That was the conclusion of a panel discussion about on The Future of the Automobile at the New York International Auto Show. The discussion was interesting, and the highlights seem relevant on Earth Day.
The three-member panel, presented by Newsweek magazine, included Henrik Fisker, the man behind the luxury plug-in hybrid planned for early next year; Lou Rhodes, head of advanced vehicle development at Chrysler, and head of the company’s electric vehicle program; and Kevin Smith, editorial director at Edmunds.com.
- As many as half the cars sold in 2020 will be electric cars, hybrids, or plug-in hybrids.
- Since the other half (at least) will not be, it is important to continue to improve the efficiency of internal combustion engines.
- Automakers are improving the efficiency of gas engines by one- to two percent a year. This will not be enough to meet upcoming fuel economy and carbon emissions standards.
- These upcoming electrified cars won’t be boring. It’s human nature for people to make purchase decisions based on emotion, rather than logic. So automakers will have to find ways to make the cars fun and/or good looking.
- Electric cars will help automakers create more interesting designs. The car companies will be freed from the packaging constraints of traditional internal-combustion engine power trains. New flat battery packs can go under the floor, electric motors are small, and other components can be placed most anywhere.
- The electric cars showing up at auto shows today don’t have many of these advantages, because they’re based on existing cars to keep production costs down.
- Batteries are still much too expensive and have limited longevity. While engineers are working on these issues, costs will not come down significantly until enough electric cars are sold to bring greater efficiencies from mass production.
- Since the gasoline engine in plug-in hybrids (in which only the electric motor is attached to the wheels) only acts as a generator, they don’t need advanced technology and should be much cheaper than the engines available today. (Fisker said he’s looking to spend $500-800 wholesale, on gasoline engines for upcoming plug-in hybrid models.)
- The future of cars with 7.0-liter V8 engines will be in museums.
These plausible predictions suggest the near future will be an interesting, and maybe even electrifying, time in the auto industry.