Last week I mentioned that the Citroen SM was announced at
the Geneva Motor Show in 1970. I asked what did the initials S and M stand for?
Well, it was S for the project code and M for Maserati. And the reason they
picked Maserati was simple. Citroen had bought Maserati.
So to this week. The world’s first half-tracked vehicle to traverse the snow was
built for the Tsar of Russia. When was this? Clue: Kegresse.
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email
2007 F1 season opens in two weeks
The first round of the 2007 F1 championship kicks off in
Melbourne, Australia on the 18th March. The first season without Schumacher the
Elder, and now with the World Champion Alonso in a different team, and some
exciting newcomers like Lewis Hamilton, it could be a good season.
Lewis Hamilton driving for
The Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne returns to its traditional role of season
opener after moving to round three last year to avoid a clash with the
Commonwealth Games. Meanwhile, the Japanese round will move from Suzuka to Fuji,
the circuit which staged the country’s first Grand Prix back in 1976.
There are five sets of back-to-back races on the 2007 calendar: Malaysia and
Bahrain in April; Canada and the US in June; France and Britain in July; Italy
and Belgium in September; and China and Japan in September/October.
The full line-up is as follows:
Australia, March 18
Malaysia, April 08
Bahrain, April 15
Spain, May 13
Monaco, May 27
Canada, June 10
United States, June 17
France, July 01
United Kingdom, July 08
Germany, July 22
Hungary, August 05
Turkey, August 26
Italy, September 09
Belgium, September 16
China, September 30
Japan, October 07
Brazil, October 21
I will be watching from my favorite chair in Jameson’s. Join me and many other
F1 enthusiasts in front of the big screen. Telecast times will be published on
the Fridays before the race day Sunday.
The cars of the future? NGV? Biodiesel?
Hydrogen? Fuel Cells? Electric?
What will we be driving in 2020? In the opening sessions of
“On the Road in 2020”, a conference hosted by the Energy Laboratory at MIT, they
wished to see how people with widely varying interests would respond to their
technology assessment and its results. The 70 attendees came from companies that
make and distribute vehicles and fuels, government groups, and other academic
and nongovernmental organizations involved in transportation.
Their assessment focused on the year 2020 and selected combinations of fuels and
vehicle types that could be developed and commercialized by then. Their options
included hybrids, fuel cells and electric vehicles. For each 2020 fuel/vehicle
combination, they estimated key characteristics such as energy efficiency, cost,
greenhouse gas emissions, safety and other consumer concerns such as
reliability, convenience and familiarity.
And what was their answer? Be prepared for disappointment. Nobody really knew!
The only good news was their assertion that hard work on conventional
technologies should produce an “evolved” passenger car with dramatically higher
fuel economy and lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to today’s models.
New technologies were compared to an evolved midsize car, specifically the 2020
model that would result from a modest continuing effort to improve fuel
efficiency using traditional technologies. According to the assessment, the 2020
model will use one-third less fuel, cut greenhouse gas emissions by a third and
cost only about five percent more than today’s model. And that was the result of
two years with some of the brightest minds in automotive technology. Hardly
earth shaking, or futurology.
So are the next 13 years only going to be evolution, rather than revolution?
Looking into my own technological crystal ball, I am not so negative as the MIT
researchers. I do not believe that the best we can do will be one third saving
in fuel and greenhouse gasses, or that the midsize car of 2020 will only be 5
percent more expensive than today.
Let me take cost of the vehicle to begin with. Personal transport is an
important part of the thinking of developed societies. A large part of earnings
is put towards vehicle ownership, and that will not change in the next decade
and a half. With all Cost-Price indices showing around five percent per annum
positive growth, we should expect car prices to then double between now and
2020, which will mean they will be exactly as affordable as they are now, as
wages will also have doubled. Now you must factor in the decreasing cost of
technology (just take a look at the computer hardware industry as a guide) and
my crystal ball would say that the vehicles in 2020 will have more technology
than today’s cars, and be (relatively) considerably cheaper.
