How To Be a Motoring Enthusiast in the 21st Century – Part 3

Does this story have a happy ending?

Image: Wikimedia

In part one of this little series, I sought to share the thought process arising (inevitably, it seemed to me) from the moral uncertainty surrounding enthusiasm for cars powered by the internal combustion engine in this age of global warming. In part two, we took a trip into a possible future resulting from the current state of affairs. Both articles led to a healthy discussion in the comments and, following part two’s diversion into utopian fiction (that many found to be dystopian), I want to try to provide some sort of conclusion to this story. Can it still end well?

Firstly it is important to note that the day in the life of possible-future-me is an imagining; one of many possible futures, rather than a prediction, though I do think it reasonably plausible. Secondly, when we look at the evolution that the automobile is currently going through, we tend to view this through the lenses of electrification and automation (as was noted in the comments). In reality, however, these are parts of a much broader set of technological and societal changes and it is impossible to consider these properly without broadening our perspective somewhat, hopefully without stretching DTW’s remit beyond breaking point. 

Image: Wikimedia

Speaking of perspective, this is something we can never truly attain as regards the period of history we are living through, as we are living it. What can however be said with a reasonable degree of confidence, is that we were already experiencing a period of intense technological and societal change, the latter deriving to some extent from the former and broadly comparable to historical developments such as the industrial revolution and the invention of the printing press, when a global pandemic came along and radically accelerated some parts of this whilst modifying others. Though it is very early to draw any conclusions, it already seems apparent that the future of personal mobility is being reshaped as we speak; and not in quite the same way we anticipated a few short years ago.

The automotive future is not just about the self-driving and electric cars that populated part two of this series. Individual car ownership will also form, I believe, a quite different (and smaller) part of society’s ‘mobility solution mix’. What do I mean with that piece of management-consultancy-speak?

Well, the move towards location-independent (or, more accurately, less location-dependent) working has been on the cards for many years. The technical tools and infrastructure required to support it were largely already built and yet the digital nomads remained an envied and instagrammable exception to the daily drudgery of traffic jams on the way to the office every day that most of us continued to experience. Some lucky souls were allowed the privilege of a home working day each week but they too were the exception rather than the rule. Managers, it seemed, could not live without eyeballing their workers’ necks on a more or less daily basis.


Then, literally overnight in many cases, this all changed. Thanks to the sudden arrival of the uninvited guest Corona, hordes of office workers around the world switched to working from home on an almost permanent basis and, for the first time I can remember, the morning traffic news announced the complete absence of jams. Almost two years on, many companies have already announced that a future even beyond the pandemic will be a hybrid: travelling to work every day will be for many, if not most, in developed economies, something that remains in the past. While our attention was focussed elsewhere, the concept of virtual mobility arrived and established itself as part of daily life.

That this radical change will influence both the use and ownership of cars (whatever their source of motive power) is self-evident. Automation will, more arguably, do the same. For our ageing hero of part two, car ownership had become both uneconomic and unnecessary; any time he wanted to go somewhere, he just asked his smartwatch to send a self-driving car his way. For some this is a dream, for others a nightmare. When it will get here is anyone’s guess; as a number of commenters remarked, full self-driving has turned out to be a much thornier problem for artificial intelligence than many thought, more akin to general intelligence than the narrow, well-defined activities computers are good at; and I don’t predict a Tesla passing the Turing test any time soon. 

Image: Wikimedia

Despite the difficulty of the automation problem, I consider it likely that fully self-driving cars will become a reality in the coming decades. In any case, as demonstrated above, they are merely one of several factors that will drive people away from individual car ownership and use in years to come. Smartphone-linked car sharing, rental and taxi services are already a commonly used reality and when the need to be elsewhere for work is permanently reduced, why go to the trouble of owning and maintaining a large, depreciating lump of rolling metal? The concept of car ownership was already becoming rather old-fashioned, as the rise of personal lease plans had shown. 

So, where does this leave us car enthusiasts? What is this story’s end? I think it ends with a mix of what was proposed in the first two parts of this series: The classic car world in which a few significant and collectable, or just much-loved, ICE vehicles will survive and be used (with some restrictions, undoubtedly) and driving days designed for enthusiasts, featuring appropriate machines on non-public roads. 

Image: Wikimedia

Is this a happy or a sad ending? Utopia or dystopia? In truth, it is neither; merely a logical conclusion to how things are developing and a necessary response to the environmental damage our societies and economies continue to cause. I won’t claim my own prediction doesn’t make me sad, because it does. Nor will it stop me from continuing to use my old MG for as long as I think I can responsibly do so and, in all likelihood, I’ll be one of the nostalgic enthusiasts queueing up for a go in an electric Caterham Seven in thirty years time. Who knows, maybe it will even be in Prisoner colours. 

Author: Chris Elvin

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

17 thoughts on “How To Be a Motoring Enthusiast in the 21st Century – Part 3”

  1. Good morning, Chris. So basically cars are the new horses?

    I kind of like the idea of private ownership, even now that I don’t have a need for a car. I am not sure if private ownership is of BEV’s is viable for the future. There are only so many resources for batteries and if technology or the materials needed don’t change, the demand will be bigger than the supply, I reckon. I don’t need a car at the moment. I will change jobs in the not too distance future, so I might need some wheels after all.

    1. Hi Freerk, that’s an interesting comparison. It reminds me of a review of one of the last Blackberry keyboard phones that I read some years ago: The device was described as ‘the best horse and cart in the age of the automobile’.

