End of the old ICE age

AL­WYN VILJOEN looks at cur­rent trans­port trends to pre­dict our fu­ture roads

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING - • al­wyn.viljoen@wit­ness.co.za

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.

PHO­TOS: FILE

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.

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