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Whenever I’m asked about my views on the future of something, I will usually begin to hear the chorus of the Doris Day song ‘Que sera, sera’ playing in the back of my head: “Que sera, sera…whatever will be, will be…” because, as Niels Bohr once commented, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future.”

What we can do though, is look at the strongest trends currently driving change and make some educated projections, based on the assumption that those trends are strong enough to continue for some time.

Driving Forces

The first things to consider in any prediction model are the driving forces behind the change you are considering. It’s pretty clear, even to casual observers, that the forces currently directing where transport will go are very different now than they were in the twentieth century.

Looking back, it could be said that Henry Ford invented the consumer in 1908 when he developed the assembly line format of mass production (now used to make pretty much everything) for the Model T. Efficiencies of scale meant automobiles were no longer only the playthings of the wealthy; now even people on modest wages could afford transport. For people living in North America, this opened up a whole continent for them to explore as their whimsy took them. In Europe too, though border crossing could add a little vexation to their movement, people of fairly humble means went from never leaving the village they were born in, to being able to see the entire continent (or just work in the nearest town) - in one generation.

It was these consumers who directed the trajectory of development for most of the rest of the century. They liked timely innovation, which encouraged them to upgrade to newer models; but not too far ahead of their time, as failures like the 1934 Chrysler Airflow (aerodynamic design), 1935 Stout Scarab (first minivan), 1948 Tucker Torpedo (advanced safety features) and many more, all demonstrated.

1948 Tucker Torpedo

1948 Tucker Torpedo

However, by the last quarter of the 20th century, there were other factors beginning to nudge the direction of personal transport.

The 1973 energy crisis, where OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) refused to sell crude oil to the U.S. in response to its support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War, caused crude oil to go from $2.90 to $11.65 per barrel by January 1974. This was a shock to a world economy that was already weak and led to high inflation and economic stagnation throughout the 1970s. It also signalled the end of truly cheap fuel which drove vehicles towards smaller size and more fuel efficiency.

There was also the rise of political pressure. Perhaps the most notable pressure came off the back of Ralph Nader’s 1965 book ‘Unsafe at Any Speed’. He had seen the impact of Rachel Carson’s earlier book “Silent Spring”, which essentially mainstreamed the environmental movement, and applied it to automobile safety with a damning criticism of the Chevrolet Corvair. The year after Nader’s book was published, Congress enacted the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act which created the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Unfortunately, what’s usually lost when politicians get involved is the nuance of the actual state of affairs. While the original Corvairs from 1960 to 63 did have some handling issues, as the suspension lacked an anti-roll bar, this (along with a couple of other safety concerns) had already been corrected by 1964. Ironically, after investigating the Corvair at Nader’s bidding, the NHTSA released a report in 1972 that refuted the book’s contentions about the car, stating that it was no more unsafe than comparable models of similar cars sold during the same period.

The upside of legislation is having transport safety bodies in most western countries insisting that all manufacturers include certain safety features (seatbelts, antilock brakes, airbags, electronic stability control, etc..) as they come along, ensuring a baseline of vehicle safety without putting any manufacturer at a competitive disadvantage. The downside is that innovation has long ceased to be the main driver for the future of transport.


Whatever your position on climate change might be, it’s pretty clear that the trajectory for how you use energy over the next decade or so will be dictated by western governments’ commitment to ‘Net-Zero’. That includes the energy used for transport.

Most people are vaguely aware that this means the end of your ability to buy petrol or diesel-powered vehicles by 2030; though some countries, like Norway, are extra keen. It’s perhaps worth noting that this isn’t a natural, consumer-led transition to better and more cost-effective technology; it’s a legislatively forced removal of a (still) relatively cheap private transport option. 

Other legislation gives you a clue about where this is going. You may have noticed that London is looking to expand the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) across all London boroughs from 29 August 2023, which will charge £12.50 per day (on top of any congestion charge) to vehicles that don’t meet emissions standards, though this is getting some pushback. While the current emissions standards don’t seem that onerous, the creation of the vast automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) system to oversee the scheme has much further reaching implications.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan is the current chair of the C40 Cities group who bill themselves as: “A global network of mayors taking urgent action to confront the climate crisis and create a future where everyone can thrive.” The blueprint for their climate goals is a 2019 report: “The Future Of Urban Consumption in a 1.5°C World” which has a goal of zero private vehicles by 2030 – along with no meat consumption and “1 short haul return flight (less than 1500 km) every three years per person.”

