When you think about the future of motoring how far does your imagination stretch? Do you take inspiration from films such as The Dark Night, iRobot, Transformers or Light Runner? Or have you pictured your own reality of flying cars and jetpacks that can get us anywhere in minutes? In this article, we are going to review the current trends in the automobile industry, particularly regarding the design of future vehicles.
The first ever car was steam-powered and created by Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot in 1769. In 1808, the first car with an internal combustion engine was fuelled by hydrogen. It’s agreed that over the next century, many German inventors successfully created cars with petrol or gasoline-powered internal combustion engines. In 1885, Karl Benz created the first production vehicle and in 1913, the Ford Model T was the first car to be mass-produced on a moving assembly line.
Fast forward to the 21st century and this is what a 2018 Ford EcoSport Compact SUV looks like.
If you’re anything like me, then you’ve pondered on whether we need autonomous cars. Is the billions of pounds being pumped into these projects an efficient allocation of resources? I mean, flying cars would probably be more useful. To make it worse, for those of us who actually enjoy driving, the thought of manufacturers producing vehicles that do all the work is ghastly. We buy cars for how they look, save us time and money (not in London!), smell, feel, protect us, but also for how they drive. Are future cars going to deprive us of this experience?
Well it turns out that predicting the future for cars is an incredibly difficult task. The industry is fast-paced and subject to intense innovation and development. So let’s try and figure out what direction we’re heading in.
Well it should be obvious to most, that the majority of cars will be electrified. The engine will take a step back and become a method of supporting the electric motor. Therefore, it will be smaller and boosted by a turbocharger or an electric boost system. This will also be reflected in future car race tournaments. Here are two vehicles that were showcased at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed:
This is the Robocar. It’s a fully autonomous and electric car created by Roborace. Is that the type of thing we can expect to see in F1 in a few years?
Or the Polestar1, which is a plug-in hybrid electric BMW M5 rival, that is made by the Volvo spin-off company.
WILL THERE BE A DEATH OF DIESEL?
Remember when they told us in school that we would run out of oil in 50 years or that it would become too expensive to extract? Well, today that couldn’t be further from the truth. According to British Petroluem (BP), fossils fuels are actually going to be cheaper and easier to extract. However, they believe the global energy demand will be met by liquid fuels and hydrogen fuel cells will only become popular after 2035. So if diesel was once promoted, what has changed?
Well, in the past 5 years there has been an increasing number of scientific studies that conclude diesel cars produce above average levls of pollution. According to the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) report, some diesel cars were polluting on up to 25 times the legal limit on the road. Another study by the Royal College of Physicians in the UK linked poor air quality to 40,000 premature deaths a year, and a £20billion annual cost to the economy.
But, the final nail in the coffin came in 2015 when Volkswagen were exposed for cheating in emission tests, with its diesel models polluting up to 40 times above legal limits. VW are facing billions in US lawsuits, and had to recall more than 11 million cars worldwide. Now, Dieselgate has caused the European governments to make a U-turn on the fuel. Stuttgart and Dusseldorf have already made city bans, and Copenhagen, Paris and Rome are just some of the others planning similar measures. Though, in the UK an immediate outright ban is unlikely. The government recently introduced the toxicity ‘T-Charge’, which with the Congestion Charge adds up to £21.50 for anyone visiting in an older diesel. Councils in London are also introducing diesel surcharges on parking permits and higher hourly parking rates for diesel drivers.
There are also cheaper alternatives to oil that may become more popular such as Brazilian sugar cane ethanol and synthetic liquid fuel made from natural gas using Fischer-Tropsch gas-to-liquids technology. In 2050, biomass could match the amount of energy produced from oil.
Did your future picture of cars include tyres that can shape-shift and talk to each other? If not, then keep up! The trend for 2040 is for cars to communicate information on road conditions with each other. Goodyear claim that the ABS system can reduce stopping distances if the car knows the tyre composition and how it performs. They are working on Adaptive tyres that change shape according to use and road conditions. So when it’s raining, the tyre pressure will increase to help resist aquaplaning.
