There’s an image that has always stayed with me. It’s animated footage, created for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City, where they show cars whizzing around high-rise buildings on elevated expressways, with airplanes that look like streamlined Airstream campers with wings attached, whizzing by.
The only problem is that the airplanes don’t have jet engines attached to their wings, they have propellers. And they look totally out of place.
It seems that, despite the fact that we now know that research was going on at the time, the animators had no knowledge of jet engine technology, much less how ubiquitous it would become. They drew only from what they knew.
Looking at the future of automobile technology from today’s vantage point, we may be in a similar position… if we’re to take a piece that ran this week in The Wall Street Journal to heart.
Under the headline “Technology that Breaks the Car Industry Mold,” the author begins with carbon fiber as a weight loss remedy. Nothing really new there.
But then the author dives into the arcane world of ultracapacitors. Now, I admit, I’m not an electronics engineer. But this much I can follow. Ultracapacitors absorb large amounts of energy, quickly, and discharge just as fast. They’re impervious to temperature changes. Made of abundant elements. And, when paired with batteries, can cut the size of battery arrays in electric cars in half. Then there’s a process to make gasoline from biomass. You read that right.
Gasoline. Not some alternative fuel concoction of dubious octane rating, but the same molecular structure as what is made into petroleum. And here’s the best part; the best source is actually wood chips or sawdust.
This is real. Today. Yes, it’s expensive. But so were flat-panel TVs, five years ago.
Here’s another. A start-up called the Scuderi Group has come up with an internal combustion engine design that can improve fuel economy by 50%. They have a running 1-liter, two-cylinder test engine that equals the power output of Honda’s 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine, using about half the fuel. And, no surprise, Honda, Daimler AG and other “unnamed car companies” are said to be interested.
Will the engine make it to market? Will any of these technologies?
For the answer, we’ll probably have to set our time machines 70 years hence, and then take a long look back. Because we just can’t predict the future, can we.
*Editor's Note: This story was written by Dick Badler…one of the newest members of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press. When not driving or writing about Porsches, Badler contributes to TFLcar.com.