio Tinto has exited coal and no longer holds any coal interests.

    As I’ve said before, there’s a classic ‘set-up’ coming.

    And it’s the sort of set-up that will force a realisation on Australia — that there is a declining need for Australia’s coal — right at the very moment when it can be least afforded. At the very top of the real estate cycle.

    When all Australians will be excitedly wheeling and dealing in property like they were at the top of the prior cycle. And the cycle before that.

    The Conservative party — complete with the partly leader still holding his beloved lump of coal — will cheerlead Australians blindly into this delicious set-up.

    Make sure you are ready for it. The majority of Australians won’t be.

    1. The only reason that developing nations are doing solar/wind and the whole sustainability thing is to get access to EU/US markets and finance. When we do our paperwork for an import permit there are pages and pages for green credentials, and South African businesses have to prove how affirmative they are as well. Banks just don’t want to know your troubles unless your country has signed up for lots of bat choppers and bird fryers. These are naturally only excuses to protect their domestic producers and punish their domestic consumers for daring to consume. If in time there is a backlash, and sentiment in Europe does seem to be softening or even reversing, there are going to be billions in stranded renewable assets littering the developing nations’ landscapes. Coal, then, is a hedge.

      The red-speak FT article is just sour grapes. Don’t pay too much attention to it.

      1. Coal is good, low pollution combustion is here now and it is far more efficient than any of the renewables, other than say hydro electricity which has other limitations. I do believe that solar technology is improving more so than others particularly wind and yes it has miles to go before it competes on an equal basis with coal, although those Indian solar costs do appear to be competitive on face value.

        The article that I posted wasn’t a FT one, it was my investment guys article and he was quoting that FT article. I dont believe that he is a global warming supporter and was writing it more from the perspective of energy security ie China and other coal dependent nations importing less and if not from closer neighbors than Australia makes sense.

        Australian coal extraction and transports costs are very high, and it is hard to imagine it being competitive if the transport issue is solved in a similar coal quality situation.

        But the big question is how strong the political movement to stop coal use is, underestimate it at your peril.

        For mine the best information is the forecaster produced by the IEA, if you look at the link below you will see their forecast scenarios, one for a continuation of policy and another for implementation of aggressive green policies. I am in the continuation camp, which shows coal demand being steady, with hydrocarbon increasing, but if the coal dependents nation can get their coal closer by, then the demand for Australian thermal and coking coal will reduce.


        Select a topic below to see how each scenario models the future of the energy system.


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