Click on the headline (link) for the full text.

Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage

China’s new middle class in love with cars – big cars

Robert Collier, SF Chronicle
It was the frugal minicar that lured the Liu family to the showroom, but it was the full-size sedan that hooked them.

Like countless other first-time auto buyers in China, the Lius were moving up in the world, and getting four wheels with plenty of steel was a key part of that process.

“A car! This means so much to us,” said Liu Yang, while her husband, Liu Yue, fiddled with the dashboard of the Chery Eastar sedan that they were about to buy in a showroom in suburban north Beijing.

The biggest car-buying boom in world history is under way in China as vast numbers of people join the middle class, abandon their bicycles for autos and sport utility vehicles – and, in the process, add to China’s already fast-growing emissions of greenhouse gases.

Only a decade ago, cars owned by individuals were rare, and bicycles were the main mode of transport. Now, streets are clogged bumper-to-bumper, and total car ownership is expected to surpass the U.S. level by 2025.

Local governments are wrestling with transportation and land-use decisions that will set China’s course for decades. Should China look and act like the car-focused sprawl of Los Angeles, they ask, or the public transit-oriented clusters of European cities?
(18 August 2007)

Less driving is more cash for Portland

Dylan Rivera, Portland Oregonian
Urban living – The metro area saves on mileage, a study finds, and mostly uses it to fill the local economy’s tank

Because Portland-Vancouver drivers log 20 percent fewer miles a day than most U.S. urban dwellers and spend less on cars and gasoline as a result, the region’s economy saves $2.6 billion a year, or about 3 percent of the area’s annual economic output, according to a new study for the Chicago-based CEOs for Cities.

And most of that money, which otherwise would go to far-flung car makers and oil companies, appears to go instead to housing, entertainment and food in the Portland-area economy.

“It stimulates local businesses rather than rewarding Exxon or Toyota,” says the five-page report titled “Portland’s Green Dividend” and authored by Portland economist Joe Cortright.

As cities from Los Angeles to Miami look to remake themselves with rail transit and mixed-use housing, the report could have widespread implications.

It raises the question of how much it costs Americans to live in cities that require residents to drive for nearly all their daily needs. Though transit, bicycling and walking are relatively minor contributors to Portland’s savings, the study implies that development patterns that shorten commutes and facilitate walking, bicycling and using transit can have a positive economic impact.

“This isn’t all about transit,” Cortright said in an interview last week. “Most people are still commuting by automobile, and shorter commutes are better than longer commutes, and that’s a principal factor here.”

Driving comparatively less saves the region $1.1 billion in out-of-pocket expenses that come with car ownership, Cortright estimates. That equates to about 1.5 percent of all personal income earned in the metro area in 2005.

Spending 100 fewer hours a year behind the wheel saves $1.5 billion in time spent traveling. That figure, added to the $1.1 billion, yields the total $2.6 billion.
(20 August 2007)

Plastic Car Will Be World’s Cheapest

Raymond Thibodeaux , Sunday Herald (Scotland)
THE narrow, pot-holed roads of this boomtown on India’s southwestern coast are a sea of humanity on wheels. Here, as in most of India, right of way is accorded by a vehicle’s size – motorcycles stop for cars, cars stop for trucks, trucks stop for buses, and buses stop for cows.

So, in a country where size does matter, an Indian car maker is set to roll out the world’s cheapest car next year, enabling those at the bottom of the traffic pecking order to move up a notch.

And it will put the Indian dream of owning a new car — a symbol of status in a status-obsessed culture — within reach of tens of millions of people.

The car maker Tata Motors has not divulged many details about the car other than its shockingly low sticker price of 100,000 rupees, or 1 lakh in Indian currency. That’s just over £1200, less than half the price of the lowest-priced cars on India’s market today.

…The car’s rollout comes as India’s economy expands at a faster-than-expected rate of 8% a year, second only to China. In this country of 1.1 billion people, sales of small cars are expected to double to two million in the next three years, as the country’s emerging middle class expands from 50 million people today to an estimated half billion by 2025.

Supposedly, the 1 Lakh Car — Tata has yet to release its official name — will be a 4-door as big as a Volkswagen Rabbit, much of it will be plastic, and it will have a rear-mounted 30-horsepower engine. By comparison, a Rabbit has about 150 horsepower.

Tata is counting on it being a mega hit. It better be, analysts say. A huge volume of sales is necessary to make up for the car’s tiny profit margin of less than 3%.

But its success could spell trouble for India’s urban planners and environmentalists who say a drastic increase in car ownership could overwhelm the country’s already crowded roadways and worsen its air quality.
(19 August 2007)
Also at Common Dreams.

Trains on track to play key role in bioeconomy

Tyler Hamilton, The Toronto Star
..To my surprise, there are 13 short line and regional railways connecting small towns in Ontario to the larger North American rail network. In fact, one of the standout features of most towns I drove through on the way to Hearst was the railway track that cut a path through each community.

Recognizing Ontario’s existing rail networks, particularly in the north, is important if the government is serious about developing a new industry around what’s often referred to as “forest biofibre.” ..

Its part of the reason the province is coming out with a policy that will involve licensing the right, for a fee, to harvest biofibre in a sustainable way that doesn’t damage forest regeneration. The details are sketchy, but the intent is there.

The reason having a railway network is so important is that for a biofibre industry to emerge in the north there needs to be a way of transporting raw material and resulting products in an economic and, just as important, more environmentally friendly way.
(20 Aug 2007)

Zimbabwe Air Transport Sector Hits Turbulence

Shame Makoshori, Financial Gazette (Harare)
ZIMBABWE, battling with one of the world’s fastest shrinking economies, is now facing a crumbling transport system whose effects have cascaded across the entire economy as fuel, foreign currency and spares shortages wreak havoc on the country.

Industry players say a more difficult problem has evolved around air transport, once seen as the most efficient and reliable in a country going through its worst crisis in history.

Industrialists report of the suspension of critical industrial commitments because consignments cannot be moved in time, or they cannot fly out of the country to address urgent corporate issues due to the erratic performance of the local air transport players. ..

Transport and logistics experts say the worst hit sector has been the tourism industry that relies on an efficient aviation industry to fly tourists from overseas and regional sources, or fly them between local attractions. ..

The most important aspect of the LCA concept, often also referred to as “no frills flights”, has been the operation of single models of engines and planes to reduce maintenance costs. For instance, 1 Time in South Africa operates the DC9 jet, which is efficient, flies similar hours as the traditional aircraft, but cuts logistical costs by 30 to 40 percent. ..
(17 Aug 2007)