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The rise of mobility companies

Every week my inbox is swarmed with emails from enthusiastic marketing interns contracted to push a car brand or other.

Once in a while, it will be an invite for a test drive but most of the time it’s fairly mundane stuff about some senior manager moving to a new department.

Other times it’s about a car company’s efforts to be more sustainable and save the world. The irony is that every single, “advancement” comes at a cost.

Every new car has had to have some new metal mined and refined through a destructive and dirty process. More technology and luxuries mean more wires, more plastics and more weight is added to the car. This extra weight leads to more fuel being used and more pollutants being spewed into our collective lungs. The earth itself is chocking under fumes and in cities such as Beijing and Delhi, the smog

clings to your face and hair. All the while car companies keep churning out thousands of vehicles by the hour and millions of emails to unsuspecting motoring journalists around the world.

And it doesn’t stop there. The roads are already at full capacity in most cities around the world and building more roads is an oversimplified, costly and time-consuming solution. The daily reality is therefore bumper-to-bumper traffic as more cars join a barely expanding road network. Because engines are designed to function most efficiently at an optimum operating temperature, the engine doesn’t reach it, spending an inordinate amount of time in the partially warmed up, highly inefficient and polluting state.

This stationary state aptly called idling, is when the engine is decoupled from the drivetrain and only using enough fuel to keep the engine turning to operate ancillary parts like the water pump, alternator and power steering. If it’s cold and you want to keep your children from freezing it will cost you about 10 per cent more fuel to keep the air conditioner on. That’s a small price to pay, you say, the convenience outweighs the cost you claim, but does it really? I’m yet to hear of anyone, in the history of mankind who found it convenient to be stuck in traffic, creeping a few wasteful metres at a time.

More force is required to accelerate a car from standstill to say 50kph, the CBD traffic speed limit, than it takes to maintain the same speed. Slow moving traffic that forces the driver to brake and accelerate wastes kinetic energy, over and over again. But that’s not all.

Look around and you’ll see that most cars almost always have one occupant, the driver. This may be convenient but wasteful for both fuel and space if you consider the road space used up.

An average car weighs just over a ton, uses up 1,200 square feet of road and about Sh500 worth of fuel for a two-way, 10km commute. Had the same person opted for a motorcycle or public means they’d have used up a fraction of that space and fuel and therefore only spew a fraction of the pollutants.

Unfortunately, we all prefer cars to bikes or matatus. Partly because rain gets you wet on a bike and you’re also more likely to be crashed into and killed. Public transport in Kenya is simply an austerity to endure.

The whole traffic problem bubbles down to one undeniable fact. The only reason car companies exist is to sell us cars. So they keep making them and their marketing minions keep sending me emails. I, for the most part, ignore them. However, hidden between the marketing blurb is what methinks is a seismic shift in this business model; like the barely perceptible tremors of an impending earthquake. It started with Mercedes and BMW when they shockingly announced that they were no longer car-making companies and were joining forces to offer mobility services. They’ll still compete in making cars but you

do not need to buy one, instead subscribing to a monthly fee that allows you to choose between models and brands: you use a car only when you have to. Toyota recently announced similar moves and I suspect so will the rest of the car companies. Welcome to the age of semi-autonomous, shared mobility.

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