Frankly said, I was always skeptical about cars, especially in the cities, but I thought that these were my own personal biases and preferences, rather than a rational point of view on this type of transport. Perhaps this attitude has developed due to the fact that I have lived most of my life in Moscow, the largest European city, and since childhood saw all drawbacks of this type of transport. It is strange — almost nobody speaks about them, but it is in the all news that the car sales are falling due to the recession of the Russian economy.
So, what is so bad about cars? The answer to this question will take several articles that will include both the physical and socio-economic problems, as well as potential solutions. In this part the physical drawbacks of this type of transport will be discussed.
Let’s start with the fact that the main physical problem of cars lies in their absolute irrationality. An irrationality that captured and cannot let our societies go everywhere: in Europe, North America and in other parts of the planet.
The first irrationality of this type of transport is based in its excessive capacity. Most conventional cars have four doors and can fit five passengers, and in some cases even more by sacrificing comfort and safety while driving. At the same time the average number of passengers per car varies between 1.2 and 2 people.
According to the graph, car occupancy decreases over the years. It is probably due to the increase in well-being and the ability of the population to buy private cars. Although the data is based on the 2004–2008 years, we ourselves can verify these numbers by looking at the number of people in the cars when we are walking on the street — in most cases cars will have one or two people.
The passenger capacity which the automakers include in their cars is very outdated and is not relevant today — families have become smaller and cars are more affordable.
In developed countries the motorization of the population has reached impressive heights. In the United States it was equal to 439 cars per 1000 people four years ago. In other words, 44 % of the people in the US own a car, pickup truck, SUV or a minibus. In the European countries this figure varies between 200 and 700. The EU average in 2005 was 462 cars per 1000 people, and in 2013 it increased to 494. In other words — there is almost one car for every two citizens.
As can be seen from the graph, only three countries had a decrease in the number of cars between 2005 and 2013 — in the UK, Germany and Latvia; wherein the largest decrease has reached only 4.8 %. It is also worth noting that the Eastern European countries have shown tremendous growth: Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Lithuania, Estonia increased the number of cars on a minimum of 30 %.
In general we can say that the more developed and larger countries of the EU showed the least increase, while most of the growth came in the Eastern Europe. It is interesting to note that small countries (Czech Republic, Malta, Denmark, Cyprus, the Netherlands, Austria and others) are located in the middle of the list and have a significant increase in the number of cars. Perhaps, the culture of living outside of cities is common is these countries and people travel to work or study on their cars, as the distances are relatively small in contrast to the larger countries (such as Italy, Sweden, Spain, France, UK and Germany) where people are less mobile and prefer a more “settled” lifestyle because of the size of the country. But this conclusion is only a guess and an assumption.
In general, we can say that the more economically developed is a country, the more automobilized is the society of this country and as a result, the car occupancy falls, since a family of three has two-three cars which can include 10–15 passengers.
This absurd unoccupancy is only half the problem. One could turn a blind eye if cars were irrational due to their excessive and outdated capacity, however, cars not only kept their five passenger seats in the interior, but also have considerably grown in size!
If previously popular cars were in general smaller and that can be seen on the European roads where there are a lot of tiny cars from the previous century, but today the situation has changed quite significantly. In Europe nearly all sold cars have four doors and have five passenger seats. There is an even more diversified rating that includes sedans, hatchbacks, station wagons and crossovers. Some even say that the demand for crossovers and SUVs increases in Europe. In terms of the body-style, the situation is roughly the same in the US, but sedans and larger cars are mostly popular. In Russia, the three most popular types of cars are sedans, SUVs and hatchbacks.
As we can see, SUVs and crossovers are in demand. The classic argument for such cars includes such words as: “security”, “passability”, “capacity”, “stability”, “reliability” and the like. Perhaps, this is the correct characterization of this car class, but still there is quite a lot of criticism for large cars.
For example, in Russia people like SUVs, as it said that “you cannot travel through our country on other cars”. Well, let’s assume it is so. How then to explain the fact that all over Russia we have fairly compact VAZ cars and they pass almost all city and country roads? Here are they, the Russian roads:
As can be seen, average Soviet and Russian cars use these roads. These cars are surely not of monstrous sizes.
When people talk about the lack of roads they mean something like this:
As we can see, even here there are some passenger cars. But let’s ask a rhetorical question: are the owners of these cars, shown below and which are very popular in Russian cities, ready to go such a journey on their SUVs?
I very much doubt it, since such cars in Russia are purchased for various reasons. Mostly it is due the misconceptions about the roads that is too exaggerated, and also due to the usual “show off”. Perhaps this is a habit of many “businessmen” of the nineties, when an SUV was a strategically important object which transported your gang to various “meetings”, military arsenal as well as competitors in unknown directions. Today this generation has become ordinary businessmen who have gained some weight, are less sporty and act much more civilized. But the habit of driving an SUV has not gone anywhere!
Now then, I am almost certain that the owners of the just-bought-in-credit white and black broughams have forgotten nothing either in the forest or on the farm and drive through the pits in the same way as they would on any other compact car. Moreover, the statistics confirms this — in Moscow and St. Petersburg more than 30 % of the cars are SUVs, Ekaterinburg, Kazan and Chelyabinsk have almost 20 % of off-road vehicles. These are all large Russian cities which have relatively normal roads that are being used by small cars.
Buying such SUVs for the city is not called “showing off”, but it is rephrased to a more elegant “image component”. Clients of such vehicles see themselves like this:
Of course, the real customers are far from this ideal picture, but it is perfectly seen here that these cars are designed for driving on the parquet in a business suit.
Here is another ad: the Volkswagen Tiguan crossover, at whose place any other car of this class could be:
As we can see, crossovers are designed to transport bikes (although one should ride them) on perfect European roads on which Smart would perform just as good. Off-road is considered a small section of the village road, before leaving it for a paved road Tiguan abruptly and shamefacedly brakes, because there is a small edge. Gentlemen, a Smart would cope with this task. Why the Tiguan is not tested on some Russian federal highways? The answer is simple — such cars are not supposed to be actually off-road.
Certain conclusions can already be done, but let’s not rush it, since more material is coming. In the next part we will continue to discuss the problems of the cars and will begin to talk about the socio-economic disadvantages.