The next factor which I would like you to ponder is greenhouse gasses, because
this is what will decide the future direction of the auto industry. Dieter
Zetsche, the head man at DaimlerChrysler in an interview at the 2005 New York
International Auto Show, claimed that the car business is “about selling dreams,
aspirations, and emotion,” and that may be so, but the public perception of the
dreams, aspirations and emotion is changing, and will continue to change over
the next 13 years. The driving factor, says my crystal ball, is global warming.
Public perception will be much greater than it is now as far as global warming
is concerned, and public emotion will be towards reversing the global warming
trend. This is what will bring an end to the internal combustion, atmospheric
polluting, engines. And that includes both diesel and gasoline. The public will
kill these engines. No longer will fuel consumption figures be the deciding
factor in the purchase. The world will want to be seen as grasping the global
warming nettle, and will take the motor industry along in its wake - you can
forget about the motor industry leading the world’s auto drivers!
Amongst the engines, or vehicle technology that will be killed along with this
are the hybrids. The internal combustion engines are just too ‘dirty’ even when
combined with electric motors. At best you are only cutting down greenhouse
gasses. The world will want zero emissions by 2020.
So where is that going to lead us? To hydrogen, often touted as the fuel of the
future? However, my crystal ball says it will remain as the fuel of the future,
as the infrastructure to make it universal is too costly. Even the most
developed nations will not be able to afford hydrogen reticulation by the public
(taxation) purse. And you must not forget that hydrogen as a fuel energy source,
is generally headed towards making electricity as the motive power for the
It is now generally accepted that a major obstacle is today’s fuel delivery
infrastructure. Dr. James Katzer of ExxonMobil Corp. (the guys who just made an
American corporation record profit), noted that the existing infrastructure for
gasoline and diesel fuels is the result of 100 years’ development. Switching to
methanol or hydrogen requires building an entirely new infrastructure at a cost
of many billions of dollars. “We can only afford one change in infrastructure in
the next century, so let’s get it right,” he said. “An infrastructure for
handling methanol, for example, will also become obsolete if we must eliminate
carbon emissions to prevent future climate change.”
One researcher at that conference who did see the way of the future was Dr.
Philip Sharp of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government who did think the
US may soon take some action regarding global warming and he said that any
action taken to constrain carbon emissions, or not, will profoundly influence
the choice of transportation technology. He should have looked a little further
and deeper into the crystal ball! The answer was there.
As carbon emissions/greenhouse gasses/global warming becomes the dominant
factor, which transportation technology is left? Electric power, that is what is
left. The world already has electricity reticulated to every household in the
developed world, and will continue to expand the electricity grids over the next
15 years. The power will be where the people live. And how to get that power
into the family vehicle? Battery technology. Well that’s what my crystal ball
Electric motors have been around for well over 100 years, and the technology in
converting electricity into rotational movement is well known, and becoming
increasingly more efficient. All that we need now are lightweight, rechargeable
batteries to power the on-board electric motors, and we have the power source
that does not pollute, and can be recharged in our own homes, using the
electricity grid. Just like our mobile phones.
I ask you to think back to when mobile phones first became available. You
carried around something that looked like a small suitcase and weighed such that
the mobile phone user could be identified by the muscular development of his
arms! What do we have today? Miniature phones you can carry in your shirt
pocket, with lithium batteries that are recharged at home. Not only is the
technology better, but mobile phones have also become very much cheaper.
Now extrapolate that to auto technology. The cars by 2020 will have small
electric engines, powered by small rechargeable batteries. Public sentiment will
have determined that we should drive non-polluting cars, the public purse will
have determined that we should not fund incredibly expensive infrastructure to
bring fuels to the public, and all this will happen despite the powerful oil
We have 15 years in which to do this, and incidentally save the planet. It is
more than feasible, but my crystal ball also says that the oil industry will not
go down without a fight. “Old” technologies that have become entrenched are
often difficult to get rid of, but as the financial markets see the
opportunities, it will gain in momentum. Just make sure you have some good
electrical wiring plumbed into the garage!
And to all those who say that the production of electricity for the grid is a
polluting process involving the burning of coal, that may be the case right now.
But in the next 15 years, technology will continue there too, and expect the
grid to be a mixture, coming from such sources as wind, hydro, solar and tidal,
The future can be good, but we will have to break the nexus with the oil
industry on the way!