All charged up about the future of motoring

By David Thomson on Sat, 20 May 2017

Less than a decade. Eight years, to be precise. That's how long Stanford University economist Tony Seba reckons we have before petrol and diesel cars have been fully supplanted by electric (and in most cases fully self-driving) vehicles as the preferred type of car.

Seba bases his prediction on the time it will take before technological advances make electric cars a more compelling financial option to buy and operate than those powered by fossil fuels. He points to a crucial tipping point - coming in as soon as the next two to three years - when the range of typical electric vehicles exceeds 200 miles (roughly 300km), and the purchase price of entry-level electric cars drops below $US20,000.

The prospect of change coming this fast is something I find hard to believe, especially at a time when new vehicles, the vast majority powered by petrol or diesel engines, are selling at record levels here. But look either globally or locally, and there is no doubt our motoring world is changing at a rapid pace.

A piece in the Otago Daily Times' World Focus section last Monday highlighted a bold new project in India to completely phase out fossil-fuel-powered cars by 2032; China aims to have seven million electric vehicles on its roads by 2025; at a more local level, consent was recently granted for an electric vehicle charge point in Wanaka, and these points are also being considered for Alexandra, Tarras and Ranfurly; and the Skoda Kodiaq that graces this weekend's Drivesouth cover sits (like most new cars launched today) on a platform that is engineered to accommodate a future electric powertrain.

A growing interest in electric cars was also demonstrated by the interest several readers have shown in my mention, last weekend, of a petrol-electric hybrid produced by the now defunct British car maker Lanchester way back in 1927.

In producing the car, Lanchester wasn't totally ahead of its time; petrol-electric hybrid cars had been experimented with in Europe and the United States since the start of the 20th century, with pioneers in the field including Ferdinand Porsche. Even so, the Lanchester hybrid is regarded as a significant vehicle in hybrid car history. The prototype covered over 1200km in testing, and still survives, in the Birmingham Science Museum.

My comments about Lanchester last weekend also prompted a lovely call from Roxburgh-based Russell Reid, who recalled an early 1950s Lanchester his family once owned. This underlines the fact that while Lanchester's history as an independent marque ended at the start of the 1930s, the rights to the name passed to Daimler, who used it until around 1955.

When Daimler was acquired by Jaguar a few years later, the rights to the Lanchester name went with it. Now, I believe, those rights are held by Tata Motors of India, as part of their ownership of Jaguar.

What a great acknowledgement of automotive history it would be if the Lanchester name was revived by Tata, perhaps to be used for a top-line electric-powered Jaguar of the (perhaps not too distant) future.

David Thomson