How To Be a Motoring Enthusiast in the 21st Century – Part 1

Maintaining the faith in a changing world.

Ah, romance… Image: honestjohn

The past several years (broadly coinciding with the discovery and eventual contribution to Driven to Write) have been a period of rediscovering my enthusiasm for cars; their history, engineering, aesthetics and the experience of driving them. More recently, however, I have found myself troubled with doubts as to the potential future of such enthusiasm and increasingly, by questions regarding the moral status of our collective hobby.

If the above sounds a little melodramatic, consider the following: Whilst there are questions to which no definitive answer is possible – the value of which lying more in the discussions they prompt, rather than in finding one true solution – such as what constitutes the good life, free will versus determinism and why my smartphone came with two entirely separate SMS apps installed by default, questions relating to the environmental impact of the internal combustion engine are, to most rational persons, not amongst these.

Given the scientific consensus around the contribution of fossil fuels to climate change, it is clear that we must make haste with radical reduction of their use and although cars are only one part of this issue, they are no exception to it. In any case, it is perfectly clear which way the market is going (partly, but not entirely, due to legislative pressure) and that electric cars are the future. So where does that leave those of us for whom the sound of a large petrol engine with an unnecessary number of cylinders forms an actively pleasant part of forward motion? Is this a guilty pleasure about which we must now feel guilty? That doesn’t sound much like fun.

As regular readers of this site may already know, I am now on my third V6-powered product of the once proud MG Rover group and so, with the recent Glasgow conference in mind, this is no mere rhetorical point for me. Reading the news reports of that meeting and reacquainting myself with the dire predictions of the scientists genuinely had me wondering if I hadn’t made a bad decision in purchasing an immaculate old MG sports saloon instead of something less polluting (no car at all is not an option where I now live). Certainly, if the categorical ethical imperative is to behave in such a way that our actions can be universalised into moral law, my classic British motoring adventures would seem to be on shaky ground (it also explains why Immanuel Kant didn’t get invited to parties very often, but I digress). 

So what is a motoring enthusiast to do, in this new 21st century reality? Do we give up and scrap our beloved-but-polluting carriages, replacing them with the app-connected appliances on wheels peddled by the Teslas of this world (and increasingly the old guard of car manufacturers too)? Does being a motoring enthusiast then have any future, or is it simply to become the oxymoron it would in that context seem to be?

Firstly, we should not forget that there are already two schools of car enthusiasm: Classic and modern. For many of us (certainly among regular visitors to DTW) there has been relatively little to get enthusiastic about in the modern part of our world in recent years and our sights have tended to be set more upon classic (in a broad sense) cars and companies. 

To all intents and purposes, given the commercial, legislative and environmental reality of our time, ICE cars will, within a fairly short period, either cease to exist or become part of that classic motoring world. The cars of the electric era are, I believe, fundamentally different products and cannot possess certain elements of the appeal of a ‘real’ (in the sense of being powered by an internal combustion engine) motor car.

That does not mean we should abhor them or that enthusiasm about them is impossible but the type of enthusiasm will be different; more akin to enthusiasm for modern gadgets and rooted in appreciation for ingenious technology in and of itself, rather than human interaction with an engineering product. The satisfaction inherent in synchronising the revolutions of an engine with a gear chosen by hand, or in hearing that engine do its work, will in the future be confined to the classic part of our world. 

Is such a pivot towards classic car enthusiasm such a bad thing? Perhaps not. When I bought my MG (a car made by a manufacturer that ceased to exist over 16 years ago), a friend described it as ‘rolling heritage’ and as a somewhat historically significant and interesting car, this strikes me as appropriate. It is also, however, my main form of long distance transport and its usage is inherently polluting: Can this be defensible? 

When purchasing the car, one of my arguments with myself concerned the relative environmental impact of maintaining and using such a car beyond a standard economic lifespan compared to the impact of producing a new electric vehicle (leaving aside for a moment the purely financial cost to me as an individual). Such sums are complex and are progressively tilting in favour of the production of electric vehicles; in the long run, as discussed above, there is no argument.

However, the continued use of objects does discount the initial environmental costs of their construction by spreading them over a longer period of time. In the case of an ICE car, this offsets to some extent the environmental damage caused by their emissions. When a car is only used once or twice a week, as mine is, and assuming one makes an effort to mix that use with alternatives such as walking, biking and (where possible) public transport, the degree of offset increases, even though it will never be complete.

A romantic future? Image: .tflcar

Though their days as everyday transport in a literal sense are undoubtedly numbered, I believe that a reasonable case can be made for the continued maintenance and infrequent use of ICE cars as classics, or hobby cars, in the future. If this strikes you as insufficient comfort, do not forget that we are at the very beginning of the new electric era.

We will lose some of the manual interaction and sensory enjoyment of the cars we currently own but just imagine that, in a few years, someone designs a vehicle as radically elegant as the first Jaguar XJ, making full use of the new packaging possibilities brought by electric drivetrains and abandoning the antiquated design vocabulary of angry-looking grilles that continue to despoil the car industry’s current output. Now think that such a vehicle could have a level of refinement that would make said Jaguar seem positively uncouth. Isn’t that something to look forward to?

Author: Chris Elvin

Appreciator of dead and dying marques. Drowns his sorrows with good wine.

