As climate change and the urgent need to reduce pollution shakes up the car industry, the vehicles we buy and our motoring habits are set to undergo the biggest transformation since the motor car was invented.
Changes to our new cars will be more far reaching than the new bumpers, incremental fuel economy gains, and bigger infotainment systems that we’ve become accustomed to. The way we fuel our cars, interact with them and even own them all have the potential to shift. Here we explore five ways technology could change our daily routine between now and 2035.
Time to recharge
As more of us shift to buying, leasing or being given a battery electric vehicle (BEVs) as a company car, we’ll need to forge new habits. Ones that don’t depend on unplanned pit stops to the local forecourt, quickly splashing £20 of petrol or diesel into the tank to get where we need to be. If you’ve got a driveway, count yourself lucky, because the ability to charge overnight should almost entirely negate the need to visit the local garage at all – unless you’ve run out of milk. For those living in an apartment or with roadside parking, more careful planning will be required until charging becomes a part of the street furniture.
This isn’t necessarily bad news. As cars with 150kW DC charging and above become more commonplace, an 80 per cent top-up on a long motorway drive should encourage motorists to take a welcome coffee stop. If you drive to work, there should also be an emphasis on employers providing staff with charging facilities, not only boosting their image as a responsible workplace, but providing a perk that could help them win employees.
Filling stations will need to adapt
The term ‘petrol station’ will become increasingly irrelevant over the next 20 years, although there’ll still be lots of legacy petrol, diesel and hybrid cars that will need fuel. Instead, forecourts will need to broaden their focus, which could be a challenge for those with limited space. The number of pumps will begin to decrease, of course, replaced instead with ultra-fast DC chargers. BP and Shell are already becoming big players in the charging infrastructure, with their brands BP Pulse and Shell Recharge.
While battery top-ups will become much faster, they won’t match the speed of adding a few litres of liquid fuel for some time yet. As a result, forecourts will face pressure to become nicer places to spend a short break, providing the range of convenience items, coffee and food seen at bigger locations already. Gridserve plans 100 electric forecourts across the country and opened the first of its ilk in Braintree in Essex. Not only does it offer charging facilities, there’s a WHSmith, Costa Coffee, Post Office and Booths supermarket, and the environment is more akin to an airport departure lounge than motorway services.
Power cuts will be less of a drag
One side effect of climate change is unpredictable weather, resulting in more extreme conditions than encountered in the past. As evidenced recently by the freezing conditions that hit Texas in the USA, freak weather events often cause serious power outages. But what if your vehicle also happened to have a large battery pack, parked conveniently next to your house? Numerous brands are already advertising the ability to take back power from their EV models when it’s needed, whether it be to power tools on a building site or keep a home or community centre running when there’s no power from the grid.
In extreme conditions, this ability could be a lifesaver. Just imagine the difference if heating could be turned on in a deep freeze, or air conditioning during a deadly heat wave. Even more directly, a backup source of electricity could keep medical equipment and communication lines open for those who desperately need it. As 2035 nears, Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) technology could also be helping to prevent black outs occurring in the first place. As the number of Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) in the UK with V2G capabilities increases, the national grid will be able to use their collective energy storage as a buffer, reducing the risk of power cuts. Most owners won’t even notice their car is being used in this way, as it will still be charged up in the morning.
More free time
While most of us would likely identify as driving enthusiasts, there’s no denying that during normal pre-pandemic times, countless hours are spent behind the wheel each year. Even ardent driving fans may prefer to use their time on the motorway doing other tasks, and both manufacturers and technology firms see the in-car use of online services, entertainment and shopping as huge growth areas.
As autonomous driving technology gradually increases to Level 4, carrying out other tasks is likely to become a reality, so long as legislation allows it. Level 4 will usher in full self-driving, but only in certain areas where the resolution of mapping and data is sufficient for the car to drive itself accurately and safely. These areas will be geofenced, so the mode can only be activated within them. With hands off the steering wheel, the driver will be able to work, order the weekly shop or watch Netflix. If Level 5 self-driving cars arrive by 2035, they could, according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, even earn their owners a living. Typically, we only use our cars around 5 to 10 per cent of the time – outside these hours, it could act as a robo taxi or make deliveries.
You probably won’t test drive the car you’re buying
It’s true some manufacturers were already dabbling in online car sales, and start-up brands like Tesla only have a handful of bricks-and-mortar dealerships. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of online selling by mainstream brands by as much as a decade in the last year. And while social distancing hopefully won’t last forever, online car buying is now here to stay. Advantages include less hassle for buyers, who often already know exactly which vehicle they want. For them, online purchasing has become the norm, and the time required to visit a dealership, haggle in person, and thrash out a finance deal seems old-fashioned. It’s a trend only likely to increase as manufacturers need to entice more millennials into their cars.
Of course, there are some disadvantages too. Those of us who care about how a car feels may find the idea of buying an expensive model without sitting in it or driving it off-putting – a virtual test drive is unlikely to cut the mustard here. As electric vehicles become prevalent, the nuances between engines and power delivery are likely to become less of a deciding factor, but reviews like those you’ll read in these pages could become even more critical in making an informed purchasing decision in the future.