The Hub Cool News

The Age of Awe

carla-hendraAwe hangs out at the intersection of extreme pleasure and mild fear. A Hub White Paper by Carla Hendra of OgilvyRED. Everybody has their own idea of what awesome means to them. A lot of that revolves around the amazing things that are possible today because of design, innovation and technology. I recently had what I thought was an awesome experience, and it all happened while I was in motion inside a London cab. I was on my way to a meeting and drove by a retail store I know well from New York — Kate Spade. At about 30 miles an hour, that only took two seconds. But in those two seconds I saw, and fell in love with, a rose-patterned dress draped on the mannequin in the window.

I wasn’t stopped in traffic, so I only caught a glimpse of the dress. That was enough. iPhone in my hand, I immediately Googled “Kate Spade Floral Dress.” In less than a second, that beautiful dress appeared on my screen, and I could see links to the sites where it was for sale. Ten seconds later, I had ordered it on Bloomingdales.com with Paypal, and arranged for its delivery to my New York apartment by the following day. The dress got home before I did! I arrived home the following day and found it there in all its glory. The same dress I’d literally whizzed by just the day before, some 3,000 miles away. Continue Reading.

Go Enjoy

go-enjoyRon Johnson is back with a bid to re-invent the e-commerce experience, reports Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times (5/7/15). Ron, as you’ll recall, is both celebrated for his role launching the Apple stores and maligned for his time as CEO of JC Penney. His new venture, an e-commerce play called Enjoy, is designed “to create the friendliness of an Apple Store in people’s homes and offices.” The concept is to “send an expert to hand-deliver tech products” ordered online and help people set up and learn how to use them, “at no additional cost.”

Ron calls the concept “personal commerce.” “E-commerce today is primarily logistics and convenience — you order today, and, boom, get it tomorrow,” he says. While he believes that the traditional model isn’t going anywhere, he also thinks that the smartphone, and “local delivery networks” has introduced new possibilities. The idea does not fall far from the hugely successful Personal Setup service Ron “created at Apple that offers free in-store assistance to people who buy new products.”

“I remember when we launched that, Steve said, ‘Are you sure you can do that? Your stores are busy’,” says Ron. “But I thought it was the right thing to do. And within a matter of weeks of launching it, well over half the purchases were being set up in store.” The Enjoy model calls for a limited selection of “only about a dozen or so high-margin” items. Ron “believes that by limiting selection,” Enjoy can “squeeze enough out of each purchase to cover delivery and personal consultation.” Enjoy initially will be available in New York City and San Francisco only.

Edison’s Dolls

edison-dollVoices of the “the world’s first recording artists” are being heard for the first time, reports Ron Cowen in The New York Times (5/5/15). Those would be the voices of “the young girls hired to recite” rhymes for use in Thomas Edison’s talking dolls. The dolls were introduced in 1890 and they “were a flop; production lasted only six weeks. Children found them difficult to operate and more scary than cuddly. The recordings inside,” etched on wax cylinders, “featured snippets of nursery rhymes” and “wore out quickly.”

Edison’s dolls are quite rare and, until now, the recordings couldn’t be played because to do so “might damage or destroy the grooves of the hollow, ring-shaped cylinder.” But now “a government laboratory” has “developed a method to play fragile records without touching them. The technique relies on a microscope to create images of the grooves in exquisite detail. A computer approximates — with great accuracy — the sounds that would have been created by a needle moving through those grooves.”

The method, “developed by the particle physicist Carl Haber and the engineer Earl Cornell at Lawrence Berkeley,” is known as Irene, which stands for “Image, Reconstruct, Erase Noise, Etc.” The technology, which was “recently acquired” by the National Document Conservation Center, has also been used to extract audio from “dirt-stained recordings” featuring Woody Guthrie, in which the legendary folksinger “tells jokes, offers some back story and makes the audience laugh,” revealing a performance otherwise lost to history.

American Orthography

trThink of Teddy Roosevelt the next time you drive through a drive-thru, suggests Thomas V. DiBacco in The Wall Street Journal (4/16/15). The 26th US president, in 1906, issued an executive order intended to “transform the English language” via simplified spelling. TR, along with industrialist Andrew Carnegie “looked at spelling reform as efficient and cost-cutting, meaning that newspaper, magazine and book sizes could be reduced, as could class time devoted to spelling.” The extra letters in English and French spellings were a special target.