They also imagine the future tire could be a sphere connected to the car by magnetic levitation. Its tread pattern would stiffen in dry weather. The car could drive sideways to make parallel parking a snap and the back wheels would steer. That’s the Goodyear Eagle-360 concept tire, one of two the company showed at the 2016 Geneva International Motor Show, and is pictured below.
As those with battery electric cars know, the range and time it takes to recharge are not impressive. The electric car with the longest range (337 miles) is the Tesla Model S. This takes 7 hours to charge with 220V and 1.75 hours with 440V. So, you’ll be happy to know that by 2040, battery electric cars could drive up to 500 miles and take 15 minutes to charge 75% of the battery. A standard electric car battery has an energy density of 30kWh with an average range of 100 miles. In a few years, Bosch aim to have completed a second generation 60kWh lithium battery capable of driving up to 200 miles.
Though, to produce high energy dense lithium ion batteries, cobalt is used. However, cobalt is scarce, so we may see third-gen 128kWh lithium sulphur batteries by 2030 which would give a large SUV 400 miles of range.
Charging will definitely be easier in the future. You can charge your car by parking over a pad. Qualcomm are working on installing these pads at intervals below the road, so your car charges as you drive. Though, the cost of these projects should not be underestimated, so we may not see these electric highways everywhere for another 40 years.
Many car manufacturers have released their future cabin designs. They are all prepared for self-driving mode and will allow drivers to take video calls, hear their emails and many other features. You will also be able to personalise your dashboard. For example, today’s Mercedes Benz E-class allows you to select 3 themes that alter the appearance and content of the instrument cluster and infotainment system.
Some of the other interesting features include: dictating your reply to messages; speed, revs and other journey data will be displayed on a small customisable Thin Film Transistor (TFT) screen. It will be 3D so the information floats in front of the driver, free from reflections and interference. For the Sat-nav we already have route directions superimposed over real-world images, as seen in the 2018 Mercedes Benz A Class. In the future, they will also create digitally stitched-together images for safer parking.
Future key fobs will have touchscreen technology so the driver can monitor the vehicle visually via real-time satellite images. They will store data about the car’s status – location, fuel level, temperature, security – for remote monitoring via the 4G data network. The sound will be better contained in the vehicle, LED lights to auto-match your mood or the music playing, smart air-con will focus only on parts of the cabin where people are sitting, high-mounted cameras will monitor driver behaviour to stop people falling asleep and many other features. You can look at the eye-candy in the slider to see what some of your favourite car manufacturers have planned for their interiors:
SO ARE WE DRIVING THE CARS OR ARE THE CARS DRIVING US?
So we already have cars that have assisted parking, low speed manoeuvring in traffic and some autonomous high speed driving and lane-changing. Hence, we already know these features have and will become more automated. Manufacturers still believe that cars are meant to be driven but they think self-driving cars can help summon a car to you, take over during boring journeys or increase your productivity by allowing you read or even host business meetings in the car. These cars will be able to assess the threat level and decided whether it’s safe to go into autonomous mode or not.
Governments all over the world are working on building cities based on the internet. For example, in the UK, the biggest project is called ‘Old Oak and Park Royal’, a big ex-industrial area in the Willesden area of north-west London. The problem is though, this would prevent private cars from driving through these urban areas.
The cars of the future will therefore need to be able to be able to avoid accidents, have automatic braking, pedestrian and cyclist-detecting cameras and even more sophisticated anti-collision technology. Sat-nav systems will be updated by the second with information collected by other vehicles. It would be able to warn the driver of speed bumps, offer updated weather reports and even talk to traffic lights so the car knows whether it’s more efficient to shut off the engine and coast to a set of lights that are about to change red. Also you can say bye to manual gearboxes and expect to be able to 3D print car parts.
All in all, it does seem like manual driving will be for a fun day out for enthusiasts in race tracks, but the cars of the future will look sleeker and be installed with more ingenious technology than we can ever imagine. If you’re a technophobe, then enjoy the last decade you have to drive standard vehicles as this industry is in for a huge technological revolution. Let’s just hope the pot holes are fixed in time, before these beauties are on the road!
Do you like where the future of cars is going? Comment below and let us know.