20-02-2019 | | By Paul Whytock
We’ve all had those lively uninhibited pub conversations with a bunch of mates that range from absolute nonsensical drivel through to some real thought-provoking theories.
Take inventor Percy Shaw for example. He came up with the brilliant idea of cats-eye road lighting after an evening in the Old Dolphin pub in Yorkshire.
Well I had a very interesting pub-chat the other day with Craig, a friend of mine and founder and boss of Electropages Media. The theme of our discussion was provocative to say the least.
In a nutshell it was; “Tesla electric vehicles should be free.” Now let me be the first to point out that this was not based on any statement or input from Tesla Inc. This was purely a pub-chat but it did raise some very interesting aspects about why and how such a crazy scheme might just work.
Here’s the “why” analogy. Very few people actually buy smart phones. They sign a contract over a number of years and then get themselves a £600 phone free but have to pay a monthly fee to use whichever network the phone is aligned to. The end result of that was in a matter of a few years billions of phones where operating and making a lot of cash for the network operators.
Ok, so before you turn off from this concept with a contemptuous “there’s a massive price difference between a phone and a Tesla,” consider a few things.
Tesla cars are Internet linked and have in them some good-sized LCD screens so why can’t the global population of Tesla vehicles become a new media network that companies, their advertising agencies and even existing TV networks buy into, thereby providing the revenue to Tesla to cancel out the cost of providing the vehicle free in the first place.
Financially it's fair to say there is a substantial dollop of chicken or egg syndrome in this. To be attractive and financially viable the Tesla global network would have to consist of a lot more than the 500,00 cars that have been sold to date. And how do you rapidly expand that figure? Making the cars free would certainly do that but the financial hit in the first instance would be massive and could prove a deal breaker for Mr Musk.
Perhaps the way to soften that fiscal blow would be not to offer the cars free but at a very attractive discount if the new owner signed up to a two-year contract to take the new TV medium… TeslaVision.
Some industry pundits are already predicting that in four year’s time the Tesla population will have expanded to 3 million. That’s good but not enough for TeslaVision to attract the big global advertising budgets. To put that in perspective networks like America’s CBS attract nine million viewers and China’s CCTV network pulls in a gargantuan one billion viewers.
Rather than seeing those figures as negatives TeslaVision could take them as a positive. For CBS and CCTV a large element of their viewers switch on from there own homes. The in-car TeslaVision network would offer them an entirely new viewing platform.
OK, I can hear the health and safety mumblings about having a TV in the car and how distracting this would be for the driver. But here’s a couple of pub-chat responses to that.
In the first few years TeslaVision would only be enabled for rear seat passengers but as artificial intelligence software accelerates the pragmatic feasibility of autonomous vehicles we could find the driver and front seat passenger sitting back and enjoying their favourite programme while their robotic car takes the strain.
Back to those TV network companies and how they would fit into TeslaVision. This would have to be on a joint venture basis and it could provide Tesla with the answer to a number of operational hurdles, namely content and regional language requirements.
The thing is, such joint ventures are already happening and Tesla would do well to pay close attention to how the following media collaboration pans out.
American broadcasting company Sinclair Broadcast Group and Korean mobile telecoms company SK Telecom recently signed a deal with connected technology specialist Harman at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year.
The plan is for the companies to develop digital broadcasting network-based automotive electronics technology for global markets. Their collaborative aim is to build an automotive platform based on ATSC 3.0 that will enable drivers to experience in-vehicle HD terrestrial TV broadcasting.
ATSC 3.0 is an advanced update of the ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) standards for television broadcasting and is made up of about twenty standards. These are designed to offer support for newer technologies, one of which is more advanced mobile television support. ATSC 3.0 will also enable targeted advertising.
Tesla should take note that the companies involved in this ATSC 3.0 joint venture have said they are planning to seek joint business opportunities in the global automotive market. Consequently, it’s not unreasonable to say that along with the TV content being broadcasted there will also be paid-for advertising as well. Financially could this pave the way toward free Tesla cars while simultaneously providing the income Tesla would need to make the idea financially viable?
Now as the pub-chat moved into another pint of imagination-stimulating elixir a few negative questions started to emerge and not the least of these is the fundamental one that asks; do people really want electric cars?
Of course those in their right mind know the environmental inevitability that by the year 2060 petrol and diesel powered vehicles will only be seen in museums. But that’s way off and hopefully by then there will be sufficient EV charging points and adequate amounts of electricity being made available to drivers via the National Grid.
Currently there are around 2.2 million EVs operating worldwide but whereas that may sound a lot it only represents less than 1% of the total vehicles travelling the globe.
Now whereas the UK’s National Grid is confident it can supply electricity for the 20 million EVs it predicts will be on our roads by 2050 it does believe close to 9 million of them will not be able to re-charge at their homes. So the big question facing the would be eco-warriors in our Government is, are they going to be able to build a sufficient network of public EV charging points?
But do we really care about that? Electric vehicles as we know them now may be out of date by 2050 because, as hydrogen fuel cell technology develops, vehicles will be able to charge themselves.
Hydrogen fuel cells produce electrical energy using a chemical process that separates water from oxygen and hydrogen gases to power the battery supply of the electric motor that propels the vehicle.
Once the water is separated it exits through the exhaust pipe. From a range perspective fuel cell vehicles do pretty well. The Hyundai ix35 FCEV for example has a range of 370 miles. They can also refuel within minutes although there are not many hydrogen filling stations around at the moment, although there is a Government initiative to improve that.
But it's not all plain sailing for hydrogen-powered cars. There are several hurdles facing them. The don't like very cold weather especially if it freezes the water in the fuel cells and the fuel cells themselves need to get more durable and offer a longer lifetime mileage. In terms of design the polymer exchange membrane fuel cells look increasingly practical and it could be this type of fuel cell that will be the one powering cars.
At this point our pub-chat speculation was punctuated by the she-who-must-be-obeyed landlady announcing: “time gentlemen please.”
Whether or not the concept of free Tesla cars will ever happen or whether TeslaVision could be the futuristic revenue stream that makes it financially feasible, who knows. One thing is certain, none of us would be driving home in our cars after a night of pub-chat with friends, not until autonomous cars become a reality.
And that could be another pub-chat subject with the opening question being will autonomous cars and their much-heralded artificial intelligence ever handle driving around the notorious perimeter road encircling Paris’ Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile?...cheers