Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin companies (airlines, retail outlets, space tourism, etc.), clearly likes to think big. He's also starting to think green. In an article for the UK's Independent, Branson argues that MG Rover carmakers -- now bankrupt, and about to let go thousands of employees -- should be rescued by the UK and EU for a new purpose: to make hybrid cars.
My solution is a radical one, but would help with what I see as Britain's pending energy crisis. We should steal the green mantle from the Japanese and Americans and become the first European manufacturer of hybrid cars.These highly efficient part-petrol, part-electric vehicles (which can do up to 120 miles to the gallon) are already big in Japan and are also taking off in the US. [...]But no one makes them in Europe. Meanwhile oil prices are soaring, our own North Sea reserves are running out and the evidence of global warming is overwhelming. [...]
We can also not afford to ignore the fact that we are literally running out of gas; we need to reduce consumption. Fuel savings from the sale of hundreds of thousands of Rover hybrids would help to reduce Britain's overseas payments for oil (effectively paying for any subsidies). If we don't make this bold move, one of our neighbours will.
European automakers make many high-mileage vehicles -- small, often running on diesel, and some approaching the kind of mileage one sees in hybrids like the Prius and the Civic Hybrid. Ironically, this has meant that European car manufacturers haven't felt the pressure to build even more efficient vehicles, and have allowed Toyota and Honda -- and now Ford -- to catch them napping. Of the various European auto companies, only Daimler-Chrysler is making any significant effort to get into the hybrid game; Peugeot-Citroën is taking baby steps with its Stop&Start technology, but the field is otherwise empty.
Branson cites Airbus as a model for a pan-European technology production company competitive on a global scale. As Green Car Congress' Mike Milliken points out, the comparison is somewhat inapt. Nonetheless, the idea of Rover becoming a hybrid developer, perhaps partnering with European hybrid also-rans for technology collaboration, has quite a bit of merit.
Who knows? If the UK and EU don't take Branson up on his idea, he might just consider it good enough to do himself. Virgin Green, anyone?
Someone should tell him to look at his fleet of planes while he's at it. Invest in Stirling engines Richard....
I made a WikiNews entry with this.
Feel free to add whatever you think is appropriate, and change whatever you think is incorrect.
Richard Branson should use his influence and fortune to assist in this effort. The oil companies will not allow the government to proceed quickly on the development of energy efficient cars.
Well, yes, the planes, of course... but still.
It's a great idea, though: maybe a little bit of drama and publicity would not hurt to get green technologies into the mainstream.
Just imagine what a lighter weight, well designed, affordable hybridsay the user-centric approach of a Renaul Scenic, with the styling of a Saab, Volvo or Audi... and have some smart copywriters design a myth around it... (such as the current myth surrounding SUVs, 'equipped to face the harsh realities of the urban jungle while still driving in style ... yada yada yada...'
It'd be an instant hit in Europe. And it would be significant.
I like the idea. There's not much to lose for MG anyway.
More competition in the hybrid car domain can only be good for the consumer and for the environment. I hope that this idea is close to Branson's heart and that if the government doesn't come through he will find a way to inject private money into it.
Is the hybrid approach now universally accepted as the path to take? There have been bubbles of excitement about hydrogen, fuel cells, ceramic engines, and more exotic notions that don't come to mind at the moment. Would it really be opimal for Rover (etc) to jump on this bandwagon, or would it be better off looking for leapfrogging opportunities?
And then, of course, there's still the question of whether the automobile is where fuel-saving/pollution-mitigating efforts belong.
In any case, the idea of an essentially new company dedicated to high-mileage vehicles is exciting, and would probably enhance Europe's long-term economic edge over North America.
Branson has made his priorities apparent. His brash style of taking risks where others are afraid of failure has shown to many his ability to innovate, not copycat. To survive the impending oil crunch, there is no other alternative than to embrace the wisdom of being energy efficent in every aspect. Perhaps MG can be reinvented as a hybrid supplier, perhaps they will realize the wisdom of suppling not only the light duty consumer vehicle, but that of larger commerce driving delivery vehicles. A diesel electric delivery van could replace most in city supply vehicles.
We all have to survive together on this dirtball, unless we want to follow the fatalistic view of the christian right; that it doesnt matter how badly we screw up, we're all going to heaven (except those heathen bastards, why dont we hurry them to hell) Burt Rutan and Scaled Composites may not have a solid business plan, but they have enough of one to make Branson invest, why cant the rest of us get the clue?
Hybrid cars may not be the end solution, fuel cells may not be the perfect technology, but if either one gets us that farther down the road we might just have the opportunity to replace it with something even better. Whatever that technology may be, we MUST continue to evolve and innovate, or we WILL eventually kill ourselves off. Sooner or later is all up to us.
If the EU dips into its collective coffers and converts MG Rover to a global supplier of smart, energy frugal vehicles, they stand to survive the comming oil crash. Will they be able to reach beyond their nationalistic furvor and cooperate in an effective multi-cultural setting? Branson thinks so, and while everyone should not drop their own ideas of success and copycat Branson, they can also learn a little from a man who has proven himself capable of success, relentlessly.
My dad used to drive a 1968 MGB. If Branson could make a hybrid version of this memorable sports car, I'm sure he'd sell a million.
It's an excellent idea, but it's just an idea. There are a lot of practical obstacles to it.
First: there are significant obstacles within liberalised EU markets to Government supported enterprises that compete with commercial ones.
Second: getting the EU en masse to support a very English marque is going to be next to impossible. Why should that money not go to Citroen? Fiat? BMW? Nationalism within the EU is still exceptionally strong; in some cases more so, as a reaction to the perceived loss of national self-determination and identity,
Airbus is a consortium made up of companies of a variety of nationalities, so the comparison isn't very apt (the other article referenced probably says the same).
Third: Rover failed for a reason. The other car companies mentioned above have an advantage outside of national pride. They are not bankrupt, and their designers have not been producing lackluster unimaginative suburban blightcrawlers.
Okay, except maybe Fiat.
Branson's blue sky brainwave? No - MG Rover were already planning hybrids!
EVUK had already reported in February in some detail that MG Rover - with partners MIRA, Powertrain Ltd. and Pi Technology - were, pre-collapse, set to exhibit their government-funded hybrid concept/prototype in some shape or form(MG TF or saloon?) at the upcoming Clean Energy/Transport Expo(May 5-7 2005) at London's Business Design Centre.
Strange then that Mr. Branson should appear to be claiming the idea as his own....
See EVUK for full report....