Why you have (probably) already bought your last car

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Driverless taxis – the transport of the future?

I’m guessing you are scoffing in disbelief at the very suggestion of this article, but bear with me.

A growing number of tech analysts are predicting that in less than 20 years we’ll all have stopped owning cars, and, what’s more, the internal combustion engine will have been consigned to the dustbin of history.

Yes, it’s a big claim and you are right to be sceptical, but the argument that a unique convergence of new technology is poised to revolutionise personal transportation is more persuasive than you might think.

The central idea is pretty simple: Self-driving electric vehicles organised into an Uber-style network will be able to offer such cheap transport that you’ll very quickly – we’re talking perhaps a decade – decide you don’t need a car any more.

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The death of the internal combustion engine

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“HUMAN inventiveness…has still not found a mechanical process to replace horses as the propulsion for vehicles,” lamented Le Petit Journal , a French newspaper, in December 1893. Its answer was to organise the Paris-Rouen race for horseless carriages, held the following July. The 102 entrants included vehicles powered by steam, petrol, electricity, compressed air and hydraulics. Only 21 qualified for the 126km (78-mile) race, which attracted huge crowds. The clear winner was the internal combustion engine. Over the next century it would go on to power industry and change the world.

The big end

But its days are numbered. Rapid gains in battery technology favour electric motors instead (see Briefing ). In Paris in 1894 not a single electric car made it to the starting line, partly because they needed battery-replacement stations every 30km or so. Today’s electric cars, powered by lithium-ion batteries, can do much better. The Chevy Bolt has a range of 383km; Tesla fans recently drove a Model S more than 1,000km on a single charge. UBS, a bank, reckons the “total cost of ownership” of an electric car will reach parity with a petrol one next year—albeit at a loss to its manufacturer. It optimistically predicts electric vehicles will make up 14% of global car sales by 2025, up from 1% today. Others have more modest forecasts, but are hurriedly revising them upwards as batteries get cheaper and better—the cost per kilowatt-hour has fallen from $1,000 in 2010 to $130-200 today. Regulations are tightening, too. Last month Britain joined a lengthening list of electric-only countries, saying that all new cars must be zero-emission by 2050.

Continue reading… “The death of the internal combustion engine”

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