63 thoughts on “How To Be a Motoring Enthusiast in the 21st Century – Part 1”

  1. Good morning, Chris. I haven’t driven my straight six steed (as far as I’m concerned the correct number of cylinders) in about a month now. I’ll fire it up this week and go for a spin, get the engine oil warmed up and make sure the battery is charged.

    I’m probably the only Dutch person who doesn’t own a bicycle, as our country literally has more bikes than people. I walk every day which is by far the easiest option for me as everything I need on a day to day basis is in close proximity. Whenever I need to travel to one of the four largest city in the Netherlands I usually take the train. Parking is so expensive that the train usually is a better option.

    I like that Honda Sports EV Concept (is that really how it’s called?) and I can actually see myself driving one of these. Let’s hope it makes it into production and let’s hope it will get way better charging time and range and less gimmicks as the Honda E. And while I’m at it I want Kvadrat wool upholstery too.

    The bigger question is do I really need a car? My car is just a hobby thing right now, more ore less in the same way as my mum’s neighbor owns horses. I think I’ll keep my car for a bit longer.

  2. Thanks Chris for your comprehensive thinking,
    and for tackling the moral dimension too.
    As someone who has been happily addicted to the
    sounds of the infernal combustion engine for the
    last 70 years (4 cylinders is enough for me, Freerk,
    but having stood on the edge of a race track inhabited
    by a Maserati 250F, I quite understand), I’ve recently
    come to the realization that I could do without those
    noises if the electric vehicle provided delights of design
    and ambience and liveliness. I don’t see evidence of that
    yet, but it must be possible.
    Chris, in the case of your lovely MG, the troubling
    question is: how much longer will you be allowed to
    drive it on public roads?

    1. There are plenty of good four cylinders around and I wouldn’t mind owning one myself. In fact I owned four cylinders for 13 years. My preference for the straight six is based on the fact that it has regular firing interval, overlapping power strokes, perfect primary and secondary reciprocating-plane balance and perfect primary and secondary rotating-plane balance.

      Also it’s a bit of a family thing. I’m named after my grandfather (my mum’s father). He was into cars as well and always preferred sixes, same as my dad, so one way or another it’s probably in my DNA somewhere 😉

  3. A great post, very thought provoking in some parts and of a similar vein to my own in others.

    More than ever, I am struggling to like many new cars as they are launched. It’s not so much that they tend to be battery electric, or hybrid, and so lacking the romance of a decently engineered ICE unit, it’s more the way they look in terms of styling and design by way of the move to the SUV/ crossover format. On the inside, I groan every time I see a raised, central infotainment screen and no physical HIVAC controls. I may be looking in the wrong places, but there is so little innovation, or at least different thinking in car design at the moment.

    As the morality of driving my own piece of automotive history, I feel I am on increasingly dodgy ground. My own large, V6 saloon feeds on diesel, and is only Euro IV compliant. It’s already excluded from a few large cities in the UK without paying a fine (London, Birmingham, for example) Furthermore, despite having a DPF (which seems to fill-up regularly), under harder acceleration it will emit an extended puff of grey smoke. I have been assured that the engine is in good health, it’s just that Euro IV de-smogging technology was not as efficient as that of, say, Euro VI, from which my other diesel benefits and is very effective. I now find myself watching the rear view mirror somewhat as I accelerate away from junctions/ roundabouts, etc. to check whether my car is causing offence in this way. I can see a time soon when it will become socially unacceptable (if we aren’t there already).

    1. SV, I share your feelings about infotainment screens.

      There’s currently a car news programme on ITV4 on Sundays in the UK called Auto Mundial. One of the things that they look out for is the quality, features, and connectivity of the infotainment screen.

      They rarely mention things like how much is the road tax, or what is the fuel consumption. It seems like they rate one car better than a rival simply because its infotainment screen is a centimetre or two larger.

      Only occasionally do they mention how some manufacturers have retained some physical buttons for important functions.

      Yes, I know it’s progress but do I really want to be tempted to search for the latest Adele song, or turn up the heating on my house central heating while I’m rapidly bearing down on the car in front in the pouring rain.

  4. Good morning Chris and thanks for a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece. Like Freerk, my ‘hobby’ car, in which I do around 2k miles a year, is safely tucked away on trickle charge for the winter. Even our ‘everyday’ car is used, on average, once or twice a week, as the car is consciously the last resort for us, when other means of transport are unsuitable. Of course, I realise that many others enjoy no such luxury or freedom of choice, thanks to our poor public transport infrastructure, especially in rural areas.

    Could my partner and I do without cars at all? Yes, is the short answer, but we still enjoy driving for pleasure and feel we can justify this (in small quantities) by limiting our use as described above.

  5. The most critical action in averting climate catastrophe is to stop burning fossil fuels. It really is as simple as that.

    Europe in particular is rushing headlong into the EV future, but the production of any EV involves significant use of fossil fuel. There is no doubt that an EV offers compelling advantages over an ICE vehicle in terms of efficiency, but rampant consumerism will not save us here.

    Happily, internal combustion engines do not need fossil fuels. They can be run on bio fuels (although this requires arable crops, and we need those for food), synthetic fuels, even hydrogen. Outside Europe, more progress is being made in bringing these alternatives into the market.

    I think the ICE might have a future yet.

  6. Thank you all for the kind and thoughtful commentary so far. This is exactly the sort of discussion I hoped this article might provoke.

