The End (if you believe Stanford) Is Nigh

Eight years is all we’ve got. Stanford University says there will be no petrol or diesel cars after 2025. We will all be in electrics and probably not even driving them. All our cars will be scrapped, only a handful of nostalgics will own one, car dealers will disappear and oil at £25 a barrel could make the economy unrecognisable.

Tesla Model C

Tesla Model C

Eight years? I don’t think so. Battery capacity may have improved since Camille Jenatzy did 105.9 kph (66.8mph) with two direct-drive 25kW motors (about 67bhp) setting a Land Speed Record in 1899. His two flying kilometres at Achères was the limit for 80 cell Fulmen accumulators in the publicity stunt for Jenatzy’s electric car factory. It brought the Belgian a Land Speed Record but not a lot of luck. He died in a hunting accident. Apparently something of a practical joker he hid in bushes making animal noises and was shot by companions.

Jenatzy’s record breaking  La Jamais Contente  can still be seen in Compiegne museum.

Jenatzy’s record breaking La Jamais Contente can still be seen in Compiegne museum.

My guess is that Stanford’s report by economist Tony Seba, Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030, will gather dust on some forgotten shelf. In the half century since I drove a Ford Comuta (see our Motorists' Bedside Blook in Dove Catalogue) reports like Seba’s have come and thankfully gone. Certainly lots have changed and in due course we will all go about our business silently and safely in different sorts of car. My money’s on hydrogen. Ford has just said it is going to make what it calls, “new people efficiency actions”, which is HR speak for reducing staff by ten per cent to bolster a falling share price. Tesla grows apace, autonomous vehicles are growing in confidence. UBS the financial services company has just taken a Chevy Bolt to bits and says EVs will cost much the same as regular cars by next year. Meantime they account for only one-and-a-half cars in a hundred. By 2025 UBS expects 14 cars in 100.

But back to Professor Seba. People, he believes, will stop driving and change to EVs ten times cheaper to run than fossil-fuelled cars with near-zero fuel costs and a lifespan of a million miles. It will become hard to find petrol stations, buy spares, or fix the 2,000 moving parts of worn-out internal combustion engines. Car dealers will be gone by 2024.

Cities will ban human drivers once authority realises how dangerous they are. There will be a “mass stranding of existing vehicles” and the second-hand market will expire. Big oil and big autos will atrophy with implications for the London Stock Exchange unless companies adapt. And it is no use expecting alternative fuels; following collapse of the oil price, shale and deep-water drilling will no longer be viable. Scotland will have no North Sea income. Russia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and Venezuela will be in trouble and Ford, General Motors, and the entire German car industry face extinction. They will only be able to make low-profit EVs, or reinvent themselves as self-drive service companies.

Cars will be “computers on wheels”. Google, Apple, and Foxconn will replace them. The change, says Prof Seba, is technology-driven, not a result of climate policies. Market forces will bring it about faster than governments ever could. Supplying enough electricity to power all these vehicles could be overcome, in due course, by regeneration methods by no means as fanciful as the Prof. The clever Cruachan hydro scheme in Scotland has been pumping Loch Awe back up the mountain every night for the last 50 years, to tumble back through its turbines supplying power every day. But Cruachans are not so much regeneration as once-in-a-generation. Technology like that could supply off-peak electric car battery fleets’ recharging.

Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car

Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car

Professor Seba boldly predicts “We are on the cusp of one of the fastest, deepest, most consequential disruptions of transportation in history. Internal combustion engine vehicles will enter a vicious cycle of increasing costs.”

It is a fantasy. Eight years, more like four decades. But it’s all right. Stanford’s research grants will still be sustained by scary reports like this.