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Hyperloop, hydrogen-powered trains, and air-taxis. As the 21st century progresses, the way people get from A to B is on the cusp of a significant shift driven by design and innovation.

While the above technologies may be a few years off from widespread adoption, that’s not to say change isn’t already afoot.

Around the world, national and municipal governments are attempting to slash emissions and boost urban air quality, with many putting their faith in a growing sector: battery electric vehicles. 

There’s undoubtedly momentum behind the industry. A recent report from the International Energy Agency stated roughly 3 million new electric cars were registered last year, a record amount and a 41% rise compared to 2019.

Looking ahead, the IEA says the number of electric cars, buses, vans and heavy trucks on roads — its projection does not include two- and three-wheeled electric vehicles — is expected to hit 145 million by 2030.

If governments ramp up efforts to meet international energy and climate goals, the global fleet could increase further still, expanding to 230 million by the end of the decade.

A changing world 

As the number of electric vehicles on the planet’s roads increases, society will need to adapt.

Extensive charging networks, for example, will need to be rolled out to meet increased demand and dispel lingering concerns around “range anxiety” — the idea that electric vehicles aren’t able to undertake long journeys without losing power and getting stranded.

Another area where we will notice change relates to noise: As well as boasting zero tailpipe emissions, electric vehicles are far quieter than their diesel and gasoline cousins.

This means less noise pollution in urban areas — clearly a good thing — but also throws up a potential challenge for other road users, especially those with sight problems. 

“For people who are blind or partially sighted, judging traffic can be really difficult,” Zoe Courtney-Bodgener, policy and campaigns officer at the U.K.-based Royal National Institute of Blind People, told CNBC in a phone interview.

Courtney-Bodgener explained that an increasing number of “quiet” modes of transport were now being used, giving the example of bicycles and larger electric and hybrid vehicles.

“If you can’t always or reliably use vision to detect those vehicles, then sound is even more important,” she went on to state.

“And when the sound is not there, or is not loud enough to be able to reliably detect those vehicles, obviously that presents danger because … you’re not reliably able to know when a vehicle is approaching you.”

The law of the land

It should be noted that, around the world, legislation and technology have already been introduced in a bid tackle this issue.

In the European Union and U.K., for example, all new electric and hybrid vehicles will have to use an acoustic vehicle alerting system, or AVAS, from July 1. This will build upon and broaden previous regulations which came into force in 2019. 

Under the rules, the AVAS is supposed to kick in and make noise when a vehicle’s speed is under 20 kilometers per hour (around 12 miles per hour) and when it’s in reverse.

According to a statement from the U.K. government in 2019, the sound “can be temporarily deactivated by the driver if judged necessary.”

The EU’s regulation says the noise made by the AVAS “shall be a continuous sound that provides information to the pedestrians and other road users of a vehicle in operation.”

“The sound should be easily indicative of vehicle behaviour,” it adds, “and should sound similar to the sound of a vehicle of the same category equipped with an internal combustion engine.”

The RNIB’s Courtney-Bodgener told CNBC that while her organization was “happy” the AVAS directive had been translated into U.K. law, it did not “do all of the things that we want it to do.”

She went on to explain how the speed at which the AVAS cuts in perhaps needed to be increased to 20 or 30 miles per hour.

“We’re not convinced that if … a vehicle is travelling at, say 13 miles per hour, it would generate, on its own, enough noise for it to be reliably detectable by sound.”

Another area of concern relates to older vehicles. “There are already lots and lots of electric and hybrid vehicles that were produced before this legislation came into force and do not have the sound technology on them,” she said.

There was currently no provision to retrofit these, she added. “That is a concern because there are already thousands of vehicles on roads around the U.K. that do not have the AVAS technology.”

From the industry’s point of view, it seems to be content with the regulations already in place. In a statement sent to CNBC via email, AVERE, The European Association for Electromobility, told CNBC it supported the “current legislative status quo.”

“The limit of 20 km/h is sufficient, since at this level other noises — notably rolling tyre resistance — take over and are sufficient for pedestrians and cyclists to hear EVs and hybrids approaching,” the Brussels-based organization added.