    It’s fascinating to see that for several of us, like Freerk and Daniel, car ownership is already quite far along the road from necessary transport to hobby status and part 2 will explore that theme further. As S.V. Robinson notes, some of our vehicles are already restricted by new rules and legislation and, in that light, I do worry about the question posed by Lorender Freeman; at least some restrictions on the use of our ICE vehicles seem inevitable and (for example) being unable to enter the Amsterdam city environmental zones would be a big problem for me personally.

    Jacomo offers an interesting counterpoint regarding the use of bio-fuels, about which I know too little. I do recall reading that their production is inefficient in terms of the large amount of land and resources required to produce usable amounts but do not know if this is something that can be significantly improved upon?

    In the meantime, I am still reeling from the thought that Freerk doesn’t own a bicycle…

    1. Biofuels, yes.

      They have been popular in Brazil for a long time, but we are past the point where we can justify using acres of sugar cane to make car fuel. The Amazon is more important.

      Synthetic fuels (confusingly also referred to as sustainable fuels or e-fuels) offer much more promise. They can be made from almost anything – rotting waste food, for example. The potential is very exciting – imagine converting the scraps from last night’s dinner into a tank of fuel for your car?

      At the moment the costs are indeed high… but then, 10 years ago the sceptics were assuring us that wind power would never be able to compete with gas power stations on a cost basis.

      As green economists would say, the problem with capitalism is that the price of everything is wrong. If exploiting new sources of fossil fuel was priced to reflect the true cost (ie, prohibitively) then these giant energy companies would be highly incentivised to invest in alternatives.

      Car companies are not saints, but I often think they are far from the worst culprits either. EVs are really impressive, held back by the pace of battery development. ICE engines need not rely on fossil fuel.

    2. Chris, I’ve owned bicycles for the majority of my life. My dad taught me how to ride a bicycle. We didn’t have training wheels, either they weren’t invented yet or my parents didn’t see the need, which is far more likely. I used to cycle to secondary school: 17 kilometers to school and 17 kilometers back home.

      At some point in my adult life my bicycle got stolen, probably 15 years ago or there about. I realized that my city center is so compact that owning a bicycle doesn’t really bring much of a benefit. Within a five minutes walk I can go to supermarkets, the cinema, theater, library, restaurants, cafeterias and several other shops. Within ten minutes I’m at an intercity railway station.

      These days I work from home, but the office is also within walking distance. Most likely I’ll change jobs next year and I’m unsure how to get from home to work. There might be a need for a bicycle in the future.

  7. Thanks a lot Chris, for this masterful meditation on a dreary Monday morning.
    As an inner city dweller, i do most km’s by bike (unlike Freerk 😉 already for the past 20-odd years. Our municipality is firmly on a green trail, pushing the car out of the city. Is that a bad thing? Demonstrably not, as making the inner core of our city virtually free from cars has done the city and even the shopping climate a lot of good. And it’s tangibly cleaner too!
    So despite being the proud owner of an ID21 Familiale (burning 1l of LPG every km, not sure how that translates into CO2…) i feel increasingly compelled to either sell or electrify it before our son might take it over… Also strongly looking into options to share cars with our neighbours, so as to at least halve the number of cars in our street. It should be possible, but indeed the big question remains: how to deal mentally and morally with this ever-more guilty pleasure? Again, thanks Chris, and the others for this theme, which should be absolutely central for anyone with this strange condition of ours…

    1. The option of electrifying classics is an interesting one (and is also something of a prelude to part 2 of this piece). I am personally hesitant about the idea, since the engine forms an integral part of the character of so many interesting and historically significant cars (that electrified classic 911s that now exist perplexes me – what is that car without its flat-six drumroll?) but a Citroën DS or ID is an intriguing candidate, as its specialness doesn’t seem to depend on the source of motive power. I’ve no idea how the hydraulics would then work, however.

    2. Thanks Chris, and yes, that’s exactly the point where the DS/ID would be such a good candidate: the engine intrudes into the cabin and is certainly not the most pleasant-sounding ICE ever built (contrary to indeed an old 911, though i’ve once spotted an absolutely gorgeous 912-e in our neighbourhood!).
      Conversion of a DS is not that difficult, theoretically: the engine bay is huge and could easily harbour an electric motor as well as a good part of the required battery pack. In terms of weight distribution over the axles this would also work fine, as some 70% is actually weighing on the front axis already in the original configuration. And the self-leveling hydraulics do the rest. Speaking of that, the hydraulics compressor can be driven by a dedicated electronic motor. The only real issue is that the car would be like a stranded whale once the battery runs flat: not only in terms of propulsion but also it would sink on its wheels quite rapidly.
      There are some conversion companies that do this trick (contemplating…)

  8. Good afternoon Chris and thank you for posting such an interesting and thought provoking article. I live 5 miles inside the M25 and about the same distance from the recently introduced ULEZ zone, which circles the centre of London. I currently drive a Euro 6 compliant Mercedes 250CGI C class saloon.
    The days of driving into town, which I used to do when I had a company car, are long gone as I can travel for free on the train/bus and underground, being of a certain age. The 30k miles are year I drove then are also a distant memory too.
    I have considered changing to an EV but the costs are prohibitive based upon my current mileage of around 4,000 miles per annum. There is also the issue of “range anxiety” when we travel to family who live some 250 miles distant. I have seen EV’s sitting waiting at motorway service stations to charge up and don’t feel the need to join them.
    I would consider a hydrogen powered car but unfortunately, due to lack of investment, that option seems a long way off. I have also thought about hiring a vehicle as and when we need one and I may explore that option further.
    What a conundrum we ICE drivers face.