At the time, some streamlined spellings “were already in use, including ‘arbor,’ ‘ardor,’ and ‘clamor,’ (instead of arbour/ardour/clamour) or ‘judgment’ and ‘acknowledgment’ (without the silent ‘e’).” Others were a tougher sell, such as ‘blest’ instead of ‘blessed’, ‘kist’ rather than ‘kissed’ and ‘past’ instead of ‘passed.’ TR also sought to drop the extra ‘r’ on ‘purr’ and consolidate the “combined letters ‘oe’ as in ‘subpoena’” into just an ‘e.’ Transforming ‘tonight’ into ‘tonite’ and ‘though’ into ‘tho’ certainly have enjoyed some staying power.

TR’s executive order (one of 1,081 he issued during his tenure) “directed that all publications of the executive department adhere to the … new spellings for 300 words delineated in his order.” He said his goal was “to make our spelling a little less foolish and fantastic.” In the other branches of government, the Supreme Court ignored TR’s guidance, while the House of Representatives issued a resolution “urging that all government documents” stick with standard orthography. TR “immediately withdrew his executive order.”

Big Red Refuel

cornell-dairyCornell University’s dairy bar has formulated a recovery drink for athletes, reports Seth Berkman in The New York Times (4/18/15). The drink, known as Big Red Refuel, is basically a low-fat chocolate milk, “similar to what is found in standard school lunches.” However, it has been tweaked to deliver “16 grams of protein and 230 calories per eight ounce serving,” compared to a “similar serving of low-fat chocolate milk,” which “has 8 grams of protein and 160 calories.”

The 16 grams of protein is close to “optimal for muscle recovery for an athlete weighing 150 to 160 pounds.” More than 20 grams of protein is “stored as body fat.” Bigger athletes, “with greater muscle mass might need around 30 to 35 grams of protein,” and are advised to supplement with “a bar or another drink.” The key is that Big Red Refuel provides athletes, who often are rushing off to class after workouts, with something that easily provides immediate replenishment. Athletes of all sizes are said to “savor the taste,” too.

The drinks development is a collaboration between Clint Wattenberg, who coordinates sports nutrition at Cornell, and Jason Huck, Cornell’s former dairy plant manager. “Creating the ideal chocolate milk recipe was akin to harvesting the ingredients for a fine wine. At one point, Jason wanted to fortify the drink with Omega 3, but that would have boosted the fat content significantly.” Too much sugar “could cause gastric distress.” Cornell will make Big Red Refuel available to all of its students, and may distribute it to other schools, as well.

Urban Death Project

urban-death-projectKatrina Spade thinks “bodies should be composted, not buried,” reports Catrin Einhorn in The New York Times (4/14/15). “Composting makes people think of banana peels and coffee grounds,” she says. But she thinks it would be really cool if people could “grow new life” after they’ve died. So, Katrina, an architect, “has designed a building for human composting that aims to marry the efficiency of this biological process with the ritual and symbolism that mourners crave.” She has also formed a non-profit, The Urban Death Project.

The “facility would be centered around a three-story vault … Loved ones would carry their deceased, wrapped in a shroud, up a circular ramp to the top.” The body would be placed “in the core, which could hold perhaps 30 corpses at a time. Over the next several weeks, each body would move down the core until the first stage of composting was complete. In a second stage, material would be screened, along with any remaining bones, and the compost would be cured.” Each body would produce about three cubic feet of compost.

Loved ones “could collect some of compost to use as they saw fit, perhaps in their garden or to plant a tree.” The cost would be “about $2,500 … Beyond the environmental benefits,” Katrina “believes there is a spiritual one: connecting death to the cycle of nature will help people face their own mortality and bring comfort to the bereaved.” Katrina is still perfecting the methodology (the pile has to reach 140 degrees to work) but hopes to build her first facility in Seattle, and develop a template for “locally designed facilities.” “Like libraries,” she says.

Wrap Shrink

saran-wrapSaran Wrap downgraded its brand experience because it was the right thing to do, writes Fisk Johnson, chief executive officer of SC Johnson in The Harvard Business Review (April 2015). At issue was the presence of polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC) which provides Saran Wrap with two of its key benefits: “an impenetrable barrier to odor” and “superior microwavability.” The problem is that “when materials containing chlorine, such as PVC (polyvinyl chloride), and PVDC end up in municipal incinerators … they may release toxic chemicals into the environment.”

