Let’s hope reports of the death of the internal combustion engine are not exaggerated
A good article in The Economist, “The death of the internal combustion engine”, announces the death of the internal combustion engine, but foresees a rocky road due to the stubbornness of car companies that instead of undertaking a transition toward a more advantageous technology will instead choose to cling to the security of their technology and traditional engineering for as long as they possibly can.
History is full of examples of companies that refused to accept disruption and instead opted to go use the traditional technology that had taken them to the top, only to go under. The automotive industry has continually innovated over its history, but that innovation has been incremental, based on immovable assumptions, without ever questioning fundamental principles. For a traditional automotive industry run almost entirely by petrol-heads who love the smell of gasoline and the sound of an engine revving, the internal combustion engine is unquestionable dogma. There’s no harm in making an experimental vehicle powered by an electric motor, but that’s about as far as it goes, and they’re usually hidden away at car shows.
Even now, when it’s clear the legendary Detroit NAIAS has reached the end of its life cycle and are being abandoned by more and more manufacturers as it becomes clearer that Elon Musk’s Tesla strategy was the right one, prompting more and more manufacturers to start producing electric vehicles, and as the Chinese motor industry begins to demonstrate its superiority over its US and German counterparts, and the internal combustion engine has clearly reached the end of the road, most of the large automotive companies are anticipating a decades-long transition that will not see bans until 2040 or 2050: a timeframe incompatible with the future of the planet and our societies.
The situation we face is one dictated by an automobile industry that refuses to abandon aging technology, knowing it’s supported by governments that refuse to move out of their comfort zones. The large car companies continue to produce new models with combustion engines with 20- to 30-year product cycles, knowing they can market vehicles at highly competitive prices for at least 15 more years. Meanwhile, the planet is being choked by greenhouse gases, despite scientific evidence that if we are to have any chance of avoiding disaster we must stop emitting them right now, instead of in 20 or 30 years.
The irony here is that an immediate ban on the manufacture, sale and circulation of internal combustion vehicles would be enormously beneficial for the industry. Firstly, for the obvious reason that no company is going to survive on an overheated planet where human life is practically unsustainable. Secondly, electric motor technology is simpler and cheaper, because the patents required to manufacture it competitively are mostly open, and finally, because we will soon have much more effective batteries (even sooner if carmakers invest in them). In other words, although it sounds radical, the best way to help the traditional automotive industry survive would be by imposing a comprehensive ban on internal combustion engines within two or three years. When an entire industry refuses to implement an absolutely essential transition within a reasonable timeframe, the only way forward is to enforce it.
Would this be a radical break? Definitely. Would hundreds of thousands of jobs and entire sectors be at risk? Possibly. Would countries that commit to this change be abandoned by the motor industry as it takes refuge in other, less scrupulous nations keen for investment at any price? Maybe. But that doesn’t change the fact that science and the planet do not understand deadlines based on economics or profit margins. Speeding up the death of the internal combustion engine is essential to ensure the viability of human life. Imposing a ban now is not a sign of Soviet tendencies or anti-capitalist… it’s common sense, it’s now a question of survival. And yet the powers that be refuse to listen, deaf to all reason.
I just can’t get my head round it…
(En español, aquí)