  9. An excellent, thought-provoking piece (thank you Chris) and refreshingly civilised reactions, exposing the complexities of the issues. One idea which sets the alarm bells ring is that of electrifying ‘classics’; to do so safely entails completely re-engineering the braking and suspension systems to cope with the stresses to which the vastly increased performance will subject them.
    I think it is clear that the ICE will not disappear completely since the infrastructure needed to go completely electric can never be created. There will always be areas of human habitation where the provision of charging facilities cannot feasibly be provided – including parts of the UK. The development of fossil fuel alternatives is an obvious necessity for funding; keep using that MG, ID21, as I will my Jowett.

  10. I am old enough to have a free pass for a public transport system which takes bicycles free on both bus and train. This allows cycling deep into the dark cold winter and as a result I do 12,000 km on the bike annually compared to less than a third that by car.
    The difficulty now is that my fleet is used only when out with non-cycling partner and family and maintained by heart rather than head:
    Citroen C6 and Renault Avantime for holidays and touring- which one will depend on whether the anticipated weather and scenery will benefit from the high vantage point and sunroof of the latter.
    Saab 90 purely for the fun of driving a car with manual everything.
    My sensible car shared with my partner is a Skoda Roomster.
    Rationally, I only need the last, yet I want to preserve the others as they increasingly become museum pieces whose like we will never see again. So they sit on trickle chargers and emerge on high days and holidays on limited mileage insurance policies.
    What will become of them? Absolutely no idea (first concern- the Avantime 2.0 engine is allegedly not E10 compatible- there will be others).

    1. Convert the C6 and Avantine to electric, ideal candidates!

  11. As for computers vs. analog, if you have played a racing sim (or any other sim that respects newtonian physics), you will know that the end of passion and entertainment for dynamic vehicles can not just be simulated but created out of mere ones and zeroes.

    As for the sound of IC engines, I don’t particularly care for Harley Davidsons, nor diesels, and I won’t miss them, so it’s a wash for me.

  12. I would remind any EV evangelists out there that in 2008 the future was diesel. How quickly things change ! Many folk think now that the future is battery-electric, but I wouldn’t bet on it. As cheaper ways of making hydrogen are developed, fuel cell or ICE cars will become cleaner that batteries. Perhaps within my lifetime the LPG tank in the garden that runs my C/H boiler will be replaced by a hydrogen tank.
    I feel no guilt about using my (diesel) car – it does 50+ mpg, compared to the 25mpg of my side valve Ford in 1965.
    As for the dubious practice of electrifying classics, a Ferrari without a Ferrari engine ceases to be a Ferrari. The extra strengthening required to support the weight of batteries is permanent – once electrified, a classic can’t realistically be returned to standard.

    1. Mervyn, don’t forget that battery technology will also improve.

      EVs have many compelling benefits (aside from no tail pipe emissions): space efficiency, safety, reliability, noise and refinement… notwithstanding my belief (and hope) that the ICE can survive on better alternative fuels, the EV will be a major part of the future transport landscape.

  13. “Given the scientific consensus around the contribution of fossil fuels to climate change, it is clear that we must make haste with radical reduction of their use and although cars are only one part of this issue, they are no exception to it.”

    No. You can piss right off with your corrupt agenda.

    1. Hi Robert, I assume by “piss” you are referring to urea, the active substance in AdBlue® or DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluid) which is employed by some makers to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions in diesel engines. NOx is a major air pollutant which contributes to smog and is a known cause of respiratory and heart diseases.

      The system works, but it adds cost and inconvenience to running a diesel, especially when the tank is emptied, in which case a running engine will enter “limp home” mode and decline to start again.

      I understand why this might “piss off” unwitting motorists.

      Of course I respect Mervyn’s choice to run a diesel, though my own experience hasn’t been as positive, though even I am saddened that a “corrupt agenda” has tainted its reputation. The single aspect of running a diesel that I appreciated was the torque available at low RPMs, but EVs do even better in this regard. The particular diesel I ran wasn’t able to maintain normal driving speeds ascending hills, so I ran it extremely hard, thus not so economical.

    2. Dear Robert, May I take it from your comment that you took issue with the statement the author of this piece made as regards fossil fuels, climate change and the use developed nations make of the former in relation to the latter? You are of course free to express your opinion. However, I would contend that in a civilised society, freedoms come with responsibilities. And in this particular little social hub, those responsibilities include engaging with others with civility and basic politeness.

      The author of this piece wrote what was in my view a very balanced, rational and reasoned piece, a matter backed up by the overwhelmingly positive and constructive nature of the the below the line commentary. In marked contrast I might add to your response, which comes across as petulant and deliberately inflammatory in language and tone. You might note how the other commenters ignored your outburst, as polite people generally do when someone commits a social faux pas. Disagree with what was said by all means – if you can make a cogent argument in opposition to what was stated in the article, I’m sure we’d be all ears. Meanwhile, I suggest you consider your words and the manner in which you express them. I am resolute in my stance towards those who do not adhere to our site guidelines on civility and politeness.

