Currently reading: Opinion: The combustion engine won't die for another lifetime
Recent government pressure has reportedly signalled the death knell for combustion engines - but we're still not so sure

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.


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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.

V8 lead op 2 0

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.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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405line 18 September 2017

Tick tick tick

You can say what you like however in most peoples minds except those with vested interests in the car business the ICE is "worthless" so they won't be buying them as much as they used to because it is throwing even more money down the drain when combined with depriciation. You are going to buy a car that's going to be obsolete and that others have determined "are a bad idea". Certainly there will be a "run out/down period" but that will be filled with used vehicles. It already appears to be affecting new car sales.

HHX621 17 September 2017


*Pessimistic  30 years into the future

*Realistic   20 years into the future

*Optimistic  10 years into the future

*Dreadful Jamaican Bob Slaigh Team  Cannabis 1000 years into the future




BertoniBertone 5 September 2017

Only until somebody's re

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.