There doesn’t seem much doubt that electric power, in some form, will play a big part in the future of motoring. This reality was brought home to me by a review in The Telegraph recently of three very different cars, all using electric power in different ways.
Exactly what kind of a role electric power will play, however, is unclear. I’m a firm believer that wholly electric, plug-in-to-charge vehicles are OK as milk floats but useless to most people as cars if they can only go 50-60 miles between charges.
After all, you may not do more than 20-30 miles most days, but that doesn’t mean you want to be restricted to that kind of daily mileage. What about weekends? Should you own another car with a proper engine? No, pure electric vehicles are no good for most of us until the range issue is resolved and recharging is made quicker.
What about hybrids?
Next up – and far more feasible and widespread – are hybrids. These use electric power to assist the petrol engine and hence reduce fuel consumption and emissions. Costs aside, it seems a decent idea and is becoming steadily more popular.
My only reservation is whether it’s really worth the fuss – especially in Europe where we have access to the most modern, fuel-efficient small diesel engines in the world. Time will tell. I like the idea of a hybrid and prefer my cars to be petrol powered, but to be honest, I wouldn’t pay extra for a hybrid. I’d just settle for a regular petrol engine and slightly higher fuel bills.
Is hydrogen the answer?
Hydrogen is being touted by many manufacturers as the way of the future. Companies including Honda, Toyota, GM, Daimler-Benz and VW are saying that it is, but this particular future is still some way from becoming the present.
The Telegraph’s review of the GM HydroGen4 makes it clear that progress is being made, but the environmental and distribution issues associated with producing and using hydrogen as a mass market fuel are also significant and will take some time to evaluate and resolve.
What’s next depends on how far you look ahead. Next week – hybrids and modern diesels. Next year – probably the same. In five year’s time – perhaps more electric and hybrid with hydrogen starting to poke its mainstream head above the barriers.
My suspicion is that we might, at some point, reach a VHS vs. Betamax style standoff between pure electric and hydrogen. Battery technologies will undoubtedly improve – as they have already. The cost and environmental impact of making hydrogen will also probably be improved upon and its performance is good already.
At some point, manufacturers will have to commit to one path over the other, however. That’s when the future will become the present.