What will power the cars of tomorrow? Of all the competing alternative fuel technologies from today – which will have emerged – or be well on the way to emerging – as the standout success story, if any?
History has shown us that the best technologies will usually come out ahead – but by no means always. Vested interests sometimes have the marketing muscle to win out, no matter what the technological nuances. The most obvious example of fairly recent history is perhaps the vs. VHS battle. We all know which won, but people in the know generally agree it wasn’t the technically best version.
So all sorts of factors come into play – but the non-technical ones are mainly monetary concerns.
What seems certain is that automobiles will gradually become eco cars. At all the world’s major motor shows, which typically showcase cars that are anywhere between three to five years away from production, the technological focus is very much on hybrid and electrical motoring technology.
There are other competing fuels such as hydrogen, alcohol/ethanol, which are all competing for supremacy, but on-board electrical power (whether partial or whole) seems, gradually, to be winning the race.
The problem with electricity in relation to automobiles, though, has always been one of portability. You really need a cable (impossible) or a giant leap forward in battery technology for this to be really earthshaking. It hasn’t happened yet in one fell swoop, but seems to be getting there incrementally.
But it will also take an infrastructural shift (and corresponding shifts in government and other public policy around the developed world) to make easy recharging a reality – without the giant technological leap that has been thus far lacking.
All eyes are really on Honda here. Honda has, more than any other single carmaker, pioneered alternative drive technology. So far, the company has a finger in all-electric, ethanol, and hybrid drives. But it’s the latter that looks most likely to win out – with an ever-increasing electrical percentage contribution to the liquid fuel (of whatever type) unless the scientists really achieve that portable electrical power paradigm shift.