“In fact, mandating additional noise beyond 20 km/h would rob European citizens of one of the primary benefits of electrification: reduced noise levels at city speeds.”

Noise pollution can indeed be a serious issue. According to the European Environment Agency, over 100 million people in Europe “are exposed to harmful levels of environmental noise pollution.” The agency singles out road traffic noise as being “a particular public health problem across many urban areas.”

On the subject of older cars needing to be updated, AVERE said: “Only a very small share of EVs on European roads would be subject to retrofitting requirements, given the fact that many existing vehicles have already been fitted with AVAS in anticipation of the new requirements, and that the rules have been put in place in time to support the expected mass uptake of EVs in coming years.”

If “additional requirements” were found to be necessary, AVERE said it stood ready to engage with policymakers.

The future

Discussions and debate surrounding this topic look set to continue for a good while yet and it’s clear that a balance will need to be struck going forward.

Regardless of whether one thinks the current legislation goes far enough or not, the fact remains these types of systems are set to become an increasingly important feature of urban transport in the years ahead.

Robert Fisher is head of EV technologies at research and consultancy firm SBD Automotive.

He told CNBC via email that testing conducted by the company had “found AVAS to be quite effective” but went on to add that if a pedestrian wasn’t familiar with the noise, “they may not automatically associate it with the presence of an approaching vehicle.”

“Currently, AVAS is mostly hindered by inconsistent legislation and a lack of innovation,” he said, before going on to strike a positive tone regarding the future.

“As we move away from the internal combustion engine, this technology has the potential to become a key part of a car’s character, a point of brand differentiation, and has the ability to save lives.”

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Tesla Model 3 prototype spotted ahead of rumored design refresh

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Tesla Model 3 prototype spotted ahead of rumored design refresh

A new Tesla Model 3 prototype with camouflage has been spotted in California ahead of a rumored refresh coming next year.

Over the last week, there have been rumors that Tesla is working on a Model 3 refresh that would come during the second half of 2023.

The project is reportedly codenamed ‘Highland’.

For a few years now, Tesla has been integrating its large casting technology into Model Y with single large casting parts replacing dozens of parts in the electric SUV.

This new technology has enabled Tesla to greatly improve manufacturing efficiency with Model Y compared to Model 3. CEO Elon Musk said that Tesla will bring the same technology to Model 3 eventually, but he couldn’t exactly say when.

The problem is that such an update to the Model 3 would temporarily slow down production and Tesla couldn’t afford that while it was still ramping up Model Y production.

However, Model Y production is now starting to exceed Model 3 production and it could be good timing for Tesla to update the Model 3 and use a design refresh to introduce the large from and rear casting.

Now a new Model 3 prototype has been spotted in Santa Cruz, California by Twitter user omg_Tesla/Rivian:

The Model 3 is equipped with manufacturer plates, which would indicate that it is owned by Tesla, and combined with the heavy camouflage in the front and back of the vehicle, it likely points to the automaker testing an updated version of the electric sedan.

However, not much can be discerned from the pictures thanks to the camouflage, which even covers large parts of the headlights.

Nonetheless, some commenters on Twitter did notice what could potentially be a camera embedded in the corner of the front right headlight:

It’s barely visible and therefore unconfirmed, but it would make sense to place a camera around that spot since Tesla’s current self-driving sensor suite has a blind spot around the bumper and it could also help with the creeping forward to see traffic before taking a turn in Full Self-Driving – something FSD Beta has issues with right now.

Tesla has always said that it would keep improving its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving hardware, but current owners who bought vehicles with the promise that self-driving will be enabled through software updates are concerned that Tesla might find that it would need a new sensor suite to achieve the promise.

What do you think about this Tesla Model 3 prototype? Is the camouflage hiding a Model 3 design refresh? A new Autopilot sensor suite? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.

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OPEC+ agrees to stick to its existing policy of reducing oil production ahead of Russia sanctions

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OPEC+ agrees to stick to its existing policy of reducing oil production ahead of Russia sanctions

Led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, OPEC+ agreed in early October to reduce production by 2 million barrels per day from November.