      Kind regards, the editor.

    3. The person writing under the name Robert is in fact a troll and I claim my five pounds.

      DTW is free at the point of use, Robert. We strive to maintain a high standard of civility and don´t welcome the kind of language which, if used in real life, would have people walking off immediately. Honestly, Robert, stop being so unpleasant, please. If you don´t agree with the content at least do so in a kind and civil way. Thanks. As the guy said, treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself. And now, Hymn 240 GLE ….

    4. Or, instead of insults, bring some science to the table…

      Climate change deniers can continue shouting into the wind if they must, but the rest of us need not pay any attention. This is a discussion for grown ups (and, indeed, well informed school children).

  14. This Ad blue “crutch”reminds me of the tobbaco industries filter tip solution for cigarette users, just kick the can further down the road!

    1. I’m not sure this is fair, but time will tell.

      The key test will be how a modern diesel engine works a decade from now. Older models deteriorated alarmingly, belching out dirty clouds of particulates and other nasties.

      The manufacturers claim this problem has been eliminated – let’s hope so, because there will still be lots of diesel vehicles on our roads for a while yet.

  15. Dear Chris, your article has ignited a discussion that alarmed me. I ought to thank you for your points and the sincerity of your thoughts. However, I fear that we assume the position of the fishes that are being served a small piece of wet bread, that hides the hook of the fisherman.

  16. A really fascinating article and discussion. My problem with all this is understanding how much trouble we’re in and what needs to be done about it. The current solution seems to be to work gradually towards making things better – polluting less, etc. I guess that is all that’s politically acceptable, as people won’t accept vastly reduced standards of living.

    Secondly, tech is – has to be – part of the solution. Is consumption necessary to sustain the companies which will provide the solutions to make things better? I guess so, under the current economic model.

    Speaking of consumption and going back to my original point, here’s a counter which estimates how many cars are being produced, globally, each year. It’s 76 million, at the time of writing. I wouldn’t feel guilty about running an older car, especially if you don’t cover many tens of thousands of miles – its impact in the grand scheme of things is nil.

    1. Running and old car is what I am doing. One, because I refuse to invest in something that neither helps the planet or offers me any satisfaction. And two. I did two already in the last sentence.
      I wrote an essay here ages ago about preserving an example or (more) of all models and letting people drive them in cordoned zones e.g. Thuringia for a day, a week or a fortnight. For the rest of the time, public transport and every other alternative should be used.
      This is the cost of running a car:
      … or 3000 pounds UK sterling money.
      According to this site
      the average annual cost (I did this roughly) is 1200 pounds UK money sterling per person per year.
      Getting around is costly.

  17. And after this somehow dramatic entry, please let me to break down the subject in three points, as I thought it.
    1 the available technology and its functioning
    2 not technological issues, overpopulation, pollution, government and legislation, all these
    3 the sentimental and psychological importance

  18. As a car enthusiast minted after the new millennium, classics to me are cars of the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s—and anything before that is ancient history! I kid, but I think that my perspective is perhaps skewed because the ‘classics’ of my childhood were already mass-produced and plastic-bumpered, nothing like the bespoke coachbuilt metal showboats that came before. As a result, it’s not as much of a gulf for me to consider the enthusiast bent of the new crop of EV’s; after all, we are car enthusiasts, and this is simply the next iteration of the car. I’ve also been getting into vintage home appliances of late and to be fair, weren’t most things back then simply more ‘romantic’ by nature of domestic manufacturing and higher price points? My two 1960’s all-metal Dominion box fans defy the notion that everything electric powered is ‘soul-less’ as they gently hum away generating a high-velocity wind tunnel through my midcentury Tucson ranch home. The loss of romanticism is more than just the switch to EV’s, it’s representative of our society’s stance on modern products as a whole, that they are leasable, returnable, and ultimately disposable in lieu of trading up to the next one. While planned obsolescence is nothing new, the internet brings a new level of FOMO and these ‘subscription plans’ lend a new disdain for ownership.

    For those here who bemoan the fact that their only car is a ‘polluting’ ICE vehicle, consider how little your one vehicle contributes in the grand scheme of things and consider the environmental impact of scrapping it and building a new car. Sure, there’s always a point of trade-off, but maintaining and running older cars is by no means always an environmental net negative (i.e. your carbon footprint is probably lower than ‘Karen’ next door who runs out to buy a brand new PHEV and iPhone every two or three years.) I think a lot of people forget that environmentalism is as much a simple mindfulness of what you need and what you don’t and buying used things wherever practical to minimize manufacturing instead of just doing all the ‘green’ things it says on the tin. And as for those who own a whole fleet of ageing ICE cars, well, welcome to the club.

    To those who say that EV isn’t the future, I just have a hard time seeing why not. At least in the U.S., there’s not enough land to possibly grow all the ethanol to fuel all the cars we have, and hydrogen (for now) is a fossil fuel byproduct so setting up stations is basically just paralleling the petrol ones. Sure, there could be sustainable generation methods in the future, but the same is true for electricity and that already has an extensive network available. I think most people are just afraid to confront how they actually use their car. For me, I drive less than 5 miles on average a day, and it’s a complete waste to fire up my XC70’s 325 hp 3.0L turbo six to bumble the one-mile to campus on the days it’s too hot (or cold) to bike. Ok, if your job is as a courier or other long-distance role, sure, hydrocarbons still make more sense. But I’ll bet at least 75% of the population is in my boat, and honestly, a used Nissan Leaf (or new Citroen Ami) would work just fine.