PVC was also present in Saran Wrap’s packaging, which was easy enough to change. Creating a PVDC-free wrap was another matter. As Fisk writes: “To provide the odor barrier and microwavability of the original would require a multilayer film,” about the thickness of trash bags. Ultimately, the closest alternative was “less sticky, less effective at preserving foods’ freshness, and a lower-quality product overall.” Fisk decided to replace Saran Wrap with the inferior product, which has since resulted in a significant drop in sales.

The CEO cites something his great-grandfather said in 1927: “The goodwill of people is the only enduring thing in any business. The rest is shadow.” He also recalls that his father had made good on that ethos by banning ozone-damaging CFCs from aerosol products in the 1970s. Fisk sees himself as the guardian of his family’s “good name” and “a legacy built on the hard work of four generations” before him. His Saran Wrap decision, he says provides “a surer sense of who we are as a company and what we want SC Johnson to represent.”

Bingham Plastics

elmers-glueA “wet and slippery” coating is making wasted ketchup a thing of the past, reports Kenneth Chang in The New York Times (3/24/15). You know the problem: The last bits of ketchup — or mayonnaise or toothpaste — sticks like glue to the bottle. Actually, it’s a problem with glue, too. The result is not only frustration but also waste: “Tests by Consumer Reports in 2009 found that … up to a quarter of skin lotion, 16 percent of laundry detergent and 15 percent of condiments like mustard and ketchup” never make it out of their container.

Each of these products “are what scientists call Bingham plastics.” It’s not that they’re made of plastic but rather that they are “highly viscous” and do “not flow without a strong push.” Dr. Kripa K. Varanasi of MIT became interested in solving the problem after his wife “was having trouble getting honey out of a bottle and asked him, because he was an expert on slipperiness, whether he couldn’t do something about that.” At the time, MIT “was sponsoring a $100,000 contest for entrepreneurial ideas.”

Kripa and a colleague, J. David Smith, decided to enter. Their solution, essentially, was to coat the inside of the container with a lubricant “that binds more strongly to the textured surface” of the container wall “than to the the liquid, and that allows the liquid to slide on a layer of lubricant instead of being pinned against the surface, and the textured surface keeps the lubricant from slipping out.” They came in second, but have now launched a product, LiquiGlide, and attracted $7 million in funding and customers including Elmer’s Glue-All.

Michael Graves

alessi-kettleThe late Michael Graves “aimed to make design approachable at every scale,” writes Julie V. Iovine in The Wall Street Journal (3/17/15). This was true whether it was the Portland Building or the “blue handled Alessi tea kettle with the red bird whistle … While Mr. Graves was often labeled a postmodernist, to his dismay, his classical interests were not really about resuscitating shapes from the past, but more about injecting fresh juice into familiar and appealing forms.” He considered “modernist abstraction” to be “drained of vitality.”

One of his smallest-scale projects was “a paper bag for Bloomingdale’s stamped with the silhouette of an ancient urn.” One of his largest was “a decorated sheath to protect the Washington Monument during a restoration (a design that became as popular as the monument itself.).” Then there was his “prolific association with Target … producing everything from clocks and chess boards to juicers and toilet brushes.”

When he was left paralyzed from the waist down from a spinal infection, Mr. Graves “turned his creative eye to the deplorable state of health-care design.” He re-designed “the look and handling ease of everything from wheelchairs to entire kitchens.” Throughout his career, Michael Graves “remained true to his personal understanding of classical design — extending it beyond the historical with the goal of making the human measure more universal and everyday life a richer experience.”

Device Design

jawbone Big technology companies are snapping up small design firms, reports Molly Wood in The New York Times (3/19/15). “Google, Facebook, Adobe, Dropbox and Yahoo, for example, have all bought design-oriented startups since 2010,” according to a report by John Maeda, a venture capitalist. The primary reason is recognition that design — not just of products but of user experiences — is the crucial competitive advantage. “If you can make this amazing bracelet and the software is bad, you’re going to throw it away,” says John.

The primacy of function over form is spreading because really good apps are highlighting the potential of good user design in new categories. “Let’s say you’re a doctor and electronic medical records are really terribly done as an industry,” says Ben Blumenfeld, another venture capitalist. “Doctors are starting to use iPhones and they’re saying, ‘Wait a second, why doesn’t my electronic records system work like my iPhone apps?’” The potential has been particularly heightened by well-designed apps like Uber’s, which make a hard task easier.

