by Dimiter D.
What path shall vehicular transport take in terms of sources of energy?
| The internal combustion engine has engulfed our lives much like an ash cloud, and we seem to take this fine piece of engineering for granted. Even though the four stroke petrol engine was developed by the masterly German inventor Nikolaus August Otto in 1876, the world did not see a mass produced version of it until 1908 when Henry Ford introduced it to the average American in the form of the Ford model T. It was Henry Ford who triggered the phenomenon of car ownership boom and transformed the vehicle to something so much more valuable than just a form of transport.
Today there are more than 800 million vehicles moving about worldwide, and this number is likely to experience a rapid increase because of escalating demand for private vehicle ownership from the increasingly wealthier population residing in the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China). In 2008 the Indian car maker ‘’Tata’’ introduced the Tata Nano which is advertised as being the cheapest car in the world with a price tag as low as US$2500. The expectations were high, and speculators such as CRISIL predicted that by 2010 the Nano would have expanded India’s car market by the whopping 65%. This target is still not achieved as of 2011, however, the Tata Nano is far fetched from being a commercial disaster as well, with 200,000 confirmed orders just months after its introduction.
In spite of that remarkable achievement, to most environmentalists the 65% car ownership increase projection is nothing short of a nightmare. When the world seems to pull away from the idea of using oil as the primary source of energy, India and China are just stepping in the game with massively increasing demands for energy, and mostly oil. This is why these nations shall have to rethink and amend their line of products with such that meet the current trends of repulsion from fossil fuels.
It still is quite uncertain on what path the car industry will take, but one thing is for sure; it will not be oil. As the ‘’Black Gold’’ is still relatively affordable compared to any of the new alternatives such as Hydrogen and Photo Voltaic cells, car manufacturers are tied in a never ending debate with environmental NGOs such as the ‘’Greenpeace’’ to prove that the internal combustion age still has some more nails to go until the coffin is completely sealed. To prove this, Volkswagen introduced their idea of a future car, going under the name of ‘’X1’’. It is an extremely streamlined, narrow city vehicle with a parsimonious diesel engine. So parsimonious in-fact, that it can do 282 miles per gallon easily.
This plan did not seem to be very effective though, and more and more car manufacturers focused their interest on exploring the benefits of hydrogen powered electric vehicles. The major advantage of Hydrogen is mainly experienced by the consumers, which do not have to alter their driving habits in order for them to accommodate to the completely overhauled driving concept. The expected range of a Hydrogen automobile is 230 miles, making it perfect for the average family. What is more, refuelling does not take more than three minutes which is a clear advantage over the convectional battery powered EV’s which need between eight and sixteen hours of recharge time. On the contrary though, the cost of producing such vehicles (Hydrogen) is immense, and currently a family sized hydrogen vehicle can reach a price of US $2,000,000; a clear indication that it will take some time before this technology reaches the average consumer, and most importantly, the A/B segment vehicles which hold as much as 65% of the European car market.
All in all, the future seems extremely bright with new concepts and efficiency improvements being introduced each year. The cost of all of this is likely to decrease greatly in the next 25-30 years if technology is to continue advancing at a present day pace, which it surely will. Despite this, it is unlikely that the internal combustion engine will be replaced, with predictions that oil shall still posses an 85% market share in 2030. We will be seeing internal combustion cars for quite a long time, but it will be more of what Volkswagen offered with the X1, meaning that we are heading in the right direction.