The Times They Are A-Changin’

“The slow one now

Will later be fast…”

-Bob Dylan

Without a doubt, we are experiencing the birth of a multi-modal, poly-fuel future in which parking facilities will play a greater role as fueling stations and mode-shifting enablers.

I write this post from an Amtrak train on the way from New Haven, Conn., to Philadelphia, having walked through a New Haven Parking Authority garage housing scores of bicycles, a handful of Zipcars®, and an electric vehicle (EV) charging station in addition to the hundreds of cars long found there. The pace of what we will see in garages and how we will get to those garages is, shall we say, rapidly changing.

The latest sign of this is Tesla’s announcement of a highway rest stop-based fueling option for its battery powered cars that promises to be faster than filling your gas tank.  Planned to sit near the free fast-charging stations already in place on rest stop parking lots, the new premium battery swap stations will cost drivers $60 to $80 for 200 miles worth of fuel that’s ready to go in 90 seconds.

The luxury Tesla, awarded Consumer Reports’ highest rating ever, lost one point in that rating because of the hassle of charging for long-distance trips. With its 90-second battery swapping announcement, Business Week reports, “Tesla took a major stride toward getting rid of that downside.”

While few of us may ever be able to afford a Tesla, the life cycle of consumer good technology innovation has always been led by expensive, early-adopter products.  (Some of you may remember both the size and cost of the first cell phones to hit the market.)

And Tesla’s approach to feeding your car in the parking lot may not prove to be the approach that succeeds. CNET’s Car Tech blog criticizes the Apple-like proprietary nature of Tesla’s charging and battery-swapping approach as a “dead end” that’s good for Tesla but bad for electric car development in general, arguing instead for an open-source, universal approach that charges all electric vehicles.  Established auto manufacturers–whose cars most of us may be more likely to buy–are agreeing on charging standards to help the industry roll out; see, for example, the recent announcement of BMW and General Motors on a common fast charging approach.

The order may not (yet) be “rapidly fadin’,” but it’s clear from what we are seeing on the electric vehicle and hybrid front; T. Boone Pickens’ network of natural gas fueling stations for trucks; and Citi bike in New York City: transportation is becoming a many splendored affair. As we find new and varied ways to fuel our mobility, garaging our vehicles will be an increasingly creative undertaking.

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