  19. If we are discussing air pollution from burning fossil fuels, then we have to consider:
    HGVs, which come with the latest clean but costly technology, which can be re-mapped in a way that cannot be detected by Government agencies.
    Diesel trains, which don’t have to meet the same standards as cars/HGVs
    Shipping, which does not have to meet these standards ( have you ever watched the exhaust of a large ship leaving port?)
    Spot fires in Chinese coal tips, which create possibly more emissions than automobiles in the USA ?

  20. With one obvious exception, this article has prompted many intelligent and considered comments. As its author, I am very appreciative of this constructive debate. I can’t hope to address them all adequately (and part two is still to come!) but I do feel I should respond briefly to the point a couple of you have made about the environmental impact of individual actions (and cars) being effectively negligible:

    This is one of those odd cases where something can seem plausible at the micro level and yet be clearly untrue when extrapolated to the macro level: Even in the small country in which I reside (population around 17 million), it might seem individually rational to regard my vote in the national elections as effectively worthless; verging on mathematical negligibility. Yet, if everyone regarded the matter in this way, the result would be a national disaster. It’s akin to the lottery paradox: By any reasonable definition of knowledge, when buying a lottery ticket I ‘know’ that I won’t win… yet one of the ticket-holders does win.

    This is why I base my argument for the long-term survival of ICE cars on their being hobby cars and classics; used occasionally by a (tiny) minority. This way, their *total* environmental effect will be very small, even when viewed at the collective level.

    1. One addendum, since I can’t resist: Some really interesting points have been made about (rates of) consumption/production, their environmental impact and whether consuming our way out of an environmental crisis is in any way reasonable.

      This harks back to the little debate with myself I described when I bought my current MG (buying something old vs causing the production of something new). This point is, of course, much broader than just cars and beyond the scope of DTW I fear… but I do think there are reasons to place some big question marks by our current understanding of terms like ‘growth’ and ‘welfare’. Whether that is possible without radical changes to economic systems, with all the disruption and danger that brings, I honestly don’t know.

    2. I think that’s a reasonable position to adopt: the future of ICE cars is probably going to look a lot like the present of the steam engine or the WWII fighter plane: selected examples will be maintained in working order as labours of love by dedicated enthusiasts. The ultimate limit on how long this can be done will depend on the skills of fabrication and repair being retained.
      I say this with sadness, mind: like most of us here, I’m not afraid to admit I have an emotional attachment to the internal combustion engine and the vehicles it has powered for over a century.

    3. What it all comes down to is really pretty simple: we, in the West, all need to consume far less. For far too long, we have been fed and unthinkingly accepted the mantra that economic (GDP) growth was the principal, indeed the only measure of success. This has fostered a throwaway culture where many people have a distaste for anything that is not brand new, including the stuff they already own! How many of those queuing up at midnight to buy the latest iPhone already have one of the just-about-to-be-superseded models in their pocket? This is just madness!

      We have an auction house in out town that, as well as selling ‘proper’ antiques, does a steady trade in good quality second hand furniture, much of which is in perfect condition, even if it doesn’t conform to the latest fashion. Items typically sell for a fraction of what is charged for similar (but often inferior quality) new stock. It is a tragedy that people on a limited budget put themselves in debt unnecessarily when, with a bit of imagination, they could furnish their homes with perfectly good second hand items that would most probably last a lot longer than inferior quality new items.

      The vast majority of the furniture my partner and I own is antique, and has been acquired over the last thirty or so years. It has never been ‘fashionable’ (at least, not in our lifetimes) so it will never go out of fashion. Moreover it is of such good quality that nothing ever needs replacing, just good care. In case you think that its out of reach of those on more modest budgets, what is referred to rather disparagingly as ‘brown furniture’ by the trade, Victorian and 20th Century items, sells for loose change, comparatively.

      It’s past time that we resurrected the old ‘make do and mend’ mantra and found hobbies less destructive to the planet than shopping!

      Phew! Glad I got that off my chest!

  21. This article made me think of this TEDx talk about the problems with renewables.

    One of the problems with the environmental debate is that we – humans – tend to have very binary thinking: “Let’s stop doing x and do y, now, and then it’ll all be fixed”. That’s not true in this case, as it’s a very complicated issue. There isn’t one solution and I’d argue that we probably need to have a mix of all sorts of energies and power units if we’re going to have a sustainable and bearable future.

    1. The presenter is being selective, using only examples that support his argument. He fails to mention:

      – On site lithium-ion batteries are now commonly used to store excess electricity from solar and wind farms.

      – Plowing a field to plant crops kills wildlife, the problem is as old as civilisation and is not exclusive to energy farms.

      – France is fortunate (thus far), Fukushima is unfortunate, Chernobyl is tragic. We have the technology to make every car and truck powered by nuclear fission and never need to refuel, but it won’t happen for obvious reasons. The USSR launched 31 such vehicles into space, they never need to refuel. NASA has launched about 25, the latest being the Perseverance rover now working on Mars.

      The Ford Zephyr Mk4

    2. Charles, I do understand your point however. My hope is that European municipalities will reconsider outlawing ICE vehicles once sub €20K EVs become prevalent.

