Monday, 26 june 2017 | Redacción CEU
Crossing the street without looking was never as dangerous for a pedestrian as it is now. Cars barely make noise when passing! Hybrids and electric cars start showing themselves at the main European cities, but we are still a long way from these vehicles being the most numerous, except in the automobile shows. Without a doubt, the trend indicates that the end of conventional engines may be close. Are the big automotive companies preparing themselves for the transition to a new electric model?
Much water has flown under the bridge since the first long-distance motorized vehicle trip. The journey between Mannheim and Pforzheim made by Bertha Benz was the definitive proof of a possible future on wheels. The feat of this motoring pioneer had not been exempt of problems such as finding water to cool the engine on the road, fixing the ignition system, climbing steep slopes, repairing the brakes or getting fuel. That 'motorwagen', built and patented by her husband Karl Benz, and for which no one betted on, would open the way towards development of the automobile company.
A few years later, the Ford T. came into the scene. This would be the first car manufactured on a production line and produced in series. Later, gasoline and diesel engines would arrive. The car was becoming throughout the 20th century a much more affordable product for the popular classes. Since then, cars as we know them were designed taking into account parameters such as safety, efficiency, comfort, esthetic, tastes, needs and added values. Cars became more than just a mean of transportation, they were an emblem of our social status and lifestyle.
Why changing the system now?
The automobile sector and innovation have always gone hand in hand. The motor world is now at a crossroad: to reinvent itself or to fight against the current. It sounds pessimistic but the sector of fossil fuels may be in a hardship within a few years. Among others, the reasons are the entry of new players in the development of electric cars, the decrease of the batteries cost and the increase of regulation in the "dieselgate" case.
For some years, some sectors have warned about the negative impact of fossil fuel consumption on our planet. Pressures had always been strong but never as much as with the irruption of the 'dieselgate' scandal. This case has impulsed a legislative development on vehicle emissions. Measures are increasingly harder in Europe. Cities like Paris, Madrid, London, Stockholm and Athens could even forbid "dirty" diesel or impose a tax. In addition, some governments also want to demand the installation of systems for the treatment of these gases in vehicles, which involves a very high cost.
Changes always create controversy. Oil industry and many companies in the automotive sector are reluctant to change and, of course, they are also very powerful. However, the drift is uncertain and the bet on the electric car remains firm.
The transition, why a hybrid car?
Changing has never been easy, even less for a so established industry in our society like the automotive industry. The motor sector is betting on making a slow change. At international automobile exhibitions most cars that are presented are already hybrids. But why not implementing the electric car directly? What do we want the hybrid car for?
It is very difficult to transform the system and the car culture at once. Not to mention, the capital investment that entails this revolution, especially, in our country that is the second car manufacturer in Europe after Germany. Despite this, electric cars have doubled sales over the first quarter of the past year. In particular, hybrid vehicles have experienced a growth by 61.2% regarding that same period.
The hybrid vehicle appears on the scene as the new substitute for the conventional car. These automobiles are characterized by combining a traditional internal combustion engine and an electric motor powered by batteries. Thanks to this system the vehicle recovers energy that was lost before. They are able to store the energy that they generate in the battery when accelerating or decelerating, very useful in rough terrains or sections with different speed changes. The maintenance of these cars is also more economical than conventional cars. Plug-in hybrids are also entering into the market, cars with a high electric autonomy but, at present, more expensive than the alternative.
The inventions of the first carmakers and the adventures of Bertha Benz caused perplexity, laughter, and fear on their contemporaries. Although we are accustomed to living in a constant technological and digital whirl, transforming our habits and consumption overnight is not an easy task. On the other hand, infrastructure is not developed yet; car firms and all satellite businesses –such as car workshops and authorized dealers– have a lot to work on.