THE ELECTRIC REVOLUTION: WHAT'S NEXT?
Reader's Digest UK|December 2021
BATTERY POWER FOR MOTORING SEEMS INEVITABLE NOW, BUT WHAT FORM WILL THE CAR OF THE FUTURE REALLY TAKE?
Neil Briscoe

THE FUTURE OF MOTORING IS ELECTRIC. ISN’T IT?

Certainly, the current orthodoxy is that batteries are the way of the future, driven by the need to slash the carbon emissions of transport. It is, though, a lot more complicated than merely taking out an engine and replacing it with an electric motor.

Thirty-something years ago, I was sat on the floor of my grandmother’s living room, with a stack of old Reader’s Digest in front of me. In one, I found a piece on the 100th anniversary of Mercedes-Benz. In this feature, a senior Mercedes engineer was asked what cars we'd be driving in 20 years’ time.

“Well…” he replied with the confidence only a German car engineer can display; “We design our cars to last for at least 30 years, so we will be driving the cars we are making today.”

In many ways, the man from Mercedes was right—some 35 years on from me reading those words, we are for the most part still driving around in cars that are not fundamentally different from those then coming off the production lines in Stuttgart, in Tokyo, in Detroit, in Turin. In the next 20 years, though? Even the most confident engineer might now baulk at being too precise in their predictions. The rise of the electric car is going to change what the very word car means.

One who thinks that we’re on the cusp of just that is Stephen Bayley. Bayley is a founder of London’s Design Museum, an art and architecture critic, and as the vernacular would have it, a petrolhead. He’s long been a correspondent for the motoring magazine Octane, and has just published a collection of his essays from the same, entitled Age Of Combustion. It’s an age which Bayley reckons is about to come to a screeching halt, and not merely because we will be driving cars powered by batteries.

“There's no doubt in my mind that it's sort of five minutes to midnight for the motorcar, as we know it. It's probably not going to go away entirely, but its form is going to be so different. We can now see the past century of the car as a finite historical period. When we get car autonomy, if we ever get it, cars will become very different. They would no longer be expressions of status, power desire, privilege, and that may be a very good thing.”

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