  22. Also, thanks Chris Elvin for organizing thoughts and feelings that are shared by many of us.

  23. For someone who’s knowledge of the issues surrounding EVs was previously rather threadbare, Chris’s piece and the contributions from DTW’s readership have been really educational and informative, and the exchanges have been constructive and civilised in the best tradition of DTW. Every day’s a schoolday, and this one especially so for me. Thanks, all.

  24. DTW: still the world’s least influential motoring site, but perhaps also the most civilised corner of the internet? Great, thoughtful article and great reactions. Such a relief from the tribalism evident in so many other places. Thank you all.

    For the majority of people (present company largely excluded, of course), the drivetrain of their car doesn’t really matter, so EVs are fine for them. Or “us”, since I partly fall into that category. I have little emotional attachment to the mechanical side of cars (apart from my manual gearbox), I’m more interested in their design and cultural significance. On a personal level, I value my car for the freedom of movement it gives me (I tend to combine destinations for each trip in a way that’s difficult to replicate with public transport) and the peace and quiet it affords me relative to public transport. That last part may sound glib, but my sensitivity to stimuli like sound is such that it is a factor to consider (I have autism – I’m usually open about that, but putting it out here is actually quite a bit more tense). It’s an uneasy calculation, but I can just about justify my car ownership and usage that way. If I had the money, I’d drive an EV, but I don’t.

    In a broader sense, it’s pretty obvious that the billions of investment into an EV future has started a juggernaut that won’t stop or change course soon. At the same time, the price of mobility is rising rapidly and I worry for the future of any kind of affordable mobility. Synthetic fuels (less land intensive than biofuels, Formula 1’s trying to stay relevant by researching them, and I believe Porsche has a project going as well) that promise a closed carbon loop might be a solution. Maybe it’ll even keep Chris’s MG running in a way that doesn’t burden the conscience. Combustion engines running carbon neutral fuels would still cause local emissions, though, so emission zones won’t be going away.

    1. Hi Tom, I found this seemingly reasonable article on synthetic fuel which comes from a relatively reputable and scholarly journal. An unexpected takeaway for me is how resourceful and proactive Porsche actually is in attempting to preserve their own heritage, traditions, and culture, while at the same time being willing to make the concessions and compromises necessary to keep them in business. Thanks for bringing the subject matter to our attention.

    2. Hi gooddog, thanks for that link. *Relatively* reputable is right about Forbes, but this seems a reasonable take. It’s pretty clear that Europe, probably China and possibly the US will largely transition to EVs. Funnily enough, my take on synthetic fuels is the exact opposite of Porsche’s: Europe, China and the US leaves an awful lot of world to cover, where EV adoption is bound to be slower, if at all existent or even practical. Any and all mitigations in emissions will be helpful then. The cost could be a problem, but maybe still less prohibitive than a full transition to EVs.

      For the Western market, I still think a large part of the current ICE fleet won’t be replaced soon (that is, within ten to twenty years) unless truly repressive measures are taken. Covid has shown how well these play out. Even my compatriot and environment czar Frans Timmermans has conceded that there are whole swathes of people who cannot or will not pay more than a few thousand euros (/pounds/dollars) for a car. Again, either this kind of personal transport option is denied a large part of the population (with recent evidence showing that public transport doesn’t readily have the capacity to take up the slack), or another solution needs to be found. Obviously all sorts of leasing schemes will be devised, but I’m not confident those would work. People are stubborn.

      More to your point (sorry): Porsche indeed seems to have the sort of realistic, rational approach – aware (and accepting) of the past, the present and the future – that one would expect from the likes of Honda (although perhaps they just need more time to pivot). In the mean time, Toyota still seems (partly) committed to hydrogen as a combustion fuel (essentially the same thing as those synthetic fuel, if I understand correctly) while Hyundai and again Toyota (and Honda) are still researching hydrogen fuel cells.

    3. Good morning, Tom. I’m somewhere on the autism spectrum as well, but apparently my case is relatively mild. Outside stimuli are the worst part of public transport for me, but I usually have the freedom of traveling outside rush hours, which usually helps.

      The weird thing about sound is that, for me at least, sometimes it helps too. I drove a Lotus Elise 111R once at top speed and the only thing I could hear was all the mechanical noise, drowning out everything else. I never had the same experience again in any other car.

    4. Hi Freerk, thanks for your reply. You hear often that some sounds are much more tolerable or even pleasurable than others. Often it’s about context or control (in your case, you know where the sound is coming from and you know what to do to make it go away) which makes the difference. There are many people with autism who enjoy hard rock concerts at full volume, for example, but wince at other sounds. Not me, though: unexpected or uncontrolled certainly exacerbates the situation, but even sounds I cause myself (my car or music, for instance) get wearying after a short while.

    1. “You might note how the other commenters ignored your outburst”

      Evidently not 🙂

    2. Robert: Your snide response merely confirms my initial suspicion that your prime intention was not to bring anything constructive to the conversation, but simply to start a row. You haven’t succeeded.

      Good day.

    3. Oh dear, Robert. You don’t seem to understand that, metaphorically speaking, you’re now at the grown-ups table where intelligent, considered and respectful debate is expected and valued. If snippy one-liners are your thing, I’m sure you will find many other dimmer corners of the Internet where you’ll feel more at home.

