I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the future of 4X4s in this country. With the recent announcement that no new internal combustion engine-powered vehicle will be on sale in the UK from 2040, and the continued advancements in battery technology, as well as the social and political push towards zero-emissions ‘green’ vehicles, it’s begging the question: Are we really destined to be driving around electric shavers in the next 20 or so years?
I’m in two minds to be honest. On the one hand, the idea of a fourby with an electric motor on each wheel opens up a whole host of possibilities for the off-road driver. Skid steer, each wheel independently ‘locked’, full torque available from the moment you push the go pedal. Talk about manoeuvrability and maximising traction; sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
But then there’s the other side of the coin. Apparently they’ve developed electric motors that have 500km of range. Sure, that may be fine on flat, smooth blacktop but it doesn’t inspire me with the confidence needed to tackle the Canning behind the wheel of something with the aerodynamics of Daniel Craig’s face… at least not yet anyway.
Then there are the environmental impacts from lithium mining (which is often conveniently ignored by proponents of electric vehicles), the fact that I can’t see them installing recharge stations halfway up the PDR any time soon, and the inescapable detail that electrics, water and mud have never got on well (and probably never will). Four-wheel driving sorta involves both of those things in large amounts, which presents potential problems for the electric revolution. I’m sure the engineers could encase the motors, but then there becomes a problem with heat build-up (another electrical killer).
So is the 4X4 world really ready to make the transition to these so-called green engines?
No is the short answer. BUT (and it’s a big one), 20 years is a long time in the technological evolution game. The first common-rail diesel engines made their way onto the market two decades ago. These days, all diesels feature some sort of CR injection, and make more power and get better economy than they ever have. Who knows how far electrical vehicles will have come when we’re looking back in 2040?
The technology is not there yet, and there are some pretty big hurdles to overcome if we’re to ever see electric power as a viable alternative to the internal combustion engine (which I’m still more than a little fond of); but think back 30 or so years. When fuel injection first came along many of us swore we’d never ditch our carbies and mechanical diesel pumps for this new-fangled electrickery; but not too many people argue these days that computer-controlled fuel delivery is not superior in just about every way. Maybe in 20 years people who are hanging onto their fuel guzzlers and refusing to swap over to the 100% torque right off the line, zero emission engines will be seen as the anachronistic old codgers clinging desperately to what they mistakenly perceive to be ‘better’.
However I’m still not ready to get behind it just yet. Until they make an electric motor sound as good as a turbocharged V8 diesel with a big pipe under load, I’ll be sticking with what I know… but watching from the sidelines with increased interest.