Despite the recent unveilings of futuristic cars that are supposedly better in every way, cars as we know them are destined for a highly inconceivable future. I have yet to meet someone who can predict the future. Take for example the meteorological department in any country in the entire world.
You would think that by now we would be able to accurately tell the weather at least a day before. And yet the reality is no weather man, woman or app has ever been right! Mankind, as it stands is unable to predict anything!
When it comes to cars and mobility there’s a general rule I would advise. Don’t get too excited by what car companies say; get excited by what they actually put out on the road. Hydrogen has long been touted and tested, as the future of mobility, a clean alternative to petrol and diesel but the reality is that’s not going to happen any time soon.
BMW, Mazda and Honda the main proponents of the idea have largely ignored it lately with Toyota finally throwing in the towel to announce that they were finally developing an electric car. Yes, Toyota hadn’t seriously considered making fully electric car until last year. Think of concepts as just ideas and you will avoid disappointment. Actually avoid any promotional literature, advertisements and paid bloggers painting vivid pictures about an idyllic future promoted by car companies. That said, just as clouds precede rains, there are some tell-tale signs of what to expect in the future.
The future will be electric!
Believe it or not, Donald Trump actually gives good advice. The gist of it from his book, Art of the Deal, is that one should not be the first to try out new technology. When new technology is launched it is unproven and expensive. It’s much smarter to wait at least a year. Tesla has been around since 2003 and has in that time proven that electric cars are a practical alternative to fume-spewing petrols and diesels. Countries like Britain, Norway, France, India and so forth have already pledged to ban internal combustion engines by 2030.
As it stands, the batteries are expensive to manufacture, heavy and take forever to charge. For a significant shift to electric powered mobility there has to be a revolution in battery technology that enables it to be cheaper, lighter and recharges in at least as much time as it takes one to fill up with petrol. Going by the track record of such an industry I would say such an event is at most 5 years away from today.
The Immediate future is 48-Volt Hybrids.
A conventional Hybrid car like the famed Prius is insanely complicated to make and heavier than a normal car of the same dimensions on account of the parallel batteries and electric technologies working alongside the internal combustion engine. A more promising hybrid is the 48 volt hybrid, or mild-hybrid. An engine produces mechanical power that is scavenged off via the alternator to power electrical functions of the car like your stereo and so on. The 48 Volt is already available in the new Mercedes E Class and CLS AMG 53 variants. What this does is harvest energy from regenerative braking and stores it in a battery. It’s deployed in high torque requirements, like getting off the line from standstill and filling in the space between gear changes, making progress not only brisk but indescribably smooth. It also takes care of all electrical requirements of the car meaning that all the mechanical power from the engine goes where it’s supposed to, the wheels. Expect other car makers to follow suit.
The Future will be shared.
The number of cars in the world was 500 million in 1986. In 2010 it hit the 1 billion mark and continues to grow with estimates expecting 2 billion cars on the world’s roads by 2020. This means a lot more roads will need to be built, as well as parking space. Most trips only the driver is in the car, making it wasteful of fuel and space. The free seats can be filled with other riders offsetting the running costs of a vehicle. Ride hailing apps like Uber and Taxify are closely related to ride sharing apps. These carpooling apps allow one time shared rides on short notice. It determines a driver’s route using GPS, matching that with your journey and calculating cost and handling payment.
On average a car is used less than 5% of the time. We get into our cars for a 30 minute commute to work, leave it parked there for the whole day and then use it again for a 30 minute commute back home. Companies like LyftShare in the UK have over 25,000 registered users, allowing private individuals to share their cars on a trip they were already going on anyway.
The Future will be nostalgic
The more we advance to the future the longer we look wistfully at our past. There’s just something satisfying about concurrently living in the future with all its convenient technology and the past with its unique design elements that continue to inspire car brands to this day. Mercedes had once considered replacing the G-Wagen, they quickly reconsidered. Land Rover retired the Defender, but are now making a limited edition V8 powered batch. Its sister company Jaguar put an electric drive-train in an E Type, code-named E type Zero for the launch of their I Type all electric formula E racer. They say design goes full circle and save for the desperately uninspired commuter class vehicles, future design shall borrow heavily from the past.
The Future will be composite
Materials like steel, I predict, will have no use in future cars. Composite materials like carbon fibre and Alcantara are not only stronger and safer, but lighter and therefore better for making cars. The only problem is that they are prohibitively expensive. With more and more companies venturing into composites, expect the technology to become cheaper. Somewhat related will be the rise of 3D printing. With vehicle blueprints and some 3D know-how, even today you can print a part to use in your car from the comfort of your home. Soon enough after a fender bender, you will be able to download a bumper from the internet, print and fit it on your car.
The Future will be Autonomous.
I have driven the new G30 BMW 5 series on a mountain pass that kept itself between the white lines and took turns with my hands off the steering wheel. The Renault Kadjar can park itself as does the Ford Everest and the aforementioned BMW allows you to get out and park it with the key fob.
Most people don’t actually live driving cars. Sure we all love the convenience of having a car to go exactly wherever we want to go, can keep an extra outfit in and impress people with. But the actual activity of navigating almost 2 tons of metal and plastic precariously close to other humongous and sometimes speeding chunks of metal and plastic can be quite unnerving. Even as a car enthusiast I prefer to be driven if the car is an automatic and the journey over 200 km.
That’s why virtually every new car features some form of semi-autonomous abilities like lane keep assist and radar guided cruise control. Fully autonomous technology already exists. The only thing holding them back is legislation and a few teething problems. Nobody knows who to blame in case of an accident. What if your car was driving you and killed someone, would it be you or the car maker to blame? Once the insurance companies and judges have figured out who to blame in case of an accident, you will be able to purchase a car that does the manual work for you while you relax with the morning paper and a refreshment.
As with all things man made, our appreciation and expectations will evolve over time to demand more convenience, value for money and address mounting environmental concerns. While it’s a slow transition to the idyllic situation where cars are safer, more efficient and pollution free, it’s the most exciting time in history for innovation.
Contributed by J.M. Barasa - Motoring Press Agency