  25. The question of fuel or electricity as the energy containing medium on a moving vehicle, is a part of the whole truth in my opinion, humble as it may be. Science will do the research, and the economy will invest to realise the technology chosen to prevail. The rest of the truth is missing. I suspect that the whole concept of personal mobility will come into question, and will be modified. The mobility will be more expensive, exlusive, and regulated. Into this general concept, there could be two epochs. Epoch one is like what we experience now, millions of fuelled cars will be sold used to poorer parts of the world, or scrapped. This is destruction of capital, the capital spent to buy them, I am speaking as a consumer. In the process, a part of the buying public will find alternatives to the private car, and will never buy one again. Another part will invest in a new technology car. The same will happen, in an other scale, with the petrol station businesses, the repair shops, the infrastructure of the fuelled car, and the people who work in these sectors. After some years, dust will settle down, and epoch two will begin to gain momentum. This will be a time of accumulation of fresh capital. The people who would still have available capital, and need of a car, will buy the new cars, they will invest in the new technology. Other investments will proceed the same time, public and private, to provide the needed infrastructure.

  26. When I started secondary school, a bus-ride from home in North London, there were trolleybuses, with sprung arms connecting to the overhead electric cables. My bus-stop was just next to the depot, and it was always a thrill on the rare morning when a diesel RT rocked-up instead of a zero-emissions vehicle… Before I left school the trolleys had been replaced by Routemasters, such is progress.

  27. On the subject of the fixation with economic growth, excessive consumption and one of its causes, built-in obsolescence, I stumbled across this interesting film on YouTube yesterday:

  28. Sorry to be so late to this fascinating discussion, but I’ll post my two thoughts anyway:

    Thought 1: As Freerk hinted, in the not-too-far future we car enthusiasts will become just like horse riders or sail boat enthusiasts, and just like them we will have restricted access to our non-autonomous cars in private places where we can enjoy them. ICE enthusiasts will be the equivalent of cuckoo clock collectors.

    Thought 2: I think I might be one of the slowest-driving car enthusiast, haha. As a young car nut I was of course influenced by car magazines and their prose and lyrics on fast driving, yet I began to realize that if I only enjoyed driving fast, I’d miss out on the rest of the car world. Not only that, fast driving was dangerous and expensive as it added wear and tear to the car. How many times do you find the perfect winding road and the opportunity to drive enthusiastically on it? How about the increased wear on tires, engine, brakes, etc., not to mention the increased risk of speeding fines, or worse, crashes?

    So, I began paying more attention to the way I drove and not so much on the acceleration and G-forces, so much so that I started enjoying more the pursuit of the perfect, efficient driving style, the best use of the transmission, brakes, etc., rather than just screeching around corners. That change of paradigm extended to my car tastes, opening them up to more slow-but-charming models and of course, to classics. As much as I like exotic sports cars too, I get almost the same tingle of excitement when I see a perfect example of a Renault 5 or Fiat 127 as I do when I see a Ferrari. Sometimes even more. The result is that I don’t need a powerful sports car to enjoy driving. A well designed small, efficient car can be just fine for me. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy that elusive “perfect” winding road, but I’m perfectly satisfied driving along it at 5/10s, challenging myself to do it as smoothly as possible, no need to break speed records… or bank accounts.

    1. I suspect you are far from the only denizen of DTW happy to pootle along much of the time and a “well designed small, efficient car” is a thing worthy of appreciation.

    2. Absolutely! I’m also a pootler most of the time, happy to drive at a pace that’s well within the limits of my driving skills. Like Cesar, I get far more pleasure from driving smoothly and (hopefully) skilfully than ragging around at 11/10ths all the time. Driving at 6/10ths gives you so much more perception and reaction time, and allows you to avoid having to make ’emergency’ manoeuvres. Far less stressful too.

    3. It is always better to stay within your (own) limit anyway.
      For one thing, it’s more comfortable – says the old man today who “survived” the wild untamed young life without injury.
      On the other hand, there is also the realisation that one will never achieve better than a 5/10 or 6/10 of those who really can.
      (I once had the opportunity to experience Mr Röhrl driving a car. Since then I know that I can’t really drive a car even if I am driving one).

  29. Thanks all for the comments! One seminal moment in my progressive change of perspective about driving was reading a feature story on the great Jackie Stewart in a 1980s issue of Car and Driver. In this interview Stewart stressed the idea of smooth driving while flying along a test track on a 1st gen Ford Taurus (*). When they went out on the streets around Dearborn, Michigan, the interviewer was surprised at how slowly and delicately the great champion was driving. When confronted, Stewart chuckled and said something like “…people say I drive like a grandma”, but then the interviewer pointed out how smooth the steering inputs felt and how imperceptible the changes between accelerating and braking were.

    (*) These were the days when Stewart was a sort of ambassador to Ford. Below is a slightly embarrassing commercial where he sings praise about the handling prowess of… a Ford Tempo 😊

    1. Hi Cesar. When I was a teenager, an older family acquaintance who owned a Ford Cortina used to show me how to change gears without using the clutch, by aligning the engine and road speed. I tried it out (off the public road) and was able to do it quite easily. That said, it may have indicated simply how worn out the gearbox was!

  30. “if the categorical ethical imperative is to behave in such a way that our actions can be universalised into moral law” – nice to see a bit of Kantian philosophy getting an airing.

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