The Future of Cars – Will Electric Cars Ruin the Car Modifying World?
The Future of Cars
I had a great conversation with some of my closest car friends, recently. Like most people I consort with, we are all united by our love for modified cars. In my current circle, that includes a group of friends that own a list of cares that include:
- a McLaren 650
- a 997.2 Porsche Turbo
- a Ferrari 458
- a C7 ZR1 Corvette
- various R35 GT-Rs
- a 2018 Jeep TrackHawk
and other fun cars as daily drivers.
Collectively, this group of seven people has nearly 200 years of automotive tinkering experience. Many of us have owned literally dozens of cars, from analog sports cars of the ’60s and ’70s to today’s latest supercomputer-controlled hypercars. And this is in my little Facebook chat group. Most of us track our cars on road courses. Some are championship winners. This is an educated (and opinionated group).
Invariably, our conversations often turn to speculation about what cars from what manufacturers are coming next. Will they be evolutionary or revolutionary? While opinions vary on what’s most important on any given manufacturer’s spec sheet, we all agree on one point – we are likely in the golden age of supercars that use internal combustion engines as there primary means of propulsion. We all know that the future of cars will soon mean hybrid power and shortly thereafter, electric propulsion – and we are all dreading it.
The End Has Been Predicted Before
I’m quite a bit older than most of my audience – I’m now in my 50s – so I have some unique experiences among my audience that I’d like to share.
In the 1980s, the USA had adopted and fully implemented smog controls for cars. Smog equipment had started showing up on cars in the 1970s. Things like an air pump, and EGR, a catalytic converter on other bits had been added to engines. V8 engines of the 1970s were virtually emasculated. For example – the Smokey and The Bandit Trans Am sported a 403 cubic inch V8 (in California) that made a whopping 185hp. Today, even Camrys and minivans are crushing that number. Your run of the mill Hemi Challenger Scat Pack makes 485 hp and it meets the tightest of emissions standards. Progress is good.
Back in 1984 however, the entire automotive hobby was freaking out. Computers on cars had come onto the scene. Chrysler had started using computers for engine functions in the mid-1970s and Ford followed not long after in the 1978 Lincoln with what they called the “EEC.”
During this same time, I was a Mustang guy. My buddy had just purchased a 1985 Mustang. At that time, it was the fastest car I had even been in. While the car had an early EEC, it had limited control over functions, so it wasn’t really an impediment to modifying the car.
Fast forward a few years to 1987 when the Mustang GT was updated with a far more capable (and intrusive engine computer). The EEC-IV, as it was called, was dreaded as the end of car modifying in some circles. The advent of more sophisticated ECUs threatened the livelihood of many. It was thought that modifying engines would be virtually impossible.
By the time I purchased by 1993 Mustang GT, the aftermarket had found workarounds, namely through piggy-back ECUs or “chip coding.” With a PMS controller, I was able to add a supercharger, bigger injectors, fuel pumps, a different MAF sensor, a different intake manifold and other supporting mods with little difficulty.
The Evolution of Tuning
By the late 1990s, chip tuning had evolved dramatically. All sorts of devices were being sold globally that would allow hobbyists to tune their cars electronically in support of physical modifications. If you wanted to add a big turbo and supporting fuel system mods, you can could now rely on tuning control devices to dial in your combination of parts. This worked not just on gasoline engines, but on diesel engines as well.
It seems that all the fear-mongering of the 1980s was wildly overstated.
Today, in my 2015 GT-R, I use software from a company called ECUTEK. I download a tuning map from the company, connect my cell phone with Bluetooth to my car’s OBDII port and upload the tune the car’s factory ECU.
My GT-R went from 545hp at the crank to 655hp at the wheels with some carefully chosen bolt-on parts and a tune. This same methodology is widely used in the automotive aftermarket today. So what happens when hybrids and/or fully electric cars replace gasoline engines?
Is the Future of Cars an Apocalypse?
First, combustion engines will not disappear overnight. Assuming that all manufacturers stop selling gasoline-powered cars by 2035, you can bet that collectible gasoline cars will be around for another 50-100 years. Some might be museum showpieces, others might be car-show only cars, some might be weekend cars, but they’ll still survive. Great cars live a long life. One need only look at history as a demonstration of the timelessness of truly noteworthy cars.
1960s muscle cars, for example, are still roaming the streets today. Many have been preserved or restored. Perhaps in the 2060s, you’ll see preserved Challengers, GTRs, McLarens, Lambos and other great cars from our current decade.
Unfortunately, the streets will be buzzing with little, electric people-movers disguised as cars. They’ll be (for the most part) soulless appliances tasked with but one purpose – to move your ass from one location to another. Sure, there’ll be luxury versions, sporty versions, and even off-road versions, but they’ll still lack some of the attributes we hold dear – not the least of which is the grunt of an internal combustion engine. The sounds and smells we cherish today will be gone.
