Car ownership has changed a lot in the last few decades. Technological advances such as advanced braking and airbags have made our cars safer than ever. Laws have come in requiring firstly cars to be fitted with seatbelts, then to make us buckle up. Car tax discs have disappeared, to be replaced with online taxation and a live database. And sales of hybrid cars, or those running on electricity, is booming. The pace of change doesn’t seem to be slowing. What changes can we expect to see over the next 30 years?
Growth of Electric Cars
Climate change is a growing concern, and this means that the market for electric cars will continue to grow. As technology develops, the price of electric vehicles should come down, and the batteries will provide longer driving between charges. We’re already seeing signs of this, and governments around the world are making changes in taxation to encourage more people to make the switch to electric. In the UK, there is currently no road fund licence (car tax) paid by people who have an electric or hybrid vehicle. The system for doing this is still quite awkward however in that people with electric vehicles will still receive tax reminders in the post and still have to log into the government website to tax their vehicles, even though the cost of that tax is zero. It’s probably fair to say that as the uptake of electric vehicles increases, the system will be refined. It’s also safe to assume that if thousands of drivers make the switch to electric and tax revenues decrease, the government will look for some other way of filling the black hole in their tax revenue.
In recognition of the fact that modern technology is making cars safer, there have been repeated calls to extend the period of the first test from three years to four years. It’s currently four years in Northern Ireland, so instead of reducing the interval there, wouldn’t it make more sense to put the rest of the country back to four years before the car needs its first test? This is likely to be a popular move with motorists, less so with the garage industry. At the moment, there are no firm proposals to adjust the MOT rules, but lots can change over the next decades. There are also calls to make more MOT information available online with sites such as checkmot.com. Currently, motorists can see details of previous MOT results by entering the car’s registration number into the DVSA website. The government has stated that they are keen to keep adding to the type and quantity of data available. Could we in the future be able to watch uploaded video content of the mechanic carrying out the test?
The motoring development which has gained most publicity over recent years is the self-driving car, spearheaded by Google. The technology which allows cars to park themselves is already available, and industry experts reckon that by 2040, self-driving cars will be commonplace. However, this won’t mean an end to driving tests or driving licences. The general consensus is that cars will have some sort of autopilot, which drivers can engage when they wish to do so. Radar, and sensors within the car will keep an appropriate distance from the car in front, and can be linked up with the sat nav to get you where you want to go. Could we see insurance premiums drop as human error in driving is taken out of the equation? We’ll just have to wait and see.
There’s lots of research already into how different tyres can affect both the safety and performance of your car. Work is underway to develop technology which connects your tyres into the car’s braking and steering system, with the aim of providing responsive braking in all weather conditions. There’s also the idea of taking the heat generated by the motion of the tyres on the road and using this to generate electricity. Ongoing material research many also affect the material we use to make tyres, incorporating recycled and natural materials to make tyres eco-friendly. Tyres which automatically maintain the appropriate tyre pressure could also reduce fuel consumption.
There’s been lots of press coverage about electric and hybrid vehicles, and to a lesser extent, solar-powered cars. But some car experts reckon that the future is in hydrogen fuel. Hydrogen fuel is very efficient and reduces exhaust emissions to pure water. The reason hydrogen fuel hasn’t taken off yet in a big way is purely down to cost. Currently, there isn’t much of a market for hydrogen fuel, so prices remain high. It’s a bit of a vicious circle. Prices of hydrogen remain high because not many people are using it to power their cars. But on the other hand, consumers don’t want to start using hydrogen because it’s expensive. California launched an ambitious plan to have 5 million hydrogen-powered cars on the road by 2030, and if this project is successful, similar strategies may be tried here.
Even Further in the Future
Looking even further ahead, the sky is the limit. We’ve all seen the science fiction movies with people sitting in self-driving pods watching movies or reading as they whizz along. Wouldn’t that be great? And with self-driving cars already a reality, it’s not as far away as you might think. Part of the move to autonomous vehicles could also transform the road network. Sensors inside the road’s surface could be used to send messages to the cars travelling along it, keeping a good distance between the cars and minimising accidents. Advances in battery technology will transform electric cars too – we won’t need charging points or sockets attached to the side of the house as futuristic batteries could be charged up in the same time as it takes to fill your car at the pumps today. There are lots of exciting developments on the horizon, and it’s impossible to know exactly how things will pan out over the next few decades.