Future of Transport Eludes the Seers

By David Fickling and Anjani Trivedi | Bloomberg November 3 at 8:00 PM

First in a series on the future of transport. The second part will appear tomorrow.

If you want to know the future of transport, make sure you never listen to the prophets.

A decade ago, the most bracing visions of travel were being promulgated by Airbus SE and Tata Motors Ltd.

The double-decker Airbus A380, which entered service in October 2007, would offer a way for airlines to transport ever-greater volumes of passengers from space-constrained airports and steal market share from Boeing Co.’s 747 and smaller twin-aisle planes like the Boeing 777.

Tata’s Nano would repeat Henry Ford’s trick and open up a giant new market with its promise of a 100,000 rupee ($1,400) car for India’s emerging lower-middle class. 

It didn’t work out that way. A make-or-break deal with the A380’s biggest customer Emirates has reached an impasse, people familiar with the matter told Benjamin Katz and Layan Odeh of Bloomberg News this month. That could seal the fate of double-decker aircraft, an outcome we’ve long warned about.

The Tata Nano is in a similar state, with just one unit produced in June. As we’ve written, its vision of a low-quality and dirt-cheap vehicle misread the market. India has instead seen its best-selling cars go upmarket over the past decade while lower-income customers have stuck to two- and three-wheelers.

That rule has held in transport for decades. General Motors Co.’s famed Futurama exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair correctly forecast the growth of the U.S. interstate highway network and the expansion of car-dependent suburbs, but missed the role aviation would play in intercity travel and the backlash that Robert Moses-style urban expressways would eventually provoke.

Similarly, from the vantage

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