The road ahead - Issue 161 - Magazine | Monocle

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The direction of travel might be clear but how long will it take – and is there room for everyone on the journey? In London or Tokyo, Copenhagen or Los Angeles, it’s evident that urban mobility will see the fairly rapid phasing out of vehicles powered by internal combustion engines in favour of electric vehicles (EVs). But, while car manufacturers are getting up to speed for this transition, many cities are lagging behind in building the infrastructure. And there’s something a little unsettling at play too.

Cities such as Amsterdam are planning on banning all petrol and diesel cars by 2030 but while seven years gives wealthy folk plenty of time to get a new vehicle, those on lower incomes will struggle. Sure, you can suggest that everyone gets on a bike instead but for some a car is often essential. That’s why the finger-wagging by the electric car adopters can seem to be glorying in the divides of wealth, of city versus rural, of developed versus developing nation. For the EV to become more than a symbol of privilege, we are going to need to see a trickle-down of EVs onto the secondhand market, an improvement in battery life and a faster rollout of charging points.

In this issue (see here), we’ve dispatched our team to look at this problem: how can the drive to electric succeed, and are we kidding ourselves that the switchover can happen at the pace being claimed? I have my doubts. Look at a first-world nation such as the US. The shift to EVs is gathering pace in California but travel beyond the Los Angeles/San Francisco corridor and the distances that people must travel across vast landscapes can make the thought of owning an EV seem reckless. Our team has met both die-hard champions and cautious critics, and found quirky side-roads too – for example, what will LA do with hundreds of gas stations when they can longer sell petrol? 

We unpack another fascinating generational shift in our Fashion pages, where our fashion editor Natalie Theodosi has commissioned a report on the impact that reshoring is having on Europe’s factories (see here). In the earliest issues of monocle, we questioned the wisdom of nations allowing their craft and manufacturing industries to wither in favour of becoming pure service economies. We reported from the likes of Portugal and flagged their ability to make quality shoes, clothes and furniture, and pointing out the frivolousness of making everything in then low-cost China and shipping it back to Europe.

The pandemic, China’s industrial policies and consumers willing to pay more for better have turned this story around. Now, across Europe, the best factories are not only thriving but are being seen as luxury brands. It’s a story that makes you realise that the industrial tides can move in ways that bring everyone along – all the factories featured are offering apprenticeships, training and good futures to a new generation of artisans.

As we offer fresh perspectives, take time to meet the Albanian entrepreneurs in our Agenda pages determined to make careers in their home nation (see here), whose stories undermine the narrative that the whole country wants to flee in search of prosperity. Albania has many challenges but some of the reporting about the nation is woeful. Hopefully we tell a more interesting story.

Finally, on the question of talent, over the coming issues we’re going to look at both the shortages and the perhaps surprising outposts of skills and ambition. Some places have critical shortages to tackle right now, including New Zealand’s navy – so deprived of sailors that many of its vessels are unable to leave harbour. We have a report on how they hope to set sail again (see here). 


Thanks for reading monocle and look out for forthcoming projects from our talented team. A new series of conferences and events are being posted at We have a new book to help you plan your travels, Spain: The Monocle Handbook, and a new travel programme and podcast, The Concierge, in association with Allianz Partners.

As always, feel free to drop me or any of the team an email with ideas, suggestions and feedback. You can find me at

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