Vladimir Simicek | Afp | Getty Images

An influential alliance of oil producers on Sunday agreed to stay the course on output policy ahead of a pending ban from the European Union on Russian crude.

OPEC and non-OPEC producers, a group of 23 oil-producing nations known as OPEC+, decided to stick to its existing policy of reducing oil production by 2 million barrels per day, or about 2% of world demand, from November until the end of 2023.

Energy analysts had expected OPEC+ to consider fresh price-supporting production cuts ahead of a possible double blow to Russia’s oil revenues.

The European Union is poised to ban all imports of Russian seaborne crude from Monday, while the U.S. and other members of the G-7 will impose a price cap on the oil Russia sells to countries around the world.

The Kremlin has previously warned that any attempt to impose a price cap on Russian oil will cause more harm than good.

Oil prices have fallen to below $90 a barrel from more than $120 in early June ahead of potentially disruptive sanctions on Russian oil, weakening crude demand in China and mounting fears of a recession.

Led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, OPEC+ agreed in early October to reduce production by 2 million barrels per day from November. It came despite calls from the U.S. for the group to pump more to lower fuel prices and help the global economy.

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What’s the status of California’s upcoming $10M electric bike rebate program?

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What's the status of California's upcoming M electric bike rebate program?

California allocated $10 million for a rebate program to help make electric bikes more affordable. But hang on there; it’s not active quite yet.

The move is part of a years-long effort to help reduce the price of expensive electric bicycles for state residents. The ultimate goal is to make it easier for commuters to switch from car transportation to e-bike transportation.

It makes sense when you consider the long list of benefits. From cleaner air to reduced traffic and improved health/fitness, electric bikes solve many of the problems plaguing California (and the rest of the country).

But the path towards a statewide incentive program to reduce e-bike prices hasn’t been quick or easy.

specialized globe haul st e-bike

California has earmarked over $1 billion this year as incentives for electric cars and charging infrastructure, according to Streetsblog. That’s in addition to the billions already put into electric car incentives.

Back in 2019 electric bikes finally got the attention they deserved from lawmakers when California’s S.B. 400 was passed, which included a section that permitted electric bikes to be included in future clean air vehicle incentive programs.

That paved the way for the possibility of statewide e-bike rebate programs, but it didn’t actually create any.

Last year California got one step closer to that goal when it included a $10M allocation in the state budget for an e-bike rebate program. As Assemblymember Boerner Horvath said at the time:

“Making e-bikes more affordable is one of the most effective ways to get Californians out of their cars and reduce emissions. I’m thrilled that the full funding I requested for purchase incentives, education, and training is included in the budget we approved. This program represents a priority shift in the right direction and, once implemented, will help folks from all backgrounds choose a healthier, happier way to get around.”

That was another huge step in the right direction, but it hasn’t yet resulted in an active program.

That’s expected to begin in early 2023, with a number of key guidelines for California’s first statewide e-bike voucher program already laid out.

According to the California Bicycle Association, the program will create a $750 voucher for a standard electric bicycle and a $1,500 voucher for a cargo electric bicycle. There will be additional incentives for anyone whose income is under 225% of the federal poverty level (FPL) or who lives in disadvantaged communities.

But in order to qualify for the voucher, participants’ household income must be below 400% of the FPL, which amounts to $51,000 for a single person and $106,000 for a family of four at current figures.

The program will include Class 1 electric bikes (pedal assist up to 20 mph or 32 km/h) and Class 2 electric bikes (pedal assist and/or throttle up to 20 mph or 32 km/h), but will NOT include Class 3 e-bikes (pedal assist up to 28 mph).

Qualifying bikes must also either be purchased at a local bike shop in California, or online from a company that has “a business location in California”.

The move could see California align with other states that have created or already implemented electric bicycle incentives. Vermont became the first state in the US to offer a statewide e-bike rebate program. Oregon is also working on creating an e-bike incentive program that could soon become law, as New York attempts to do the same.

Many cities such as Denver, Colorado have also implemented their own local programs, though the funding is usually much smaller than statewide programs.

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