However, “the real design victory is in carefully considering exactly how someone will want to navigate an app, communicate with another person or conduct a transaction. That’s a big shift for the tech industry, which has long prized engineering acumen and product management.” John Maeda says the traditional focus on product design alone is “just surface-driven thinking,” adding: “It isn’t that design is more important than technology or the business model. You need both.”

Switch

switchA new generation of technology is reinventing the phone call, reports Shira Ovide in The Wall Street Journal (3/13/15). The issue is that while email can be efficient, it also tends eliminate context and collaboration. “You’ve distilled all the waste out of the phone conversation and what’s left are these really important times when you need to talk to someone in real time, and get some emotion and back-and-forth,” says Craig Walker, founder of Switch, a technology platform that replaces traditional telephone hardware with a web-based, subscription service.

Switch enables users to “dial voice calls via computer, switch devices mid-call, and see documents exchanged with the person on the other end of the line.” It can also ring “conference participants automatically at the appointed time, making 800 numbers and PINS unnecessary.” In concept, this is not new, as Microsoft and others have provided similar capabilities. One difference is that offerings like Switch tend to provide greater functionality at lower cost, “and don’t rely on company technicians.”

The technology is similar to that used by Uber, the ridesharing service, which uses Twilio to power “automated text messages that let customers know a driver is waiting,” for example. At Weather Co., meanwhile, Switch is seen as being “less about cost than about maximizing productivity.” Chief Information and Technology Officer Bryson Koehler comments: “My goal for the organization has been to shift the way we work and really empower our company and our people to work in a mobile, agile, collaborative, next-generation way.”

Hawkeye Improv

hawkeyeAlan Alda is using improv to help scientists “explain their ideas clearly,” reports Kenneth Chang in The New York Times (3/3/15). Alan is, of course, “the actor who played Hawkeye in the television series M*A*S*H more than three decades ago.” He also “has long held a deep interest in science.” When he was 11, he asked his teacher, “what is a flame?” and was unsatisfied with the answer: oxidation. However, as an adult, hosting Scientific American Frontiers on PBS, Alan found that it was possible to “draw out engaging explanations.”

Over the years, Alan suggested to university presidents that they should “teach scientists how to present their research to the public.” In 2007, he found his first taker: Shirley Strum Kenny of Stony Brook University. Two years later, the school “established the Center for Communicating Science … as part of its journalism school.” The coursework involves having scientists discuss their work while improvising a dramatic role. Alan says this helps the scientists connect with their audience.

“What I find interesting about this is you’re suddenly talking about your work in a way you’ve never talked about it before,” he says. “Not jokes, not cleverness … It’s the contact with the other person.” In other exercises, scientists “threw around imaginary balls of varying weights … tried to explain a smartphone to a time traveler from the past, and talked of cherished photographs while holding up a blank white folder.” Alan has won over many skeptics, and the program is now known as the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.

Fidget Power

slinkyScientists say fidgeting and creativity are linked, reports Sue Shellenbarger in The Wall Street Journal (3/3/15). The idea is that some “hand movements have an impact on cognitive functioning, improving focus or sparking fresh thinking or faster learning,” according to NYU researchers at the Polytechnic School of Engineering. “The research holds clues as to how people who feel restless or confined by computer work might find physical stimulation and stress release.” Experiments involve playing with Slinkys, ball-point pens and gadgets.

Mitchel Diemer, a study participant, says that simply fiddling with a pen “keeps the wheels turning” in his mind. “If I keep my hand moving, I tend to be more focused,” he says. Other studies tend to confirm the concept. Princeton and UCLA researchers found “that students who take lecture notes in longhand, rather than on a laptop, process the material more deeply and give better answers to conceptual questions.” “The hand can act as a director of consciousness — a tool or agent of the mind,” says Frank R. Wilson, a neurologist.

Different objects can provide different benefits. Playing with smooth stones or beads “that are pleasing or soothing to touch can evoke ‘the timeless ancient human practice of meditative ritual,” says Frank. “Being able to squish something can ease mental and physical strain,” according to Katherine Ibister of NYU. Abbey Hambright, who works in customer service, says playing with a Slinky “helps her resist multi-tasking and sending email during conference calls.” NYU has posted certain fidget gadgets and their benefits at fidgetwidgets.tumblr.com.

