Is this the end of the Internal Combustion Engine?

28 September 2017 Dashboard Insights Blog
Author(s): Jeffrey A. Soble

Recently, my 16-year-old son jumped into my car to drive it. It was his first time driving my car. My car does not have keyless ignition. He hopped in the driver’s seat, threw the keys into the cup holder and asked “where is the button”? He quite literally had no idea that some cars require the driver to insert the key in the ignition and turn the key. In fact, the more that I thought about it, I am pretty sure that in his 16 years of life, he had never inserted a key in a lock and unlocked it. Everything is a button, a touch pad, an app. Now, I wonder, will his children ever drive a vehicle with an internal combustion engine. California is talking about making it more and more unlikely.

China is already planning to do the same as California. Those two markets alone could reset the entire automotive industry. As reported by Automotive News, more than 2 million new passenger vehicles were registered in California last year. That is more than France, Italy, or Spain. When we talk markets, think of California more like a country than just one of 50 states. A country with an Environmental Protection Agency waiver giving California the authority to write its own pollution rules. What if all 2 million were fully electric (or fuel cell, or etc.)? And that 2 million is just a start. France, India, the Netherlands, and Norway have either legislated similar bans on fossil-fuel-powered cars, or are seriously considering such bans. At what point is the market for internal combustion engines smaller than the market for alternative fuel engines?

These bans, considered bans and other steps are all from within the past six or 12 months. The momentum is gaining, not declining. As we noted a few months ago, even if the United States withdraws from the Paris Agreement, the Automotive Industry still has to compete in the rest of the world. It does not do a vehicle manufacturer any good to make vehicles under lower emissions standards – if they cannot even sell an internal combustion engine in California, China, etc.

Now, surely, some people will say that this will not happen. That there will always be some market, even a large market for the internal combustion engine. They may very well be correct. Of course, even recent history is littered with technological advancements that seemed built to last, but lasted far less time than the internal combustion engine. Items such as the CD, floppy disc, DVD (let alone VHS, etc.), iPod (introduced in 2001, ubiquitous soon thereafter, now obsolete), and on and on. There will always be holdouts, but, they may find themselves, eventually (a couple decades from now), to be the minority, the niche, the collectors.

Whether it be 2030, or 2040, or 2050, the odds that my grandchild will have the joy of sitting behind the steering wheel for the first time, having the car in park, and hearing the lovely sound of an internal combustion engine revving before they drive for the first time may be waning. That grandchild definitely will not have any idea what a “key” is, or is for, in that vehicle!

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