So it’s January 1st, 2040. A cold, but crisp New Year’s Day has dawned and the last car powered by petrol or diesel has been sold.
JUL 28th 2017
Thank Frankel It's Friday: will 2040 be the death of the classic car?
But that’s just fine because parked outside your house is your sleek electric car that not only now travels just as far as your old petrol motor did, you can ‘fill’ it in the same time, mainly from your domestic electricity supply or that of any hotel or restaurant, or indeed your place of business or the house of any friend at which you may park. So you barely need to visit those service stations at all. What’s more it will all be lovely, clean electricity generated in noisome an entirely environmentally friendly way from exclusively renewable sources. All is well with your world and, indeed, the world.
Or is it? Allow me to paint you another picture. It’s January 1st, 2040 and all hell has broken loose. The government has stuck to its plan to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars despite the fact there is nothing like the infrastructure to support it. It took 23 years just to build a reasonably rapid train line from London to Manchester and 30 to dig a hole under the English Channel so why on earth did anyone think it would be able to transform entirely both the amount of electricity this country generates and the way in which it is generated in such a short period of time?
Electricity bills have gone through the roof not just because the government now finds itself £20 billion short of tax revenue, only a fraction of which was ever spent on roads, but also because the price of extracting clean energy always was and remains more expensive than doing it the dirty way. And we can’t get enough of the stuff without burning fossil fuels in obsolete power stations which rather defeats the point. In the meantime the much promised breakthrough in battery technology for which the industry has been searching since literally the 19th century has not materialised, nor will cars go anything like as far on a single charge as did petrol cars before the ban, leading to enormous queues at charging stations and the share price of Starbucks heading through the roof. And, of course, all our lovely old classic cars are now worthless ornaments.
Or there’s the third way, the way that recognises the fact that things are rarely either as good or, indeed, as bad as we think they’re going to be. So from the man who failed to predict Trump, Brexit and both Conservative majority and minority governments, what follows is some approximation of where I think we are actually likely to be in 2040.
Petrol burning cars will still be on sale, but fuel will be used only sparingly and only to extend the range of cars powered predominately by electricity. Manufacturers will have made great strides to increase the range and decrease the charging times of their cars and will have reached the point where, in both regards, they are not ideal but just about good enough. They will be helped enormously by the advent of autonomous cars that will drive themselves efficiently and at high speed along major arterial roads.
The government will not have matched the advances of the industry because it never, ever does. Industry-led strides in renewables will rescue it to some extent, but a certain pragmatism over nuclear power (and who owns it) will be inevitable. Older power stations burning fossil fuels will have their lives extended and their environmental impact offset to some extent by progress with carbon capture technology. We will, in short, just about manage.
Except those of us who own classic cars. We will be having a great time. Our cars are too few in number to represent a serious environmental threat so they will be left alone; what they will represent far more even than now are the days when cars looked great, sounded even better and you drove them yourself. And you’ll still be able to fill them because petrol will still be on sale everywhere.
Or, of course, none of the above. The reason I find it hard to take such long range pronouncements seriously is that the government that makes them does so safe in the knowledge it will never have to enact them. And all it takes is for Britain’s answer to Donald Trump to take up residency in Downing Street some time in the next couple of decades and the whole concept will go out of the window that day. Do I think that’s likely to happen? Not in the least which, based on my predictions of late, means it almost certainly will.
Photography by Tom Shaxson.
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