As fortune would have it I was able to spend much time on two of my favorite things recently: innovative technology and cars. The two have met, the world of cars is transforming in a big way, and my not-so-new-anymore writing charter for KITCO News allowed me to study it up front and close. In the process, I believe to have unraveled the mystery of where the industry, and we as frequent users of cars, are going. After many hours of conversations with people from all camps, and after even more hours of visiting events and reading online material, here is my prediction on what the next twenty or so years will look like:
- We will not run out of gas. Yes, more people use gas, but more people use less gas than before. Ironically, the melting ice caps will allow us to drill for oil in even more places.
- Consequently, the internal combustion engine (ICE) will continue to live on for quite a while.
- However, since we keep changing climate by living the way we do, there is still an urgent need to implement new technologies that reduce our carbon footprint.
- These new technologies don’t necessarily have to be “sustainable” in the beginning, but using what is always available instead of continuing to burn up precious resources must be the ultimate goal.
- The majority of consumers is not in the “pioneer” or “early adopter” camps when it comes to changing.
- This is bad news for any car that’s battery powered. A large amount of people will remain sympathetic but on the fence for a very long time, especially since there is no immediate need to change.
- Small battery powered cars will continue to struggle with range for a while, meaning they will mostly be used for commuting only. Their market is further narrowed down by the necessity to keep a second car, so to a lot of people they make no sense economically.
- Large battery powered cars like the Tesla will continue to be expensive for quite some time. Tesla’s Model S has replaced the Toyota Prius as an avatar to a specific demographic subgroup of society: people with a certain level of education, enough money and an overall “sustainable” and “organic” approach to life. Plus, in some cases, the desire to show it.
- The majority of car producers will move towards designing new models in ways that will allow for an easy swap of power trains. Customers will not only be able to select between different conventional engine sizes (gasoline and diesel) but also CNG, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, battery EV and fuel cell EV.
- This “menu” approach will put them at a distinct cost and acceptance advantage over EV-only concepts like Tesla or the new BMW i-line of cars. In fact, I am ready to predict that unless Tesla keeps pushing the envelope their growth will flatline within a few years. Note that the “new” Tesla X scheduled to come out next year is essentially the same car.
Bold predictions? Perhaps. Except they are not, apart from the last bullet, maybe. The above statements are a -preliminary- assembly of puzzle pieces I gathered as explained in my my opening paragraph. Elon Musk has so far remained elusive to me but I hope to be able to confront him with this scenario one day. As to the other manufacturers, VW, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Ford and Toyota are all rolling out “menu” cars already, with other brands close behind. So it isn’t actually a prediction I am making, it’s an observation of what is already happening.
Meaning the future is now, and I like it!