      I think in the longer term, private ownership of cars will become a pure luxury; akin to owning an Bentley or a Ferrari now. At some point (certainly when a self-driving car can be ordered in minutes from your smartphone), the convenience of not owning a car will be greater than that of owning one. That, together with costs, resources etc. will be the tipping point for the masses.

  2. Good morning Chris. This has been a very interesting and thought-provoking series, especially for someone like me, whose interest in matters automotive is largely viewed through the rear-view mirror of history.

    I have to admit that I normally take little interest in the latest automotive developments and new car launches (in part because most of the latter are such an affront to my tastes!) You have given us plenty to chew over, and the truth is that the future is coming at us much faster than I would have expected even five years ago. I need to get on board, so thanks for nudging me in the right direction!

    By the way, is the image at the head of your piece the ‘Transformers’ version of the Tesla Cybertruck? 😁

    1. Thanks Daniel. No Teslas in this piece, oddly enough. I’m sure someone will recognise that first image soon…

    2. I did Chris, and considered it quite well chosen. But the editor will maintain his silence.

    3. I believe it’s a Blade Runner reference – an origami unicorn.

    4. The quiz prize (a lightly used 1981 Talbot Horizon) goes to Charles!

  3. As Mark Twain said “Prediction is difficult- particularly when it involves the future.”.

    However, with the analysis of the last decades – in terms of economy, lifestyle as well as ecology (resources) – as well as today’s already known technical possibilities, one can certainly scale up to a possible future.

    And even I, with my very limited knowledge in my little brain, am clear that if there really should be a field of application for self-driving cars and the (traffic) policy decision is made for this, this will inevitably lead to a ban for vehicles without these technical features. For safety reasons alone, in order to minimise additional uncontrollable disruptive factors.

    With a car as we have known it so far (and like Daniel, I primarily look at cars through the rear-view mirror and not through the windscreen), it will be like with stamps.
    You can collect old stamps, but you can no longer stick them on a letter because they are no longer valid.
    Owning an old car will not be banned either. You will just no longer be allowed to drive them on public roads at some point – depending on which political decision becomes reality first, the technically necessary one (safety) or the ecologically desired one.

    And who will (or may) be able to afford transport in a self-driving car in the future – owned or just borrowed for a ride – the economic future will show. I cannot hide my scepticism. Because what must not be forgotten in an analysis of the current and future situation is that one rolling blackout* and a system of “self-driving-cars-talking-to-each-other-over-the-cloud” collapses instantaneously.

    * Germany shuts down three of the remaining nuclear power plants at the end of the year for “political reasons” without having a replacement for this base load. Germoney in 2022: Welcome to the post-civilization age. Self-driving cars will be the last thing we should worry about in this country. More likely it will be “a horse and carriage”, hahaha.

    1. The question of whether truly successful self-driving cars will inevitably lead to a ban (on public roads) of human-piloted cars is a very interesting one and I am not sure of the answer. Hence my choosing a mixed scenario in part two’s little jaunt into the future. Speaking of which: If any of our Dutch-speaking contingent would like to read a truly brilliant (albeit far-fetched) description of self-driving AI cars as part of a near-future society, I cannot recommend Rob van Essen’s novel ‘De Goede Zoon’ enough.

  4. It’s funny – pre-industrial revolution, pretty much everyone worked from home – on the land or in (literal) cottage industries. Perhaps we should therefore see the last few hundred years as a blip in the timeline of humanity.

    I guess people will still want to go places, and to meet new people, but long range travel could be slower and more restricted to being a leisure activity. No one needs to travel from London to New York in a few hours any more – one can do it instantly, virtually, for business purposes, at least. And perhaps some of our wanderlust will be satisfied by metaverses, such as Second Life, as mentioned at DTW, recently.

    As I’ve said here, recently, despite all the fuss about climate change and our need to do something about it, all that seems to happen is that people discuss it a lot, while businesses use it as a marketing opportunity. I think we will just carry on pretty much as we are, adapting to climate change as it happens and making incremental adjustments to lessen our impact on the planet. Perhaps we’ll finally get nuclear fusion to work and all our problems will be solved.

    I was interested to read recently that most people – nearly two thirds in this survey – aren’t ready for shared mobility.

    I wouldn’t mind it, as long as the vehicle took no time to arrive, was spotlessly clean and comfortable and was reasonably priced. Actually, since most journeys are made unaccompanied, perhaps we should all get one of these.

    1. Hi Charles. I’ve never seen the Carver One before but, according to to the Auto Express archive, it was launched in the UK in 2006 and cost….£28k!!! You could have bought a Lotus Elise for the same price at the time, or four Renault Twizys when they went on sale in 2012.

      I don’t get tricycles or quadricycles at all. They have most of the disadvantages of motorcycles (mainly,vulnerability in accidents) with none of the benefits (the ability to thread through traffic jams).

    2. Hello Daniel – I guess they’re more manoeuvrable than a car and have better weather protection and carrying capacity than a bike. I also get the impression that they’re great fun.

      The Carver is electric, now. It costs from £8.5k, has a 60 mile range and a 30 mph top speed, so they’re aimed at local journeys.

    3. I’d rather take an Oemil (Swiss made, what else) with a BMW K100 power plant which should be easily replaced by a BEV drivetrain with next to no range.

  5. I thought the Carver had disappeared without trace – that electric version is quite delightful and the first EV I’ve seen that is totally fit for purpose. If I lived in a large city (heaven forfend!) I would buy one tomorrow. It does remind me slightly of a Messerschmidt I once owned, in the days when £1-worth of petrol equated to four gallons. As for the original Carver, I did once see one. It was looking decidedly out of place at Southwell Workhouse in Nottinghamshire at the time; sadly I missed being able to consult its owner before it disappeared.

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