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Jonathan Punter

| 23 January 2020

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Jonathan Punter

Electrifying infrastructure will spark a driving revolution

The electrical experience

Every generation carries its own movie image of the classic road trip.

If you were a child of the ‘50s, chances are it was Jack Kerouac’s proto-beatnik meanderings of “On The Road”.

The ‘60s brought us the unravelling of America’s suburban strait-jacket corporate culture, courtesy of Easy Rider. Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda took to the tarmac on their Harleys to turn the throttle away from conventional conformity.

The defining road movie of the 1970s, in my view, was probably Duel. Stephen Spielberg’s gripping debut with an unseen, murderous trucker doing his best to finish off a blameless Dennis Weaver.

And so on. Midnight Run gets my vote for the ‘80s and if you have any candidates for the ‘90s and the noughties (Sideways?), it helps reassure us the genre still has plenty of miles in the tank.

Or does it?

Behind this question is the growing debate on the emerging electrification of our roads, cars and transport network. (If you subscribe, the Times’s six-part series is well worth your time).

This year will see, we’re told, 20-plus new electric car models offered for sale here. Add to that the growing speculation that the March budget will consider them tax-free if used as company cars.

Electric cars are gradually making their presence (very quietly) felt. Ten per cent of UK registrations were for plug-in cars. This has also led to price rises for second-hand electric models while conventional motors continue to shed value.

What was experimental, we keep being told, is set to go mainstream. Capital and political will appear to be aligning. Not that that spells success by itself but it must be seen as a significant milestone, especially as the unglamorous but essential foundation is to offer enough charging points. Power, rather than petrol stations, at a cost of billions.

I was thinking about this as I headed down to Portugal in my electric car. For those of you who still believe that driving is all about “vroom”, I am happy to park this idea for you.

In the age of sat nav, the car does all the planning for you when it comes to re-charging stops across Europe. Being heavier and much, much more hushed, the ride is smooth and much more relaxed.

Yes, you have to twiddle your thumbs while the batteries are re-juiced but this is more than compensated for by the savings you make and the effortless progress once you are on the road.

I recalled in an earlier blog driving down the Pacific Highway for a friend’s wedding in a (very nice) Mustang and how that trip would have differed had it been battery-powered. Quieter, certainly, but just as much fun and only a battery charge away from Silicon Valley, which is driving this transformation.

In the midst of my evident admiration and enjoyment of the electrical experience, what I am trying to say is that we are much closer to our inflection point destination than we realise.

The driving force

Technology is now behind the wheel of what was probably the most liberating form of personal transport in history.

And given that, latterly, the environmental cost of automotive independence has dominated thinking, innovation is again delivering a solution.

The horse-drawn economy of the 19th century was flattened literally overnight when the internal combustion engine was designed - and costed - to the point where it would become ubiquitous.

What started with cars has transferred to motorbikes and will revolutionise the supply chain of trucks and lorries.

Fueling the future

There will be setbacks but history tells us that change does not have a handbrake. It’s why we have always relentlessly interrogated new technology to take our business forward over the last 30-plus years.

It’s one of the reasons we are still in the driving seat. When we started out, computers were the size of wardrobes and installed in only the biggest companies. As they have shrunk, their uses and power have multiplied. In financial services, this process has accelerated.

Our company is looking to the next three decades, by which time, a new generation will have a radically different idea of what an era-defining road movie will look - and sound - like.

But be in no doubt, the producers know they have a blockbuster on their hands. We all need to be ready for the ride.

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For those of you who still believe that driving is all about “vroom”, I am happy to park this idea for you.

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After 40 years of experience in the pensions world, I'm sharing my insights.