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10 trends that drove sustainable transport in 2013

Getting from point A to B often requires a lot of energy — and often results in a lot of unwanted pollution. But the following 10 trends in sustainable transportation show how globally thinking, locally acting people and companies were able to make getting around greener than ever in 2013.

1. Peer-to-peer car sharing

Owning a car is so yesterday. So is renting one, at least in the conventional sense. Everywhere you look, cars are just sitting there doing nothing, like excessive status symbols of a bygone era — and a huge opportunity waiting to happen.

Thankfully, that opportunity is happening. In 2013, peer-to-peer (P2P) car sharing emerged as a major theme.

This trend, which has the potential to transform transportation for years to come, is being driven into the mainstream by startups such as Buzzcar, founded by former Zipcar CEO Robin Chase, tech giants such as SAP and people everywhere who are willing to share their vehicles for a few extra bucks. And we’re not talking small savings here. SAP, before recently launching its TwoGo app to the public, saved $5 million internally through P2P car sharing among its employees. Even some automakers — perhaps seeing a threat to their traditional business model of exclusive car ownership and use — are seeing the sense in car sharing. General Motors, for example, is partnering with P2P car-sharing start-up RelayRides.

Indeed, the smartest car of all may not be an electric vehicle, hybrid or self-driving car, but simply the car you share in your community.

2. Electric vehicle sales surge

Car sharing doesn’t appear to be having a negative impact on vehicle purchases — or at least not on electric vehicles. Car sharing may, in fact, emerge as the killer app of EV sales. Electric vehicle manufactures and car-sharing companies rolled out countless partnerships in 2013, whether it was Toyota and City CarShare in California, Renault and Autolib in France or Nissan and the city of Yokohama, Japan.

The 2013 Chevrolet Spark (Credit: General Motors)Perhaps it’s no coincidence, then, that electric vehicle sales were up about 300 percent on the year through November, according to the most recent sales data. Leading the segment were Nissan’s Leaf and Tesla’s Model S, which experienced triple- and quadruple-digit growth, respectively. This year also featured the market debut of Chevy’s Spark EV and a strong year of growth for the Ford Focus Electric, the Honda Fit EV, the Mitsubishi I and the Toyota RAV4 EV.

While the raw number of EVs sold through November may still underwhelm at just over 41,000, this compares to only about 10,000 sold over the same period of 2012. Moreover, sales of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles also showed strength this year, posting respectable 31-percent growth with nearly 44,000 sold through November. Chevy Volt and the Prius PHEV still lead in total units sold, but sales of the Ford C-Max Energi PHEV jumped more than 350 percent this year, and Honda also introduced its Accord PHEV.

If Santa is generous, December could see sales of all-electric vehicles and plug-in electric hybrids cross the 100,000-unit threshold by the end of this year.

3. Vehicle ‘lightweighting’ — ultra-light, ultra-efficient

Rocky Mountain Institute co-founder Amory Lovins wrote earlier this year that “lightweighting” has been “the hottest strategic trend for several years,” as automakers react to stricter fuel economy rules not only by introducing EV, PHEVs and hybrids to the market, but also by simply moving to lighter and even ultra-light vehicles.
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