BBC News recently featured an article proposing the idea that you might have already bought your last car, thanks to the inevitable rise of self-driving cars and ridesharing networks. And while it makes many cogent points as to why the personal purchase of an internal combustion engine is on its way out, it also fails to take into account how rarely the people of the world, especially Americans, are willing to give up technology that they love.
It almost seems silly to refer to gas-powered engines as technology, since we now associate the term with computer chips, rockets worthy of space travel, or ultra-responsive touch screens. And even though the root technology of those engines is more than 100 years old, they have advanced in their own way, using more eco-friendly transmissions and becoming more efficient. Lighter building materials, mostly plastic, have made cars lighter, giving them better horsepower and gas mileage.
And yes, Tesla has shown us the potential of electric vehicles, or at least the potential of extremely expensive electric vehicles. But perhaps the greatest obstacle to making the transition is the affection we have for our cars, and a lot of resulting stubbornness. The internal combustion engine has become a mainstay of Americana, especially when it comes to overpowered, heavily modded engines. Even people who don’t personally spend their time tweaking cars still maintain that love for seeing some beautiful machine on the highway.
Additionally, when we do make the switch to electric vehicles, self-driving or not, we’re not all guaranteed Teslas. Given the state of the company, we may have already seen the last of them. Consumer-grade electric cars are fine, they’re not thrilling. They function, they feel like golf carts, and they have their own set of recurring problems.
In this reporter’s opinion, the combustion engine will die, but it will take much longer than the data minds think, simply because they haven’t accounted for how slowly it can take people to stop loving something, to love something new.