events archive

Is it the end of the road for cars?

7:00pm, Monday 11 February 2019, St James of Bermondsey, 72 St James's Rd, London SE16 4QZ

International discussion on cars has begun to change gear. It has shifted from unbridled utopias of driverless or flying cars in the immediate future to growing fears of a sales slump in the very real present – especially given the latest figures from China.

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) is to lose 4,500 jobs, a tenth of its workforce. Ford has found investments in driverless cars enormously costly, and may now have to get into bed with VW if it is to pursue them.  Germany’s Continental tyres, a bellwether for the international automotive industry, has issued a major warning. The arrest and continued incarceration of Carlos Ghosn threatens to rip apart the alliance between Renault and Nissan. Product recalls continue to hit millions of drivers.

Nor is today’s car sector crash just an economic matter. More than ever, it is argued that cars pollute our air, divide our streets, accelerate climate change and – the worst charge – that they’re dangerous temples to testosterone and toxic masculinity. In France, the gilets jaunes protest was in part motivated by President Macron’s decision to raise petrol taxes in the environmentalist cause. In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan’s ultra-low emission zone will be introduced in April.

Finally, it’s suggested, we may now have really reached Peak Car - that sales will now decline as car ownership becomes less and less attractive.

What has happened to bring about the shift in sentiment? Aren’t Google and Uber moving ahead briskly with driverless cars? And surely firms such as Tesla, as well as the Chinese, are doing the same with sales of electric cars?  Weren’t we told that electric robo-taxis, aka Mobility as a Service (MaaS), are coming soon, at least in certain locations — and won’t that lower the number of cars and parking spaces in our cities, which is all to the good? What is the future of cars?

Additional discussion

After our discussion on cars, there will be a short catch-up on the economic discussions around Brexit.


James Woudhuysen
visiting professor, London South Bank University; co-author, Energise! A future for energy innovation; co-author, Why is construction so backward?


Are the days of the private car really over?, BBC News, 10 January 2019

Continental piles on misery for car industry, Daily Telegraph,  15 January 2018

Car industry in crisis, Euronews

Why Britain should go big on electric cars, James Woudhuysen, spiked, 9 May 2017

Electric car, Made in China, James Woudhuysen, July 2017

London’s ultra-low emission zone: what you need to know, Guardian, 5 January 2019

Automotive industry crisis of 2008–10, Wikipedia, especially Section 3.2