End of the old ICE age
ALWYN VILJOEN looks at current transport trends to predict our future roads
AFTER London last month became the latest city to announce a (vague) plan to phase out internal combustion engines (ICE) on their roads by 2040, Wheels readers had many questions.
How will a ban on ICE engines impact our mechanics?
First off, SA’s annual car sales make up less than 0,7% of global sales, so we follow the world.
But we follow very slowly and use cars for 15 years or more.
This will create space for ICE makers to dump a lot of diesel and petrol engines at clearance sale prices. While bad for new car sellers, this is will be good for all independent mechanics, who will end up fixing these brands for decades to come.
How will electric engines impact car factory jobs?
South Africa has several automotive factories, ranging from the tiny Backdraft racing in Prospecton to large BAIC and FAW plants in Eastern Cape, with all the best-known brands in between.
Our car factories, which currently export thousands of cars to markets up north each month, will start making electric cars for these markets.
The bad news is that “drivetrain” of an electric car has about 20 moving parts, compared to about 20 000 moving parts in an ICE drivetrain. Hence expect many upstream suppliers to close down.
What kind of cars will we drive by 2040?
People will be able to choose between owning or renting singlewheelers, bikes, trikes, scooters and cars, all of them electric.
Electric can mean blistering fast, as in 0-100 in 1,513 seconds in the case of the Grimsel.
And the trikes do not understeer. Malta company Valene’s Mamba has fat tyre at the back that offers more grip than most two wheel drive cars do today, with the two wheels in front angled to take corners at speed.
That fat tyre at the back can also pack a lot of power. Chinese company Protean have extensively tested two direct drive hub motors that fits into bakkie or car wheels.
The “small” one makes 54 kW and 650 Nm. The big one makes 75 kW and 1250 Nm. That is like having a 13-litre truck engine in the wheel, and you can have four of them retrofitted to any car on the road today.
Is coal power not dirtier than oil power?
That claim is true where inefficient power plants use dirty coal, as is the case with Eskom.
But expect an increasing number of electric vehicle batteries to be powered by the sun.
That is the vision of both Elon Musk’s SolarCity and Dutch company Lightyear.
The Dutch students aim to sell a four-seat sedan based on their solar powered car, “Stella”, a doubel world champion solar racer which makes more power than it uses under 50 km/h, rides on bicycle wheels and is very streamlined.
If people don’t own cars, how will they get around?
The new buzzword is TaaS — for Transport as a Service — because young people increasingly don’t want to have the hassle that comes with owning a spacewasting, money-eating car.
TaaS will in future go far beyond hailing an Uber.
Instead of renting a seat, most people will get their app to hail a passing robobus, like the Ollie, Continental or Englanf buses being tested around the world, or rent a ride on an electric, 20km/h Ford Gobike, a 60-km/h Mahindra moped, 100 km/h Gogoro scooter; or book a twoseater Sam, a trike from Poland, or the four seater Twizzy from Renault.
Do cities have enough electricity to recharge evees?
The short answer, not yet.
But expect a lot more wind and solar power in the next decade, with voltaic panels even on roads.
South Africa’s wind patterns and sunshine are well above average and our industries are set to leapfrog other ideas in Europe to provide electricity for transport with wind and solar farms.
This includes charge points in streetlight poles in Germany, under-road pieziod crystal generators in Israel, overhead gantries for electric trucks in Sweden and inductive charging roads in England.
What about trucks?
Outside the mega cities, heavy loads will continue to move on the ground, but remote controlled robotrucks like Swedish company Einride’s T-Pod and Komatsu’s giant dump trucks will make drivers redundant.
Expect big diesel engines for long distance trucks to hang around for a long time. For despite rapid progress in batteries technology, it will for a least a decade still require several hours to recharge a bank of lithium ion batteries large enough to equal the energy held in a diesel tank. The long distance truckers serving Africa do not have this time. Note small diesel engines will disappear. Three electric bus companies, BYD, Proterra and Volvo, are rapidly topping up their batteries on their short distance journeys. Several companies are also experimenting with small turbines to recharge the battery banks of smaller trucks on the go.
Good heavens, what next?
Tunnel roads, swarming cars and lots of drones seem to be the next big developments.
Elon Musk’s Boring Company has already demonstrated lifts for cars as part of his vision to make cheaper drilling machines to bore criss-crossing tunnels deep underground in which cars can be whisked about at 200km/h on dolleys.
Above ground, traffic lights will disappear as swarming software, a version of which currently sends US Army drones on swarming bomb attacks, will also be used to steer masses of robot vehicles. As for drones, expect a lot more of them — from tiny parcel delivery drones to helicopter size ambulances.
Dubai is currently testing a one man taxi drone, Amazon is already delivering parcels with them, while Mercedes-Benz’s next generation Sprinter panelvans will come with drone pods on the roof.
Ironically, the big people carrying drones will also experience traffic jams, as their powerful downdrafts will limit drone traffic to fly over certain areas, and not to close above each other.
Four trends that will disrupt transport are (clockwise): electric bikes, like this one from Ford; electric supercars with 3-D printed panels, like this one the Divergent Blade with its engineer Kenin Czinger; renta-trikes, like Poland’s popular full-electric Sam; and robobuses, like this one currently being tested by Continental.