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BACK TO THE FUTURE

Two steps forward and one step back

Column by STEFANO LIESSI

In 1899 there were three types of vehicles available to the public: steam, petrol and electric. Yes, you read that correctly; electric, back in 1899. Given the challenges with carrying water for steam and the wait time for the system to heat up—not to mention the transferable energy to weight ratio—steam didn’t soar to the top of the popularity list. The internal combustion engine in its infancy was more like a bomb than an engine with its wondrous ‘hand crank’ starting feature. Not exactly user friendly in your Sunday best. Not to mention the cost factor. So, in this 1899 scenario, we are left with electric vehicles. But who would want that?! Well, by the 19th century, the ‘EV’ accounted for over 40 percent of the vehicles on the roads—quelle surprise! Of course, advancements in refinery technology began to see vast improvements in bringing the price of fuel down, not to mention the advancements in vehicle design—the Model ‘T’ in 1908 placed a focus on the practicality of gas over electric. Even back in the early 1900s, range anxiety was a thing. By 1915, popularity in electric had plummeted.

Bigger, better, faster—the automotive industry flourished like a welloiled machine. The second Industrial Revolution was going full swing, minus the hiccup of the Great Depression. Then the fear of resource availability and depletion created the oil embargo and the fear of emission effects started to take hold. Remember pollution pumps on your big block?! Enter the Third Industrial Revolution, the electronics and nuclear age, which segued into economical fuel-efficient engines and exploratory research in the background on ‘battery powered vehicles’. Yes, the tables were beginning to turn, as it is sometimes inferred we tend to repeat history in many ways.

By the 2000s—the ‘Fourth Revolution’—we see more focus on automation in the industrial world with computers, AI, and robotics doing the work along with the work force moving into retail, banking, service, communications etc. The world is changing not only from a humanities perspective but also an environmental front; enter, climate concerns.

Why the brief history lesson? This is my way of expressing that the only constant in life is change. You can see that over time, many factors influence change, and no one can predict the future, no one. As we progress, we also adapt to our surroundings. Currently, we are smack in the middle of the Fifth Industrial Revolution—albeit not so much ‘industrial,’ but more technological.

Yet, from this point, we see the resurgence of something from 1899–the EV. A contentious issue for many, be it climate related or monetarily related, not to mention the changing landscape of the collision repair world. This is, however, a reality that I have expressed on many occasions. There is a lot of negative propaganda spewing ideologies out there that fixate on some, in my opinion, less-than-educated viewpoints, but each to their own.

Reality states that if you look around, you see more and more of these EVs popping up. Has their development plateaued? Absolutely not. Toyota is working on developing solid state batteries that—on paper and in some trials—show promise. Could it erase the lithium-ion battery? Perhaps. How about advanced hybrids and hydrogen cell ZEVs? Will AI change the parameters, or will the parameters change the implementation of AI? Only time will tell. Are some of the manufactures scaling back? It would seem so, or are they just regrouping and making corrections based on research? Will the mandates be held to task? Or will we see a different political influence later?

Through conversation and some of the visceral propaganda that is fed to us online there is one component that is generally overlooked, this is a global initiative and not just Canada. Stats from Norway in 2020 claim that 75 percent of the vehicles purchased that year were plug-in electric. We are not Norway, so we are not there yet. To shed a perspective: in 2017, one percent of total registrations in Canada were EVs; 2019, 2.9 percent; 2021, 5.3 percent. There is growth. I wish my bank account had this type of growth.

Change happens exponentially, bringing with it turmoil and disruption. If the decimation of entities in all the related components to our industry are not managed—economic, employment, environment, process, etc.—then we will have major problems. It is wiser to manage now than to react later. In my opinion—and you are entitled to my opinion—if we look back to the future of 1899, we can say with certainty that change is inevitable. Adaptation is mandatory and the future is unpredictable.

With all of this at the forefront of tomorrow, do not put all your eggs in one basket, but also don’t ignore it. Someone, somewhere, right now, could be discovering something that may turn everything upside down as we read. Time is ticking, it never stops. Pay attention to your shop environment and what is in it and in the parking lot, take it all in stride one day at a time. I bet those in the 1800s that refused to see the progression were just as surprised by what the future held as you will soon be.

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