As you might tell by now, I like cars. Not all cars, some. It’s a love-hate relationship. Cars have hurt me, while working on them, and while driving them. But still I surround myself with ’em.
I was watching a few TV shows and the cool factor of a car from the 60s and 70s is still there. The cool main character always drives something with chrome and steel. Sometimes an 80s car sneaks by. (What can I say, I love the 80s beer can Camaro)
So 30 or 40 years from now, what will the state of cars be? I’m less concerned about what new designs will be hitting dealership floors and more worried about what will be an old car then. Classic cars will be maintained, and still be running around, from Model A’s to Bel Airs to Continentals.
But what about hybrids and the up and coming self drivers?
First of all, hybrids have an age problem from the get go. Batteries don’t last long. You need to replace them at most every 10 years, or you can say the hell with it and simply run the car with less efficiency. Hybrids (baring the Chevy Volt) are at a serious disadvantage as it is. First let me go over a few types, with examples and their ups and downs. Are you ready?
Parallel Hybrids – They have both an ICE (internal combustion engine) and electric motor powering the same wheels, in parallel. Neither is poweful enough to move the car on it’s own. This is your typical hybrid, Prius to Hybrid Suburbans. They are heavier, more complex and in time that just means more stuff to break.
A sub type is dual mode hybrid. These have two sets of drive systems, one axle powered by ICE, the other powered by electric motors. In cars this is bulky. The high end sports cars are using this because it does benefit from torque curves. Electric motors have instant torque with no gaps between gear changes.
Duo-bus trolleybuses use this too (although less so these days) for the ability to run on a set route with overhead wires for the electric motor, and a diesel to power it when off network, either because its too expensive to build or for detours. As opposed to cars, in buses one system works at a time. These have all the draw backs of a regular diesel bus and a simple electric trolleybus, by cost and maintenance. So they are used only if absolutely necessary.
Series Hybrids – This is the Volt. It’s simply an ICE powering a generator that either charges a battery that powers an electric motor, or cutting the battery altogether, the generator runs through a voltage regulator and runs the motor.
Locomotives use the later system. They don’t lug around dozens of heavy batteries. The diesel runs, spinning the generator and that powers electric motors. It may seem inefficient, but diesel-electric locos are the most fuel efficient vehicles on the planet. The diesel needs to run at its most efficient rpm to generate power. You may hear a locomotive revving up, but its simply increasing the revs to another efficient rpm for increased power, like starting from a stop.
So, now you get an idea of how complex these machines are. The simplest being series hybrids and duo-bus type hybrids because the ICE and electric traction gear is separate. If one breaks, the other is still fine and independent. In a parallel hybrid if one breaks the vehicle might not even be functional, and requires dismantling both drive means.
Moving onto the driverless cars, since both these and hybrids have a fatal flaw that I’ll go into later.
Driverless cars need sensors, cameras, and dozens if not hundreds of actuators to control the vehicle, from speed, gear shifts, brakes, steering. Thing of the subtle movements your body does for sligth steering, or the complex set of movements you do for a powerslide and correcting it. All that is still there in form or electric motors or other actuators. And controlling it all is a computer, or a bank of computers.
Personally I don’t like the concept of not being in control. I drive the car. Even in automatics, I still control the shifting if I choose to. From a computer failure to hacking these cars are vulnerable. Even an odd set of road conditions can throw it off.
Now some people really shouldn’t be driving, and road rage might be limited with a driverless car. But the biggest worry today is the driverless car decided to actively kill one (including the driver) over another. I might take the drive off a cliff rather than plow through a gaggle of school kids. But still, I’d like that to be my choice and not Skynet’s.
Now the real scary part. Imagine your old computer. Yeah, that windows 3.1. Imagine you still had it now, not new, but after all the years. I still have a computer like that. A dirty fan is enough to freeze the whole thing in a hard crash. It’s just dirt, right?
Electronics have an age limit. Circuit boards have a kind of seep through, where the metal “grows” much like a crystal grows. At first it doesn’t matter, but as this effects continues, little short circuits occur. Again, in 10 or 15 years it might be critical, but enough of these shorts, or a big one will fry the board. And that’s when the computer is dead.
So, picture your car today, with all these computers that can short out. Suddenly you lose steering. Or breaks. Or it just takes off on you. What then?
Old cars, at worst they just stall and you coast. Even blowing out all your brake lines you can still stop. (It happened to me in a 5500lb car and I stopped putting it in park) Metal may rust, but mechanically, that simplicity of moving parts, last longer.
But they’re environmentally friendly!
You might say that, but if you factor in replacement parts that any vehicle will need (tires, bearings, oil) as well as replacement computers, batteries, and other “new car” specific items (even a regular car has all the electronic gizmos), you start seeing the score tally up.
All those parts cost money, and need energy to be manufactured, shipped. Old parts need to be recycled, so more energy and eventually pollution. An old car is built and many times, they will run for decades with minimal maintenance (my oldest car is nearly 50 and needed less work that two other cars combines, both those cars a few decades newer)
So the solution is to replace the new car completely, or overhaul it to where it might as well be another car. I don’t really see that happening though, do you? Restoring a 20 year old Prius or Volt.
It’s why the next BIG tech jump wont be electronic it will be mechanical on two fronts. Batteries (we still need them) that are light and hold larger charges, and I mean something the size of a AAA that can power a whole car, and new allows that are lighter than plastic and stronger than titanium.
Once we do that, we can have a light efficient vehicle, thats mechanical, carbureted maybe, with cables for the pedals, and if it fails, you still have total control over it, even after decades of operation.
Signed, Somebody that wants a quad barrel nano carb, powering a 154mpg 800hp coupe
P.S. I do love that Starfleet Pruis shuttle, although my big block Continental is more akin to a warp 9.9 Romulan Warbird!