Recent government pressure has reportedly signalled the death knell for combustion engines - but we're still not so sure
Matt Prior
25 August 2017

What’s it, then: the game’s up, and the internal combustion engine’s execution warrant has been signed.

At least, that’s what I have been reading in the newspapers, as they react to the aftershocks of the discoveries that diesel is bad for you (true), that car makers fudge their emissions (true, in some cases) and that cars therefore have to go electric in the UK by 2040 (ah, about that).

That last bit, see. ‘Going electric’ and ‘no more petrol and diesel cars’ apparently allows for hybrid petrol and diesel cars, thus rendering the announcement entirely redundant – a mere “political statement”, as Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer put it. It’s government policy reduced to virtue signalling, like temporarily changing your social media profile picture or retweeting Lily Allen.

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Why? Because if you told car makers they had to only offer hybrid vehicles, most could do it in about 23 months rather than 23 years. But still, the demise of the IC engine has been predicted. Actually even I’ve been at it, suggesting that car makers are chasing an ever-decreasing emissions target.

Which is true, and not just in a small market like the UK’s, but across most of the developed world. The long-term target for tailpipe emissions is set to zero, with a few exceptions. Perhaps then, if we still fail to meet air quality targets, we’ll see just how much lorries, container ships and wood-burning stoves contribute to particulate emissions.

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Anyway, I love a V12, but even I can see that it looks daft to the wider public to carry around a large can of fossil fuel, which you explode in tiny, computer-controlled quantities, dozens of times every second, to make kinetic energy as a by-product of heat in order to gain forward momentum, while trying to clean the resulting gases to such an extent that they don’t shorten bystanders’ lives.

It’s just that the alternative – to develop power, cleanly, in huge quantities and deliver it in doses to cars with fewer moving parts and which are rather more efficient – is way off. When I said it’ll take 50 years for the internal combustion engine to die, I’m talking hotspotted areas.

If all vans and cars are to become EVs, charging points will have to be almost as prevalent outside as they are inside – even if they’re wireless and even if batteries are several times more efficient than today’s.

Every parking space in the country would need one. Every residential city street would need dozens. Every home in every town. Every car park space at every block of flats, multi-storey and workplace. When Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive wanted every “gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse” searched, he could have been sitting on a planning committee. And embedding chargers in roads is an infrastructure project so vast that it makes HS2 look like putting up a garden fence.

We are a developed country. We don’t have power blackouts, we’re densely populated, we have billions to spend on infrastructure. And yet the internal combustion engine’s demise is still decades away. There are plenty of places in this world where you won’t find clean water but will find a Toyota Hilux. Globally, we will remain liberated by the internal combustion engine, and yet slaves to it, for a lifetime and more.

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Comments
12

25 August 2017

Yes, even with all the taxes petrol is still dirt cheap. One gallon of it contains around 42 kWh of energy, with the figure for diesel even higher. So all the focus on car design has been on performance, safety, comfort and refinement - and now we're all driving round in 1.5 tonne metal boxes which have not been primarily designed for efficiency and cleanliness. Now if the price of the most polluting fuels we're a whole lot higher, then I'm pretty sure that the industry would react with much lighter vehicles powered by electricity, fuel cells, natural gas etc and maybe people would learn to drive more efficiently too. 

Simply legislating that future cars should be "electrified" isn't attacking the root cause of the problem. It will simply lead to mild hybrids replacing pure combustion engined cars, but they will still be heavy and relatively inefficient and no doubt badly driven. Remember that a hybrid offers no benefit when cruising (in fact it's just carrying around extra weight), and its advantage of being able to recover and re-deploy energy is only worth about 10% in other conditions. 

25 August 2017

Living in Oslo, Norway, I have a different perspective. Electric car sales in Oslo in first half of 2017 was 26% - pure electric cars, not hybrids. Totally there are 130000 electric cars in Norway. I have a BMW i3 and an Audi A6 diesel. I use the Audi only when the BMW is not available or if a need to use my trailer. I will probably replace my Audi for a next generation electic, Audi e-tron or Jaguar I-Pace.  

