5 things petrolheads need to know about the future of motoring

It's not all doom and gloom

2y ago

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The electric revolution is coming – in fact it’s already well underway. Internal combustion appears to be on the way out. The CEO of BMW’s M Division, Frank Van Meel, recently said that soon all M cars will be hybrids and maybe even EVs, while Ferrari, that last bastion of noise and V12 thunder, has announced its intentions to build an electric supercar.

It would seem then that the electric future is all doom and gloom for us old fashioned petrolheads. Or is it? This summer, I made my way down to Shell’s Make the Future Live festival in London, an exhibition of smart energy ideas, the ​Shell Eco-marathon​, and a thought-provoking Intelligence Squared podcast hosted by Alexander Armstrong. It was a great event that got me thinking – what will the future be like for car fans like you and me?

Here are 5 things petrolheads need to know about the future of motoring:

1. Petrol can be eco-friendly

Upon arrival at the festival I was greeted by something familiar to all petrolheads – a racetrack. The Shell Eco-marathon is an energy efficiency challenge, so there were no barking V8s or glowing brake discs here. As the name suggests, the Shell Eco-marathon is all about economy – university students from around the world compete in ultra-lightweight and aerodynamic cars they’ve engineered to be as efficient as possible.

There are three main energy categories – battery-electric, hydrogen, and internal combustion. Teams compete to see who can cover the furthest distance on the least amount of energy and the numbers were staggering! Using just one litre of petrol (or equivalent), these cars could travel from London to Rome and back to London again.

These young engineers aren’t alone in believing petrol has a future either. Mazda is currently developing a whole new kind of petrol engine, the SKYACTIV-X, which aims to combine petrol performance with diesel economy thanks to spark-controlled compression ignition. It’s all very clever stuff that, if successful, could see us tearing about in noisy fire-breathers for years to come.

2. Electric cars are actually pretty cool

While they’re having an immense surge of popularity right now, electric cars are nothing new. In fact, some of the very first cars in the world were electric way back in the mid-1800s. But it hasn’t been until recently that they’ve really started to become a viable choice for buyers.

With minimal running costs, government incentives and zero-emissions, it’s easy to see why normal car buyers are making the switch to EVs. But what about those of us who care more about performance than efficiency? Well it turns out; electric cars can actually be really fast. I know, who’d have thought it? Having recently experienced Ludicrous Mode in a Tesla, I can confirm that the speed freaks among you have absolutely nothing to worry about. While electric cars may not have the noise or the raw feel of a dino-burning supercar, that instant shove of torque is completely addictive. And with Shell’s Recharge rapid charging service rolling out across UK forecourts, you no longer have to worry about having enough charge to get home.

3. Hydrogen is coming

One of the most interesting things I saw at Make the Future Live was actually an unassuming Toyota. With five doors and a big boot, it looked a little out of place surrounded by all the latest cutting-edge tech until I realised exactly what it was. The Toyota Mirai looks like any other mid-range family car, but it’s powered by hydrogen.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will potentially offer an even cleaner alternative to electric cars, because they don’t produce any harmful emissions. The only emissions are heat and water. Also, in the UK, Shell uses electricity made from 100% renewable sources to make its hydrogen. While the technology is still in its infancy, hydrogen fuel pumps are already popping up around the UK, with Shell having two stations in Cobham and Beaconsfield. And you can go more than 300 miles in a hydrogen car without refuelling.

4. Autonomy won't take over

Hmm, this is a tricky one. For us, autonomous cars sound like the beginning of the end. A car that doesn’t need a driver would leave us with nothing to do on a weekend, we’d have to take up golf or morris dancing or, dare I say it, cycling.

With mixed results, driverless cars are already on the roads. Almost all mainstream carmakers are investing in autopilot systems but I for one can’t see a time where you can buy a car without a steering wheel. As a species, we like to be in control, and trusting a computer to dodge the flotsam and jetsam of British roads at 70mph sounds utterly terrifying. While I can see this technology making it into city centres, an entirely autonomous vehicle with no human controls is unlikely in the foreseeable future.

5. There will always be enthusiasts

In the same way that horses have gone from being daily transportation to weekend playthings, so too will internal combustion cars. If we’re using hydrogen and electric power to get around, we can use petrol to have fun.

As long as there are those of us willing to pay for it, there will be fuel in the pumps, and as long as we demand them, there will be V8s, turbos, manual gearboxes, loud exhausts and all those wonderfully childish things that make us grin inanely. If there is a market for them, car companies, however small or niche, will build them for us.

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Comments (46)

  • Ev’s can go suck it, they’re soulless pieces of trash

      2 years ago
  • I have found something that might benefit both petrol engined cars and hydrogen powered cars. There are experiments going on with carbon capturing systems that can capture the carbon dioxide produced buy cars and industry and convert it into a synthetic fuel to fill up internal combustion engine powered cars. They by product of this system is hydrogen so hydrogen cars could benefit as well. Image shown is a mock up of one of the carbon capture plants.

      2 years ago
    • I like the idea of that. Petrol power all the way!

        2 years ago
    • I've heard about this too! I'm surprised there isn't more data and hype around carbon engineering. Very interested in the work being done in Squamish, BC. (I'm from near there)

        2 years ago
  • Ev's are not cool!!!!!

      2 years ago
  • If you have to include “EV’s are cool” you just don’t get it, that’s not something you’ll convince a true “petrol head” of.

    There’s becoming a divide, something that I had felt long before this but didn’t manifest as clearly as it is now and certainly an unpopular opinion haha.

    People who just like to go fast and people who are personally attached to cars (along with going fast).

    I’d argue that a lot of the people into racing aren’t really into cars because they are quick to ditch them for new tech which implies no attachment to what they have, no connection to the car its quirks etc they just need to win a race or be the fastest etc. more than likely they will embrace EV’s well because you can manipulate everything to get perfect traction and have no gears to get to the top speed.

    These electric vehicles will show that divide very clearly. Any quirk or character is manufactured into it (like the teslas waving the doors around and playing music) not just a byproduct of being an engine like with conventional vehicles.

    There are people who are true car people and in my eyes posers (posing as car enthusiasts) who just want speed/acceleration and happen to get that in the form of cars. (A few friends switched over to bikes and planes because they are faster proving my point)

    Me personally I have a collection of cars I wouldn’t sell unless I was in the most dire situation and was forced to because I’m personally attached to the personality of each. I’ve sold only one car of the 11 I’ve purchased and only because my friend wanted it literally the day I picked it up.

    How many can say they’ve only sold that low of a percentage of their owned vehicles?

      2 years ago
  • Considering that there are limited petrol resources, in a perfect world the daily basis vehicles could be eletric or at least, hybrids and the petrol vehicles would be for the enthusiasts who wants some fun, so the dino juice could least a bit more for those who wants to enjoy it. I mean... how can be a perfect future near by without a space for a Ferrari 250 GTO?

      2 years ago
    • I always think about this. Stop all the people who don't care about the sound, feel, ect. of a petrol engine from using up the limited resource of fuel when they don't care nearly as much as us enthusiasts.

        2 years ago