However, the performance of cars will be better, range anxiety notwithstanding. Computer-controlled electric cars like the Tesla or hybrids like the Porsche 918 have demonstrated that the new technology will make performance cars perform even better. Once battery technology can reliably provide 250+ mile ranges, people will be more likely to welcome the transition.
As for the automotive aftermarket, several things will change. The SEMA show, by 2050 or so, will be much quieter during roll-in and roll-out. As for performance parts, I can only guess as to what it will look like in 30 years. Perhaps things like upgraded electric motors, suspension parts, or high-performance batteries might be the hot ticket items, but the automotive aftermarket will invariably shrink.
In fact, it already has shrunk.
In 1999, enthusiasts in the car hobby could literally change every part on their cars – bumpers, steering wheels, seats, audio systems, suspension, transmission, engines, seat belts, and so on. Today’s factory audio systems are integrated with many systems in your car. The HVAC system, your phone, your On-Star, and mobile apps are all tied into your car’s radio. Many cars today have electronically adjusted suspension. If you want to change to an aftermarket part, you lose some adjustability. Many controls are built into steering wheels in today’s car. If I want to slap on a Sparco steering wheel, I lose my cruise control, stereo controls and so on.
As we prepare to enter a new decade, it is always becoming much, much harder to go to that extent when modifying a car.
Integrated systems, emissions requirements and the rampant new laws Democrats keep putting on the books threaten the hobby at every turn. SEMA’s legal efforts have stemmed the tide of many laws dangerous to our hobby. I’m not trying to get political, but facts are facts – and Democrats are hellbent at wiping internal combustion engines off the face of the Earth. I’m all for higher efficiency in gasoline engines, but alternative power technology just can’t support the needs of an industrialist nation.
Wind technology isn’t the answer. Thomas Home-Dixon wrote, “The concept of net energy must also be applied to renewable sources of energy, such as windmills and photovoltaics. A two-megawatt windmill contains 260 tonnes of steel requiring 170 tonnes of coking coal and 300 tonnes of iron ore, all mined, transported and produced by hydrocarbons. The question is: how long must a windmill generate energy before it creates more energy than it took to build it? At a good wind site, the energy payback day could be in three years or less; in a poor location, energy payback may be never. That is, a windmill could spin until it falls apart and never generate as much energy as was invested in building it.”t takes more energy to produce a single windmill than can evert be produced by that windmill.”
Solar energy isn’t viable- yet. A study showed it would take 2,000 square miles of solar panels to power the USA’s electrical grid. Hardly practical, and certainly useless at night when the sun doesn’t shine. It would take even more to produce the energy to build 200 million electric cars and to charge them all daily.
In short, the infrastructure isn’t in place to consider alternative power for personal vehicles. In fact, it won’t be in place during my lifetime and probably not during yours. So, while we may see many, many more electric vehicles on the road in the coming years, gasoline engines will still be prevalent in passenger vehicles for at least the next 20 years/
The Fast and The Furious Will Die
I cannot imagine a continuation of our beloved Fast and Furious series using cars that sound like RC cars. Movies like “I, Robot” embraced futuristic cars in a fun way, but I have to think that muscle car movies will fade into the sunset – or at least be present only in movies that revolve around some sort of post-apocalyptic scenario.
Fortunately, Universal will milk this franchise for another two decades so long as it earns a buck. Spinoff movies, prequels, cartoons, streaming content and God knows what else will keep the interest of some fans, even while the educated, car-savvy audiences leave the franchise their rearview mirror.
As new blood comes into the franchise, new audiences will follow. At some point, there will be people watching the new movies who don’t even know there ever was a street racing element to the series. We’re rapidly approaching that point.
The Golden Age of Gasoline Powered Cars
As I’ve said repeatedly, I believe that we’re in the Golden Age of cars as we know them. Today, if you have the means, you can buy a fully smog-legal 700 to 1000hp street car. Such cars are equipped with all the modern conveniences – air conditioning, power everything and navigation – built right into the car. If we are not at the pinnacle of technology with gasoline-powered cars, then I believe that we’re very close to it.
Like many, I’m loathed to accept the changes without protest. My reasoning is that today’s crop of hybrids and electric cars are so ugly that you have to wonder why car companies don’t fire their entire design groups. I’m confident that these cars don’t need to look feminine hygiene products or Battlestar Galactica shuttlecraft, so what gives? I can only deduce that companies like Toyota just hate us or they’re just so “woke” that they’re blind to classic design cues.
Since I live in the Socialist cesspool of Commiefornia, I imagine that I’ll have to relegate my play car to weekend shows at some point. If and when I buy an electric (or hybrid vehicle), I’ll sleep better at night knowing that I have fire-breathing, gas-guzzling, smog-spraying behemoth sitting in my garage. And while the communist state legislators might someday come for my car, I shall invoke the words of wisdom once uttered by Charlton Heston – “from my cold, dead hands.”