Of all the topics facing automakers and consumers around the world, there isn’t a more divisive topic than the future of the automotive powertrain.
Electric cars are sure to get a reaction out of any auto enthusiast – for better or for worse. Controversy aside, one thing everyone seems to agree on is that the electric cars are the future. How far into the future, and does this signal the demise of the internal combustion engine?
Electric is coming and it’s here to stay
According to the 2018 IEA (International Energy Agency) Global EV Outlook, worldwide electric car stock reached 3 million units in 2017. This is after reaching the 1 million mark just two years earlier.
While this steep growth is impressive, the gap with traditional powertrains is daunting. Electric car sales make up merely a tenth of one percent of all vehicles globally.
With the advancements in battery and charging technology, will automakers strategically pivot their research away from new technologies in piston engines?
World political leaders are unable (or unwilling) to reach any accord unifying EV timing or requirements for automakers. This means those companies that do business in multiple markets will be forced to navigate the river of change with one foot in each boat.
Meanwhile, public pressure continues to demand tightening emissions and consumption thresholds. This only drives additional research investment in a technology that has an undetermined lifespan. Electric cars may have even greater lasting power than traditional ICE-equipped cars.
Internal Combustion Engines are Still Thriving
According to the most recent EPA Trends Report, average fuel economy has increased by almost 17% in the last 10 years. Meanwhile, average CO2 emissions were decreased by 17% and power increased by 13 horsepower. This can only be partially explained by reduced vehicle weight and more efficient transmissions.
Data shows that improvements in engine efficiency has driven the majority of improvement. This means that research in combustion technology is working and will continue for the foreseeable future.
Not to be ignored in this situation is a mysterious x-factor: Consumer taste. There will likely always be a segment of consumers that will prefer to purchase traditional automobiles regardless of the environmental or financial costs.
That fact will remain until this consumer desire is overridden by outside forces such as regulatory constraint or even scarcity of petroleum.
What does all this mean? As long as investment in combustion technology is alive and well, expect the flickering demise of the internal combustion engine powertrain to be a dim light, far in the distant future.