Barrels of Fun

wood-whiskey-winWood barrels remain relevant only because of what they do for whiskey and wine, reports Wayne Curtis in a Wall Street Journal review of Wood, Whiskey and Wine by Henry H. Work (2/14/15). If it weren’t for the "lucky quirk" that "spirits and wine stored in oak barrels tended to show marked improvement over time," barrels likely would have disappeared a long time ago. Even barrels made of other types of wood — like pine — are known to improve its liquid contents. As a result, "high-quality barrels … remain in high demand."

Thanks to whiskey and wine, the craft remains alive today, although "makers of cheaper wines have embraced workarounds, including the use of oak chips … in stainless steel tanks." However, at one time "the barrel was king, found everywhere and used to ship nails, biscuits, beer, petroleum, whiskey, pickles, coins and pretty much anything that would fit … In 1910, some 91 million barrels were made in the United States. Barrels filled boxcars and boats and horse-drawn wagons and the flatbeds of rudimentary trucks."

They "were ubiquitous because they were both sensible and indestructible." Indeed: "The barrel is a small miracle … something made of wood without nails or glue, which can hold liquids almost indefinitely." The barrel’s design is "essentially a pair of intersecting arches" that "roll along an edge when upright and when on their side only a small bit touches the ground, so friction is minimal." "The barrel is really a container on wheels," wrote Fred Hankerson, author of the Cooperage Handbook, in 1947. It "was the container that built America."

The Aldine Press

aldine-pressGutenberg may have invented moveable type, but Aldus made reading popular, reports Jennifer Schuessler in The New York Times (2/27/15). The origins of paperback books — and the concept of “portable little books” — traces to Venice in 1494, and Aldus Manutius. “It was a moment of upheaval in reading roughly equivalent to our own digitally disrupted age. And Venice was the Silicon Valley of printing, home to dozens of shops locked in cutthroat competition.” The Aldine Press made its mark publishing “the first printed edition of Aristotle.”

This was followed by a “small octavo editions of the classics, books ‘that could be held in the hand and learned by heart (not to speak of being read) by everyone’,” as Aldus himself wrote. An exhibition of 20 “libelli portatiles,” as they are known, is included along with about 130 other Aldine Press books, is currently running at the Grolier Club in Manhattan. Each carries “the printer’s mark, a dolphin curled around an anchor. (The colophon is still used today by Doubleday.)” The “libelli portatiles” were not Aldus’ only innovation, however.

The “first italic typeface … appeared in a modest five words in a 1500 edition of the letters of St. Catherine and soon spread to other Aldines and beyond.” A “typeface devised for a 1496 book by the humanist scholar Pietro Bembo” is “still treasured by book designers for its grace and readability.” Aldus also had his battles with counterfeiters, mostly French, who sold “unauthorized” copies. Unfortunately, these paperback pirates were undeterred by threats of excommunication by the Vatican, which had awarded “special printing privileges” to Aldus.

Kenji Ekuan

kikkoman"Making an object means imbuing it with its own spirit," said the late Kenji Ekuan, as quoted by Jonathan Soble in a New York Times obituary (2/10/15). Kenji’s most famous object is "the instantly recognizable soy sauce bottle — red-capped and elegantly teardrop-shaped." He designed it for Kikkoman "while still in his 20s. It took him three years and 100 prototypes to come up with a final design for his dispenser, which combined a gracefully curving form with an innovative, dripless spout. More than 300 million of the bottles have been sold." (image)

Another of his famous designs was the Komachi bullet train. Kenji’s own spirit emanated from "the devastation of World War II." He grew up in Hiroshima. "Faced with that nothingness, I felt a great nostalgia for human culture," he said in a 2012 New York Times interview. "I needed something to touch, to look at … Right then I decided to be a maker of things." In a 2002 interview, he said: "The path of Buddha is the path to salvation for all living things, but I realized that, for me, salvation lay in objects … Objects have their own world."

Kenji’s influences were also Western, however. For example, he liked to read Blondie comics and once described the Jeep-driving American GIs in postwar Japan, in their crisp trousers as a "moving exhibition." While he "often worked with advanced technology," Kenji "disliked futurism for its own sake." As he told an online design magazine: "When we think of the evolution of design, we might imagine a world where robots are everywhere, but that’s not it … The ultimate design is little different from the natural world." Kenji Ekuan was 85.

