The Electric Cars Challenge: One of the Toughest Ways to Offer New Products Is to Change the Existing Paradigm and Then Embark on What Marketers Call a Missionary Approach

By Roman, Harry T. | Technology and Engineering Teacher, September 2011 | Go to article overview

The Electric Cars Challenge: One of the Toughest Ways to Offer New Products Is to Change the Existing Paradigm and Then Embark on What Marketers Call a Missionary Approach


Roman, Harry T., Technology and Engineering Teacher


Introduction

Sometimes you must go back to go forward. Over 100 years ago, the great inventor Thomas Edison warned us that gasoline cars would pollute the environment and lead to gasoline shortages. He preferred the use of clean electric vehicles. He also put his money where his mouth was and developed an entirely new alkaline storage battery system for his beloved cars, the nickel-iron storage battery. This battery turned out to have an incredible run of application and is still being used today. It was the most profitable product ever made by the Thomas A. Edison Company.

Edison and his laboratory assistants performed over 10,000 experiments to find the right materials for his nickel-iron electric vehicle batteries. In his garage, Edison built a charging station for his electric vehicles. Every night he connected his cars to the charging station and put fresh electricity into them for the next day's driving.

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Now many engineers, scientists, and researchers are helping us go back to Mr. Edison's original dream. Today we see the emergence of hybrid cars and electric vehicles reducing our use of gasoline and helping to clean up the air in our cities. A hybrid car has both a regular gasoline engine and batteries.

The Challenge

In this challenge, students will be asked to develop an "electric car" type of future. The term "electric car" is meant to imply any type of vehicle that uses electricity as the prime mover for the vehicle. So, as usual, we need to understand the problem challenge and make sure we ask some important questions up front:

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* How did our country get into the gasoline car paradigm?

* What motivated this trend?

* What made the gasoline car so much more preferable?

* Who were the major players in the technology?

* What were gasoline cars competing against?

* What are the economic and social impacts of the gasoline car?

* What new technologies are gasoline car designers using to improve their products' performance and environmental impacts?

Now let's ask some equally important questions about "electric cars":

* What types of "electric cars" are currently available?

* What future types of technologies could also be used?

* What has been the experience thus far?

* How safe have these cars been--especially in accidents?

* Are such cars being used widely in other countries?

* What will be the economic and environmental impacts of "electric cars"?

* What companies are producing these new cars?

* How long might it take to replace gasoline cars?

* What might "electric cars" cost compared to gasoline cars?

* What are the major impediments to using "electric cars"?

Your students will be engaged in developing a plan for the large-scale implementation of "electric cars" a step-by-step blueprint of how they would massively introduce them into the transportation sector. Often engineers are responsible for not only developing new technologies, but for also laying out plans to implement or deliver the technology to the marketplace. In this exercise, a team-based approach would probably work best, wherein each team member could role-play. We'll assume a five-person team, with the following roles to be played:

* Team captain and technology leader--Engineer

* Marketing champion

* Economist

* Environmentalist

* Automotive designer

As always, there are questions to be considered by all teams:

* What kinds of different technologies should we choose from for our vehicle? …

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