What Do The Next Few Years Hold For Eco Cars?
The automotive sector has grown a conscience. In the last couple of decades, vehicle manufacturers have recognised the damage their products cause to the environment and have shouldered a remarkable amount of responsibility in trying to tackle that.
In addition to the huge multinational brands, much smaller enterprises have waded in and contributed with remarkable effect. But this optimism has to lead somewhere – where will we be in two, five, or ten years’ time?
The internet is full of rampant conjecture, but we can take some educated guesses and predict which direction eco innovation might be travelling in. In the great roadmap of technological development, these five tiny streets are likely to have the greatest impact on the green car sector.
Hydrogen fuel cell cars
A study conducted by the British Government and the hydrogen automotive industry concluded that UK roads could have 1.5 million hydrogen vehicles on them by 2030. This bold claim – released as part of an interim report and produced by the UKH2Mobility project – should give some indication of the relevance of hydrogen power in the more immediate future.
Uptake of hydrogen will lean heavily on the fuel infrastructure. An initial network of 65 stations could swell to 1,150 by 2030, at a rate commensurate with uptake. A good comparison is the introduction of LPG filling stations across the UK – there are now more than 1,400. This kind of huge undertaking could be replicated in other European countries and potentially at state level in North America.
Improvements to the way electric vehicles attain, hold and preserve electric charge should continue to emerge as rapidly as they have been over the last decade. Regenerative braking is a great example of technology which filtered down to consumer vehicles via the race track and then certain high-end models. Developments in battery technology, ultra-capacitors and even an open-source software project are all likely to be integral to the progress of fully electric vehicles.
It’s a small part of a big picture, but the physical space taken up by fuel cells will be a driving force in car design. The placement of batteries within a vehicle will have to fit neatly alongside current objectives in conventional vehicle design – improving weight, weight distribution and aerodynamics.
Like hydrogen cars, uptake of electric vehicles will hinge on the availability of charging stations. Fleet owners already have resources at their disposal to set up the infrastructure for their own needs – it’s these bigger operators that will encourage the crucial first wave of early-uptake consumers.
A wider variety of eco vehicles
Hybrid and electric vehicles haven’t stretched out across the market yet. They’re confined to a relatively small private segment, and the very greenest cars are really for city driving only. In the coming years, manufacturers will have developed their green technology enough for it to be rolled out across luxury cars, commercial vehicles and potentially even more performance machines along the lines of the Tesla Model S.
Contributing to widespread apathy about fully electric vehicles is the charging process. Modern road networks and lifestyles are built around the needs of the conventional car and its equally conventional driver – shoehorning an extension cord and a six-hour wait into car culture is problematic outside corporate fleets.
Wireless charging – of the sort being pioneered by Nissan, BMW and others – will change all that. The technology allows drivers to charge their cars without extension leads – at service stations, outside restaurants and potentially on roads. This effectively increases the range of electric vehicles by integrating the recharging process with the journey itself.
With WEVC already being tested in cities, and with big manufacturers already offering it in consumer cars, electric vehicles should have thrown off their cumbersome cables within the next five years.
The feature most likely to dominate the automotive market in the next couple of years is the ordinary, small-displacement fossil fuel engine – old technology which has been massively improved in recent years thanks to competition from fresher, greener innovation. Efficient engines in small, aerodynamically-honed cars and car insurance prices will define green transport until fuelling networks for hydrogen and electric vehicles become established in decades to come.