Robert Llewellyn on the Future of Cars

Robert Llewellyn  on the Future of Cars
Robert Llewellyn  on the Future of Cars

The global car industry is going through a great shift currently with technology taking an ever greater role in the development of how we travel.

The Financial Tribune spoke with Robert Llewellyn, famous for his time in BBC's science fiction comedy Red Dwarf, but more recently as an EV enthusiast hosting a YouTube channel devoted to the future of the automotive industry. Llewellyn started the discussion on the current state of the EV and hybrid industry and how it currently stands.  

"The auto industry is just past the tipping point in Europe." He added that the enormous resistance in the press and among the general public has changed dramatically. Going on to say he finds a far more positive reaction to the notion, partly driven by people’s experience of plug in hybrids. Llewellyn then suggested in the area of the automotive manufacturing the world will see massive growth in the next 5-10 years with plug in hybrids and pure electric.

The electric car enthusiast then moved onto how he thought the industry would be in five years time.

"I'd imagine we’ll see a huge range of plug in hybrids with smaller and smaller petrol engines, really range assisted electric cars." Llewellyn went on to say the BMW i3 and i8 point in the direction where he expects a lot of manufacturers will go. The enthusiast then said that VW’s XL1 is such an extraordinary breakthrough and that he believed a lot of that technology is being tested in their regular line up. He said that a 150 mpg car will not be that unusual in 5 years. And mentioned that tougher emission standards in European cities will see the gradual demise of the diesel car, as is already happening in London where diesel emissions are a real problem.

Moving on to the needs of the consumer, Robert was tasked with how he thought consumer needs are currently being met by manufacturers.

"Maybe surprisingly I would suggest the car club, the notion that we don’t need to own cars in order to use them." Adding, "I have been impressed that big manufacturers have hinted at the concept of car sharing as a way forward."  He went on to say this is a rapidly growing phenomenon for a growing urban population in Europe. "Owning a car in a city is a burden but if you can have access to one easily, economically when and where you want, then car sharing/car clubs make a huge amount of sense." He added that his urban friends who once owned cars have ditched them and now use car sharing schemes. He thought that manufacturers now understand they need to embrace this concept and build cars that suit the car sharing model.

The questions become more specific at this point, with when Llewellyn thought British car consumers adopt EV's. The expert said the answer is in the figures. In March 2014 Nissan sold 630 Leafs. In March 2015 they sold 1,254. Total sales in UK are now close to 8,000 and worldwide it’s 170,000. "So something is happening".

"Of course these are still very low numbers, but I think an interesting comparison is with the sales of the Toyota Prius."

He pointed to the lack of interest in the Prius 5 years ago, adding the traditional motoring press, motoring pundits and members of the general public rejected and ridiculed the car. Toyota have now sold over 7 million Toyota hybrids worldwide. Llewellyn also said the Nissan Leaf has followed the same path but in far fewer years. The graph shows a very steep rise in sales and the launch of the ‘200 mile’ Leaf in 2016 is set to increase that upward trajectory.

He then moved onto the future leaders of the electric car industry. "I really don’t want to sound like a shill for Tesla but they really have set the bar fairly high." Adding. It’s a big challenge to other car manufacturers and no one else has yet delivered a mass-produced electric car capable of 260 miles of highway speed driving on one charge.

Llewellyn then moved onto how he thought Iran could be more efficient in their use of energy.

"I wouldn’t suggest anything about efficiency and I don’t know the current air quality conditions in major Iranian cities but I would hazard a guess they are not very good." Adding, "One thing governments of all persuasions find very difficult to comprehend is long term planning." He then said it's in every nation's self interest to trade globally but not be reliant on any one energy source that is imported.

Llewellyn ended his interview with a few parting messages on how Iran can better secure its future in regards to energy.  "Although Iran has cheap and plentiful fossil fuel it will be affected by the changes to the global climate that will now inevitably take place." He went to say that if a country rich in oil made a rapid and carefully planned transition to renewable energy sources, electric cars and mass transport that didn’t rely on fossil or nuclear fuels, it could be a beacon of hope for the rest of the world. "I would be thrilled to see a country like Iran take the lead in this area."