I normally charge my i3 at home. For longer trips I use one of 9000 public charging stations. In the future people will have electric cars because they will be cheaper to buy with lower running cost and they will offer more comfort and agility than IC cars. Clean energy will be cheap with advances in wind, solar and fusion energy. 

25 August 2017

Using Norway as a model for the rest of the world is niave to say the least.

How much is the Norwegian government spending on subsidies to achieve this? (helped to some degree by that lovely little trustfund that was amassed through selling hydrocarbons to the rest of the world?).

Even those in power have had doubts whether there is enough momentum in the market to keep this going despite the level of sales so far.

You are also part of one of the better off populations in the world which is less than a tenth the size of the UK.

 

25 August 2017

I agree that Norway is special and driven by incentives today. But technology is developing, prices will come down. Just wait 5-10 years and you will see.

25 August 2017
Harald wrote:

Living in Oslo, Norway, I have a different perspective. Electric car sales in Oslo in first half of 2017 was 26% - pure electric cars, not hybrids. Totally there are 130000 electric cars in Norway.....

Huge incentives will do that for you. Out of curiosity I've just checked the figures for Sweden, another prosperous Scandinavian country but without the same level of incentives. For the period to July EVs barely register there. The best selling model, the Leaf, had just 0.38% of the market (compared to 0.24% in 2016, so there is a trend upwards). The Tesla S comes next at 0.22% and then the Zoe at 0.18%. Just 24 i3s were sold for a share of 0.12%.

25 August 2017

I do not think it is viable as the scarcity of rare earth minerals will be amplified if suddenly the world makes 95 million cars that are ev and hybrid also is it more polluting?

25 August 2017

Well, that's your opinion, Matt.  I actually think the ICE will be dead by 2030.

29 August 2017

So in 12 & half years you honestly think the world will have invented a process of producing enough clean energy, along with enough charging points, as described above, and still have enough power left on the grid to power what we already do?? I am a firm believer in progression & know first hand from the industry i work in just how quickly things change and move on but this is simply a stab in the dark, i would absolutely LOVE for the world to be able to do this but there is SO much more to think about than just charging points, first and foremost, there is going to be a HUGE black hole in taxes, when i say HUGE i mean like £30 billion per year huge, thats almost that same as the whole of the UK's contribution from council tax! Which inturn means over night either electricity bills will go up ten fold or road tax will become so expensive ordinary people will no longer be able to afford to drive! The cost to deliver 1 lorry load of food into London for example will cost so much that everyone knows who will be picking up the bill! The consumer, once again, you and I!

29 August 2017

So in 12 & half years you honestly think the world will have invented a process of producing enough clean energy, along with enough charging points, as described above, and still have enough power left on the grid to power what we already do?? I am a firm believer in progression & know first hand from the industry i work in just how quickly things change and move on but this is simply a stab in the dark, i would absolutely LOVE for the world to be able to do this but there is SO much more to think about than just charging points, first and foremost, there is going to be a HUGE black hole in taxes, when i say HUGE i mean like £30 billion per year huge, thats almost that same as the whole of the UK's contribution from council tax! Which inturn means over night either electricity bills will go up ten fold or road tax will become so expensive ordinary people will no longer be able to afford to drive! The cost to deliver 1 lorry load of food into London for example will cost so much that everyone knows who will be picking up the bill! The consumer, once again, you and I!

5 September 2017

Only until somebody's re-engineered global financial systems where car companies (and therefore all companies) can sustain all their costs, make profits to re-invest AND make a return for investors WITHOUT continuously growing sales... will you start to solve this conumdrum. Growth = pollution, however you package it up. 30 million electric cars to replace 30 million fossil-fuel cars in the UK ? No, never. We'll need a revolutiuon in car use before then....and after all revolutions.....comes the terror.

 

BertoniBertone

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