Margareta Pagano: Three shocks for the world's big carmakers

Two big events last week on opposite sides of the world will shake up the car industry forever, but the way we drive is likely to change most dramatically due to a third, quieter upheaval.

In Oslo, the world's only "proper" electric carmaker, Think, opened cutting-edge new research facilities on the site of the Norwegian capital's old airport at Fornebu. Four thousand miles away in Beijing, China's biggest private carmaker, Zhejiang Geely, paid £1.2bn to buy Volvo from Ford. In one swoop, China gets Volvo's brand, its technology and dealership network as well as an elephant-style footprint as a luxury carmaker on the global stage. This last point is important as most of China's 100 car companies are tiny, designed only for the internal market.

Both events were, in the jargon, tipping points, which could see us all driving electric cars by the end of the decade. At Think's new headquarters, some 70 of the world's top design brains are working on an even more advanced battery than the one in its City car. Together with its biggest shareholder and battery supplier, the US-listed Ener1 group, Think will soon be switching to superior lithium-ion batteries. With $47m of new money from Ener1, and the Norwegian government-backed private equity group Investinor, Think is now rolling out more cars. With 1,500 Think City cars across Europe, the company has an order book for another 2,300 being made by another partner, Valmet, in Finland, which makes Porsche's Cayenne and Boxter. A new plant in Indiana is opening this year and there are plans for the Far East.

Think's electric-heads claim its model is the only real alternative to the petrol engine, as hybrids, LPGs and hydrogen solutions have been shown to be poor, and battery cars such as G-Wiz are dismissed in the trade as four-wheeled motorcycles with a bowler hat on top. It's the only one to have been certified by the EU and is also the fastest – up to 100km and with similar safety standards as a Ford Fiesta.

But Think City still costs a lot. That's why, to date, most of Think's buyers are politically driven; local authorities and power companies across Europe are buying them for their fleets to show how green they are. If the work now going on in Oslo goes according to plan, Think hopes the €25,000 cost of the car will come down for the retail market over the next two years, but there will be fierce competition from its Nordic rival in Gothenburg, and Nissan and Ford are forging ahead with their own EV models. With Chinese money, though, Volvo is expected to accelerate its own C30 EV – also using the Ener1 battery – as well as push the marque in the luxury market. It makes sense for Geely to be at the cutting edge; the Chinese have a huge domestic market, scarce energy resources and big cities so the smaller and more efficient the car the better.

But it's the third trend, emeging from Milan's prestigious technology polytechnic, which will give us the most profound change of all. Here Professor Carlo Vezzoli is working with some of our biggest carmakers to see whether it makes sense to lease cars instead of selling them. Volvo, Honda and Renault are looking at flogging "not cars but mobility". Vezzoli predicts leasing cars is the future; it's cheaper and more sustainable as the manufacturer takes back the cars to recycle. Imagine that, no more second-hand dealerships; no more Arthur Daleys.

Yes, women must have equal pay, but Harriet's bossy Bill isn't the way to get it

The big battle for equality in the workplace is due for a showdown this week. One of the most pressing Bills yet to go through the House before the election is called is the Equality Bill, Harriet Harman's baby, and it's causing all sorts of indigestion among business people – men and women.

Many don't like Harman's new reserve power in the Bill, which could be used to force employers to disclose all details of the race, gender and disability breakdown of their workers. It's no surprise the CBI's John Cridland is mounting a last-minute campaign to stop this power which, he warns, could be used to name and shame in a way which could be unfair to business. It's a dynamite clause, and has revived tensions between Harman and the Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson, who agrees with Cridland.

While I don't like the idea of burdening business with any more regulation than necessary – or the unbearable bossiness of Ms Harman – I can't see how business has anything to fear from compiling these figures. But the real issue we should all be concentrating on is the way business still pays men far more than women for doing the same job. Take a look at yesterday's report from the Treasury Select Committee into "Women in the City". Forget the headline numbers, which show that women earn 55 per cent less than men; that's because they do most of the lower-grade work. The point is the way the report shows the huge pay gap between men and women doing the same work in many areas of finance; particularly in accountancy, where it is actually getting wider.

The committee's report is right to recommend that firms should be encouraged to change rather than be forced to by law. With any luck, this Bill won't get through – it really does need more work.

Appropriately enough, the equality fisticuffs come in what's called the "washing-up" period, when Parliament scrubs up before electioneering starts. And Harriet Harman may yet be left holding the dishcloth.

Flower power: Cath Kidston pulls off a pretty deal

Another British businesswoman has pulled off a blinder. Sharp on the heels of Natalie Massenet, the ex-fashion journalist who has just sold her Net-A-Porter online shopping site to Richemont for £50m, comes Cath Kidston with another corker. Kidston, designer of 1950-style quirky prints, has sold a majority stake to TA Associates, the giant US private equity house, valuing her empire – 28 shops in the UK and five in Japan – at about £100m. Both started out as one-woman bands: Massenet created her luxury cyberspace fashion empire, which employs 600 people and turns over £120m, after trying to buy jeans some 10 years ago, while Kidston grew her business about 13 years ago from making ironing board covers.

Both women also show it's possible to make money from retail by doing something different – a lesson to the high street men who churn out the same old shops – and how they didn't have to worry about glass ceilings because they didn't have any to break. Watch out for more deals like these – it's the way women will increasingly do business; entrepreneurial talent is gender free.

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Finance Assistant - Part time - 9 month FTC

£20000 - £23250 Per Annum pro rata: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pro rata ...

Marketing Manager

£40 - 48k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Manager to join...

Market Risk Manager - Investment Banking - Mandarin Speaker

£45,000 - £65,000: Saxton Leigh: Our client is a well-known APAC Corporate and...

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain