The Electric Future: An Enthusiast's Look at What's To Come
An apology for the Hybrid and Electric Car with a defense of the Internal Combustion Engine's future
The automotive world in the last decade has experienced a dizzying swing of seemingly contradictory directions. Fueled by innovation, progress, and forward-thinking while held to increasingly conservative and stagnant political decision-makers, we have reached a point in 2018 (2019 now) where a distinct rift has appeared in the market. Increasingly, as governments like those of Spain and France announce a terminus on fossil-fuel powered vehicles, manufacturers are forced to respond with amped-up alternatives to fuel production models in order to preemptively adjust to the coming changes. Globally, the discussion about the future of the automobile has grown rapidly and now dominates automotive media sites with the introduction of new technologies and unlikely developments from once dedicated fossil fuel engine manufacturers beginning to prepare for an electric future. So where does that leave the performance car world and what should we think of the obviously now imminent rejection of internal combustion engines? The electric revolution is already creeping into motorsports and cemented itself as a viable successor to the engines of the industrial age. There is nothing left to do but accept that fact and determine where old school car enthusiasm will fit into the very near future.
I know what you’re already thinking: ‘They can take my racecar from my cold, grease-covered, dead hands.’ This is a particularly American response to what is seen as an infringement upon your rights to do what you please with your car, money, and freedom to use them both in your pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Before we talk about where your determinism to adhere to sentimental old technology has a place in the sustainable future, I want to share with you a metaphor to help you better understand why the (selfish) attitude of overconsumption that is not regulated hurts you, the enthusiast, as much as it does the environment and other car owners.
In 1968, Dr. Garrett Hardin, a professor of Human Ecology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, presented ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ as an address to the Pacific Division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The analogy, in short summary, is as follows:
“Imagine a pasture, shared by a group of shepherds, who use the field for their sheep to graze. Each shepherd, in business for himself, has a herd of sheep. Together, all the shepherds and their flocks consume all the resources of the pasture equally. If their flocks were to remain at a size manageable by the renewable grass that regrows each year, the pasture is effective at providing enough grass for each herd to sustainably graze. However, each shepherd will seek to maximize their own gain. If they can afford to add another sheep to their flock, they will. This is not only human nature, but a rational decision to improve their business. However, every shepherd will share the same feeling of ‘right’ or ‘ownership’ of the pasture and will have no reason not to add that extra sheep. Eventually, the pasture will not be able to support that growth, and all the shepherds will suffer at the loss of their grazing area, which will mean their herds will not have food and will starve. This is the Tragedy of the Commons.”
Obviously, this is paraphrased to simplify the point, which is, there may be a shared resource with enough for everyone, but if it is not managed properly through either government regulation, self-regulation, or a group consensus to regulate, then nothing will stop each individual from overusing the resource, which they justify with the correct assumption that if they don’t use that extra bit of resource, then someone else will.
Much like the pasture in the metaphor, the world’s oil reserves are a shared resource available to all. Our purchasing habits and addiction to the internal combustion engine drive the further exhaustion of that resource, each of us justifying our continued vehicle purchases by rightly assuming that if we don’t buy that car, someone else will. The decision to buy a new car justifies to the manufacturer that that car is a model in demand, and will allocate proportional resources to its continued production based on the success of its sales. The more we buy new internal combustion cars, the more companies will continue to produce them because they make money.
Nearly all auto manufacturers have recognized the market segment of alternative fuels as a viable one that should not be ignored. Why? Because environmentally (or economically) concerned consumers purchase them, justifying their continued development. Unfortunately, that response by auto manufacturers has only been driven, and slowly, by a minority of new car buyers. This is changing, though, as more buyers and manufacturers are moving towards EVs here in 2019.
However gradually this change has been happening, a new key element in decision making is entering the arena of automobile production. Government bodies, primarily in the European Union, have become increasingly concerned, and rightfully so, with their Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. Spain has announced it will no longer allow internal combustion vehicles in the near future, as has Paris in France and some cities in the Netherlands. This is where enthusiasts and regular commuters alike, especially in the United States, take issue.
Why is there such vehement opposition from a vast majority of car buyers? Conservative adherence to tradition, love of the internal combustion engine, sentimentality, familiarity, and fear of the unknown are popular theories. Counter-arguments to the EV model, like the ‘emissions elsewhere’ argument, range anxiety argument, and employment arguments flood the media and further add apprehension to consumers who are potential adopters of these cars. Let’s break each concern down and address their fallacies, shall we?
Emissions elsewhere theorists argue that electric vehicles just shift their emissions from the tailpipe to a smokestack somewhere else. The power has to come from somewhere, right? While this is technically correct, there are two blatantly obvious responses to that point. First, small, internal combustion, gasoline engines are far less efficient than an electric plant fueled by coal or natural gas. Those companies are tightly regulated in their emissions and are surprisingly committed to environmentalism as they are often the first targets in GHG discussions. It is simply good for business for those plants to be efficient, sustainable to a degree, and as environmentally friendly as possible. Secondly, the assumption that all electricity, both now and in the future, will come from a fossil-fuel powered generator is observably false. As the world moves towards renewables, like wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, and hydroelectric power, the likelihood that the electricity from your socket at home will come from a traditional plant is in sharp decline.
Range anxiety is a real concern. Even in a gasoline-fueled car, we experience range anxiety. There are gas stations on almost every interstate exit, four-way urban intersection, and lone country road all over the world. Running out of gas is an issue, but one that can be solved with a few minutes at a pump to refuel. Electric cars have shorter ranges than their gasoline counterparts and take up to twelve hours to fully recharge. However, there exists a misconception that the short range makes them unusable as commuter or family vehicles. This is patently untrue. Even long standard commutes, more than 100 miles round trip, are perfectly doable in today’s EVs. The Tesla Model 3 boasts an impressive range over three times that amount. Not only that, but the convenience of refueling at home rather than having to leave for a separate stop at a gas station makes the electric model compelling. Cheap energy, right from your wall outlet at home, means your refills are made in the comfort of your house with your relatively cheap electricity. Simply plug in your car upon your return home, unplug it in the morning, and you have a full charge to get you to work, the store, and even a night out before it needs to be recharged. Once again, no extra stop, just go home and plug it in.
The employment argument is a much tougher one to tackle. Currently, the automotive and fossil fuel industries account for a large portion of the world’s workforce. If we stop making gasoline powered cars, won’t all those folks be out of a job? The short answer is: no. While the shift may take years to work out the adjustments, the industry will simply move from one widget to the next. EVs have fewer moving parts and are cheaper to produce in some aspects, which adds to profit margins for companies to expand and increase production as well as the development of new products. The people designing, engineering, building, maintaining, and selling internal combustion engine cars will still do just that, but with electrically powered designs. Frequently, the counterpoint of experience and knowledge has been made, but realistically, the only people most affected by that change are the engineers behind the designs, who are more often than not just as familiar with EV power plants as they are the traditional models. Other than the power source, the basic principle of the car remains the same. This means much less will change than the labor unions, oil companies, and lobbyists for those organizations would have you believe.
Okay, there may be plenty of rational reasons to buy an EV, but what if I just don’t want one? I like the gasoline model to the point that I don’t want to give it up! This leads back to the tragedy of the commons: if you, and presumably everyone else, have been presented the compelling case for logically adopting the new technology, and refuse to adopt, it is the same as the shepherd who thinks one more sheep won’t hurt. His ‘one more sheep’ and your ‘its just one gasoline car’ add up with all the other people who share that idea and use your position to justify their rejection of the EV model.
So what, we just have to give up our gasoline cars? Absolutely not. I am as dedicated to environmental sustainability as I am to the heritage of internal combustion motorsports, and will not lightly relinquish my interest in them, nor would I suggest anyone else give theirs up either. As Jeremy Clarkson eloquently remarked, the fossil fuel car should go the way of the horse. When horses were the primary means of transportation, the car was seen as their relief. Suddenly, the streets were quiet, no horse hoofs on cobblestone all day. They were clean, free of horse waste running through the gutters. They smelled better, as 2/3rds of the vehicles were either steam or electrically driven, meaning cities became peaceful after centuries of equine pollution. So too should the gasoline-powered car exit, leaving us with even quieter, better smelling, and cleaner streets and cities. But how?
I modestly propose three perfectly agreeable regulations:
Impose additional fees for the continued use of a fossil-fuel powered car on public streets. I am perfectly happy paying extra for the right to drive my E30 on a regular or semi-regular basis under the condition that I pay for the ability to do so. The fees would deter people from driving an internal combustion vehicle who are not any more invested in the gasoline model car than they are their blender at home. So, the majority of gasoline-powered cars would be replaced with emissions-free EVs and hydrogen cars. Meanwhile, the small majority of us enthusiasts who view the car as more than a utility are allowed to continually enjoy them with the added benefit of knowing our collective use is negligibly small and not considered environmentally unsustainable.
Allow off-road, competitive, show, or special event use only. Let’s face it, as the gasoline car is phased out, desirable models that fetch premiums now will either tank in value or skyrocket, depending on how the legislature allows for them to be used in an electric future. If we are given the ability to freely use our cars as enthusiasts at events, just like horses in races and shows, people will continue to do so. These events will allow us to use our cars to their maximum potential, as they will no longer need to comply with DOT regulations and can be modified to the owner’s desires. This will also increase ‘collector ownership,’ which adds demand and value to your gasoline powered ‘antique’ and can make it an appreciating asset rather than a depreciating liability.
Finally, if a special ‘gasoline’ license was imposed, which would require a driver of a gasoline car both apply, pay for, and complete a licensing course to allow them to continue to drive the car on public roads, we would see a sharp decline in gasoline cars driven by non-enthusiasts, and an increase in compliance and conscientious use of gasoline cars at the hands of enthusiast owners. We would still be allowed to enjoy our cars, as long as we took the necessary steps that deter non-enthusiasts from pursuing the license. Gun ownership in America is currently this type of model, though less regulated.
These are just some speculative regulations that would allow enthusiasts to continue enjoying their pieces of automotive history while the majority of drivers would adopt the EV model, helping to greatly reduce emissions and encourage auto manufacturers to pursue further EV development.
Finally, what do we, the enthusiasts, have to look forward to as the future moves towards EVs and alternative fuels? Under the proposed regulations above, we continue enjoying our cars to roughly the same, or arguably more favorable, degrees as we do currently. However, the EV performance segment is one that has grown considerably and has become quite successful due to EV qualities that arguably make them more capable than their traditional counterparts.
EVs do not experience a ‘lag time’ like gasoline powered cars. With internal combustion engines, your peak output happens after a buildup of engine revolutions to a point in the rev range where it produces the most horsepower and torque. In EVs, power is generated instantly, at the speed of light (duh), which means you have 100% torque applied to the wheels when you press the throttle. Additionally, EVs do not require air as part of their power generation, so ambient temperatures (within normal ranges) and air density have little to no effect on the cars, as seen by the Volkswagen Pike’s Peak hill climb record car this past year. It should be noted, however, that extreme cold does affect the range of EVs, though traditional ICE vehicles are also affected by extreme heat/cold in different but equally detrimental ways.
EVs have very few moving parts and modular nature, meaning that performance is improved by adding more batteries, removing weight, and increasing the kW engine hardware. This makes them relatively inexpensive to own, maintain, and improve, as they are essentially a self-contained unit with a fixed formula for power output. These motors can be easily used in tandem, like the two independent electric motors on each ends of the Porsche 918, which offers more reliable, modular, and incredibly effective AWD designs and power potential.
EVs generally have better weight distribution, as their mass is centered around their power storage in the form of batteries. The batteries are generally placed low in the car’s chassis, distributed evenly from front to back, and center the weight in between the pairs of axles, making the handling characteristics of their chassis incredibly capable, much more so than the inherently unbalanced IC model.
If we both minutely shift our perspectives towards gasoline-powered cars and apply our interest and enthusiasm to EV performance, the potential for greater enjoyment of vehicles truly does exist. We are not ‘giving up’ our beloved, fire-breathing, thundering, sentimental engines, nor are we succumbing to a less desirable future in the form of EVs. The people who genuinely love the gasoline model will continue to enjoy it, while also not being involved with a GHG crisis by contributing to a major problem as gasoline-powered cars are phased out. Similarly, by accepting the new technology as both a viable form of transportation and a highly capable performance platform, we can together improve these cars to levels as yet unseen by the performance world thanks to the qualities of EV propulsion.
As for performance car enthusiasts, we need to realize, accept, and adopt the coming model of electric vehicles. We will not be marginalized, as some expect, nor will we be forced out of our hobby. Through accepting regulations and proper management, we can continue to enjoy our internal combustion cars to the same or better levels as we currently enjoy. Our antique cars will still be valuable, in many cases gaining value, our skills will still be necessary, as the majority of those skills are still applicable to EV performance cars, and a new era of technology will bring with it more innovation in the performance segment and more opportunities for those who adopt that model to achieve motorsport success through the potentials of EV performance cars. Let’s not find ourselves in a situation like the Tragedy of the Commons, where no one will be able to continue to enjoy internal combustion cars. Instead, let’s embrace the coming changes to our cars as previous generations embraced electronic fuel injection, ABS, dual-clutch transmissions, crumple zones, airbags, and dynamic stability control when they were the scary new technology that threatened the sanctity of automotive enthusiast purism.