Something New

spencer-hapoineuCustomer data can replace brand building with efficient targeting. A Hub White Paper by Spencer L. Hapoienu of Insight Out Of Chaos. Newspaper and magazine circulation has declined by so much that if the shrinkage were applied to the physical paper it would be the size of a matchbook cover. Without all those eyeballs viewing the glorious print ads and visually compelling 30-second spots, it’s gotten much harder to maintain brand share and command premium pricing. In short, brand building is on the decline.

Keep in mind that for most of the last 100 years, brand building is what moved the market, drove business, and created one of the great consumer-driven economies. Consumer packaged-good companies, retailers, advertising agencies, and the media had a beautiful ecosystem that helped create the growth economy that relied on consumer spending for two-thirds of its size. Back in the day, it was said that General Foods makes coffee but Ogilvy makes Maxwell House. (Would David Ogilvy be tweeting now?) Read The White Paper.

Maximalist Shoes

hoka-one-oneWhile minimalist running shoes are losing favor, maximalist shoes are gaining fans, reports Lindsay Crouse in The New York Times (2/17/15). Minimalist shoes are premised on the idea "that the human body was naturally built for running without corrective footwear." Sales of such shoes, which feature minimal padding "peaked at $400 million in 2012." Maximalist shoes, by comparison, feature "chunky, heavily cushioned soles," and some long-distance runners say they protect — even remedy — maladies such as plantar fasciitis."

"My legs felt really fresh after a long run in them," says Leo Manzano, an Olympic medalist. "It’s like running on a cloud." Leo says his maximalist shoes of choice — Hoka One One — cured his plantar fasciitis in a week’s time. Hoka One One "sold more than 550,000 pairs" in 2014. The shoes "cost $130 to $170 each, and its $48 million in sales were up 350 percent from 2013." However, Lauren Fleshman, a championship runner, says she’ll remain a maximalism skeptic until "we know about how it affects the body long term."

Jonathan Beverly of Runners World meanwhile suggests that minimalist and maximalist shoes may have a lot in common: "The benefit of the big sole is actually similar to what the minimal movement did; with both types of shoes you have to keep your body and your center of gravity above your feet … So you’re running with the same posture you would if you were barefoot, but with all this cushioning." In any case, Jay Dicharry, author of Anatomy of Runners, thinks that any type of extreme shoe — minimalist or maximalist — should be used in moderation.

Disrupt Yourself

larry-deutschBetter that you disrupt yourself than let others disrupt you. A Hub white paper by Larry Deutsch of Blue Chip Marketing. In Chicago there’s a restaurant called The Southern. It’s exactly what it sounds like — fried chicken, ribs, grits, and all of the other great comfort foods, along with craft cocktails and micro-brews. One of their signature drinks is a bacon-infused Manhattan and if you’re feeling adventuresome you could try the alligator sausage.

The Southern takes the age-old barbecue restaurant experience — a lot of napkins and good ribs — and gives it a high-end, local, sustainable, artisanal spin. Whether this qualifies as innovative might be debatable, but The Southern certainly has brought something fresh and different to what we’ve long known and loved as the barbecue restaurant. The Southern is also showing a disruptive streak by sending a food truck out onto the streets of Chicago. It’s an interesting twist. Read The Rest of The White Paper.

Unplugged

achates-engineThe future of electric cars may be more unevenly distributed than we think, reports Steve Levine in The Wall Street Journal (2/1/15). That’s largely because of "the internal combustion chamber — the workhorse of the industrial age — is proving to be much more than a stubborn technological incumbent." It is "challenging ostensibly more advanced electric vehicles," and the US Energy Information Administration predicts that in 2040, "cars with gas- and diesel-powered engines will still represent some 95% of the international car market."

One explanation is that "US government standards require cars to average 54.5 miles a gallon by 2025, up from 25.1 mpg last year." As of 2014, "16.5 million light vehicles were sold in the US" and "the top three were combustion pickups. Just 119,710 pure electrics and plug-in vehicles were sold, 0.7% of the total." This doesn’t include fourth-quarter sales of the Tesla S, but most "observers don’t expect these proportions to shift much over the next two decades." Meanwhile, new "diesel-fuel technology" is in the works.

Among them is the Achates, which "features opposed pistons, which face each other in a single cylinder rather than sitting side-by-side." Its developer "says that it gets 30% better mileage per gallon than current diesel engines — and double the mileage of gasoline engines." Because such engines burn less gas, worldwide consumption could drop from 90 to about 70 million barrels a day, driving down fuel costs. Given the relatively high price tags of electrics, it seems unlikely that combustion-powered cars will "feel real market pressure anytime soon."