So why is this a big deal now?
Alternative power is nothing new for the car industry – electric and hybrid power is now mainstream – but two key announcements have signalled a major step towards a different future for the automotive industry.
It probably came as a bit of a surprise to many people when the French government announced its goal to ban sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040.
That’s only 23 years away and, while it’s bound to attract some criticism from manufacturers and drivers, France’s big manufacturer, PSA, which makes Citroen and Peugeot cars, said it fitted with its plans to offer hybrid or electric versions of 80 per cent of its cars by 2023.
France is unusually dependant on diesel fuel, which is blamed for choking Paris in particular. The capitals mayor wants to ban diesel cars by 2020.
He’s not the only one – London’s mayor Sadiq Khan has suggested that the same thing could happen in England.
France’s landmark announcement came in the same week as Volvo becoming the first major carmaker to announce that every model it launches from 2019 will have an electric motor.
It’s a historic landmark – the end of cars that only have internal combustion power. Volvo says that the announcement represents one of the most significant moves by any car maker to embrace electrification “and highlights how, over a century after the invention of the internal combustion engine, electrification is paving the way for a new chapter in automotive history”.
Similar announcements by other manufacturers are surely not far off.
What does it all mean?
These announcements are some of the most significant in regard to the future of cars for some time. Although technology continues to evolve, most of us still rely on traditional petrol or diesel power.
The reason is simple – although many people are attracted to electric cars or hybrids, the purchase cost is often over and above that of internal combustion and the maths don’t make sense.
But that’s changing – electric and hybrid cars are increasingly in line cost-wise with their petrol or diesel counterparts – take the Renault Zoe and Nissan Leaf as good examples.
How will I power my car in the future?
Electric cars have come a long way since the early efforts like the G-Wiz. Nowadays, most mainstream manufacturers offer an electric option.
Take the Renault Zoe, Nissan Leaf and Hyundai Ioniq as good examples.
These cars are making electric power affordable, with purchase costs now coming closer and closer in line with petrol cars. The problem is range, but there are signs that issue is being pretty quickly addressed.
A few years ago you’d be lucky to get 100 real-world miles out of an electric car.
But technology is advancing quickly. A Tesla Model S, for example, might set you back £60,000+ at the moment, but its range is 300-400 miles. And that’s in line with petrols and diesels.
This sort of range will inevitably filter down to more modest electric cars over the next few years, while purchase costs will also continue to fall.
It’s not overstating things to imagine that in five years electric cars will offer few disadvantages over those powered by internal combustion.
For those who continue to worry about range, however, there are hybrids. And they are the most likely to benefit from announcements like we’ve seen from France.
Because they combine electric with petrol power there are no range problems and they will get around such new legislation. Toyota’s Prius was the trend-setter and now most of Toyota and Lexus’ range offer hybrid options.
And then there are fuel cells. The infrastructure is way off, but this is one to get excited about. Again it’s Toyota leading the way here.
Sure, the Mirai currently costs £60,000 to buy, but you fuel it like a traditional car – just with hydrogen rather than petrol or diesel – and it emits nothing but water.
And even the world’s top hypercars are now hybrids – such as the McLaren P1 and Porsche 918. It just proves that a change of power doesn’t have to mean cars will be any less exciting.
Will classics become even more important?
Quite possibly, yes. It’s not likely to be something that kicks in for quite some years, sure, but in the next couple of decades or so it’s perfectly conceivable that petrol and diesel-powered cars will become sought-after classics.
So if you’ve already got what is currently considered a classic car then look after it. The chances are its value will keep going up.