Fuels of the future: electrification
In the modern world, technology develops at an exponential rate and that sentiment is no less evident in the automotive industry. Manufacturers continue to wage a seemingly endless war, perennially vying for an upper hand in the market whilst searching for that next big breakthrough in renewable and sustainable technologies.
With the emergence and apparent stranglehold on the industry that the Elon Musk/Tesla combination currently possesses, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we’ve crossed the proverbial Rubicon, and electrification is the direction that this ship is being irrevocably steered.
That might not be the case, though. The ICE (internal combustion engine) may not go completely extinct and be lost to the ages, rather they might adapt to a hypothetical gasoline substitute in the form of a new-found synthetic fuel. Introduce other alternatives such as hydrogen into the mix, and it becomes clear there are ICE successors coming out of the woodwork, all of which are worthy candidates but all have pitfalls to consider as well.
The automotive landscape is an erratic place and by its very nature is impossible to predict, so we can't say for sure what the market will look like in the coming decades. That being said, in this 'Fuels of the future' series, we’ve looked at the latest trends amongst manufacturers and organisations to determine the industry's current trajectory, and what the future could hold for the enthusiast, collector and investor.
We begin our investigation with electrification and hybridisation. It’s no secret that batteries have been infiltrating the automotive industry since the turn of the century and that has become all the more discernible in recent years with Tesla becoming the most valued manufacturer on the stock market in 2020.
It is also the current focus for much of the world’s motorsport series, with the likes of Formula 1 and the World Endurance Championship running sophisticated hybrid systems since the early 2010s. Not only that but the emergence of electric-only series such as Formula E, Extreme E and the switch to fully electric cars for the World Rallycross Championship shows that motorsport – the ultimate testbed for road-going machinery – is confidently leaning into this market trend.
Historically, the likes of the supercar and hypercar elite have been reluctant to invest in electrification programmes, but the tide is beginning to turn in that respect too. Staunch advocates of the ICE have been pulled kicking and screaming into the hybrid world of late.
The most notable example being the prancing horse. Following the resounding success of Ferrari’s foray into electrification – the SF90 – and the appointment of their new CEO, Benedetto Vigna in 2021, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the world-renowned Italian marque is targeting a shift from its uncompromising roaring V12 ethos of old.
Similarly, the likes of Bugatti now appear to be making the transition following the high-profile Rimac / Porsche buyout, with CEO, Maté Rimac confirming on Nico Rosberg’s YouTube channel that the Chiron successor will house a “very interesting combustion engine, and strongly electrified.” Meanwhile, Pagani has vowed a switch to electric, but only when the demand and technology is more readily available.
As is well documented, the vast majority of the world’s manufacturers have been aboard the electric hype train for some time now. However, the principal stumbling blocks for public adoption of electric vehicles remain infrastructure, charge times, a lack of range and the elusive materials required in battery construction. These sticking points lead many to believe electrification is merely a plaster and not the long-term cure for Earth's nocuous CO2 habit.