BSTP: Of cars

In the context of Geel’s book – specifically cars – we discuss the following questions:

How did niches emerge in the context of existing technology regime?

A horse-based transport moved to electric-based transport in the 19th century, before the internal combustion engine took off. Electric batteries and plugs where not standardised and therefore it was difficult to use electric-based mobile units. Also the low energy density of batteries would require a very dense charging network that was unrealistic at the time. At the same time the bicycle were created and technology (chains, rubber-wheels, gears, etc.) spilled into the development of early cars. Electric trams and bicycles allowed people to get used to faster transportation (which was still a topic of public discussion at the time) and created a desire for mobility. Cars filled also a leisure niche (touring and racing) that allowed combustion engines to overtake electric approaches.

To which ongoing processes at the level of the existing technology regime and the landscape did developments in the niche link up?

On a side note, electric trams could overtake horse-based transport as electric tram produced a day market for electricity (people used it mainly at night) and it lowered the cost of transport (feeding and housing of horses). Suburbanisation drove the development of cars as well as as the density of people was lower in the suburbs that made trams less efficient (in terms of prices).

What role did policy play in affecting the development of technologies?

The subsidies to suburbanisation in US made cars nearly the only option for transport. In conjunction with a nearly 4 times lower density of people than in Europe cars were needed more.