Previous C40 chair, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, is ahead of Sadiq Kahn on this curve. She has proposed making Paris a 15-minute city. Part of the plan is to axe 60 000 on-street parking spots, which is a de facto ban on private car ownership for everyone reliant on street parking in those neighbourhoods. In the UK, many cities, like Oxford and Canterbury are ploughing ahead with their own versions, despite strong local opposition - 93% of respondents to Oxford’s consultation were against the plan. The Scottish Parliament has also overwhelmingly approved the creation of "20-minute neighbourhoods".

At face value, the idea of walkable city areas presents as pleasantly idyllic, but the coercive edge in Oxford (and elsewhere) of strict rules limiting car journeys between districts to 100 days a year (enforced by extensive and ever-watchful ANPR camera systems), with fines of £70 for exceeding the limits, kind of takes the shine off the proposal. Especially as everyone knows, 100 days is a generous-sounding start point which will be decreased as quickly as civil unrest will allow.


With carbon allowances already normalised in business, it will not be long before it is applied to everything individuals do. Mastercard is already offering a (voluntary, for now) “carbon limit” credit card that helpfully cuts off your purchasing ability if you exceed your monthly carbon limit. The same calculation tool is available to all financial institutions. However, this will no doubt be superseded by the roll out of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) that will allow control and blocking of any transactions which the government disapproves.


With all this in place, my prediction is that for most people, the ‘carbon cost’ of owning a vehicle (even a ‘green’ one) will become prohibitively high. This means the average Joe’s choices for transport will likely be public transport or very short-term rental of a vehicle; i.e. for the duration of the journey, in a similar vein to current e-scooter rentals in many cities.

Of course, if you have the means, you will be able to buy the carbon credits required to keep your own vehicle and continue with whatever business and leisure pursuits take your fancy.

Another clue that this is indeed the plan is that no western government seems anxious about the obvious problems of converting all current drivers to electric vehicles. One of which is the more than doubling of current power generation that would be needed to replace the energy used by petroleum powered vehicles - even accounting for the efficiency disparity between batteries and internal combustion. Another is the critical constraints on rare earth minerals, which (as the name implies) are not plentiful (are ecologically devastating to mine) and set to become rather costly as they dwindle – and this even applies to the most fundamental metal of electronics, copper.

cobalt mine in Congo

An illegal cobalt mine in the Congo


So, what will be available?

It’s clear that legislators favour electric vehicles, more from them being the current bandwagon rather than any incisive understanding of how transport shapes an economy. Don’t misunderstand, all vehicles have strengths and weaknesses and EVs can be a useful part of the mix in well-developed urban areas but, in the form they are being forced on us, they are not the panacea that some politicians envision.

For example, EVs struggle to perform as service (i.e. plumbers, electricians etc.) vehicles or delivery vehicles that can rack up a considerable mileage during the workday. Especially in cold climates, where the heaters (though very fast to warm the vehicles!) severely dent the range - which has already been reduced by as much as 20% by the cold. Practically what this means, in places like Oslo (which has a large number of EVs), is 5-7 hours waiting in line & charging weekly: lost time which is passed on to the customers in their bills.

Then there is the ever-present danger of thermal runaway in Li-ON battery packs leading to fires that are all but inextinguishable by conventional fire suppression systems. No-one wants to overnight charge a vehicle in their garage that has the slightest possibility of having a damaged battery pack, so even minimal damage (like a broken tail light) from an accident is already leading to otherwise sound EVs being quickly disposed of. Given the statistical likelihood of minor prangs, the life expectancy of an EV could well become unsustainably short.

Lithium battery fire

Lithium battery fire

What alternatives do we have? Well, first of all, we don’t have to give up hope for more practical forms of EV. Other battery technologies are being researched, including the promising Room Temperature Sodium Sulphur and non-vanadium based flow batteries which could have dramatic positive effects on the viability of all-electric transport.

Hydrogen is another alternative. Car makers have been working with hydrogen fuel-cell technology for a number of years with cars like the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo being the fruit of that research. These are essentially electric vehicles where the hydrogen is mixed with oxygen in a fuel cell stack to generate electricity that charges a small lithium-ion battery. This battery acts as a buffer, storing energy and delivering high-current power when needed to provide responsive acceleration from the vehicle’s electric motors.

Critics might point out that this is a pretty inefficient way to run an electric vehicle: why not cut out the hydrogen extraction and compression into fuel tanks, by using a conventional EV? The answer is perhaps that it offers something familiar to most people with a refill time similar to a conventionally fuelled car, a couple of minutes or so, and a similar range of 300 to 400 miles.

Toyota has taken hydrogen power a further step by showcasing their prototype Corolla sporting a hydrogen combustion engine. The major upsides include fast refuelling and massively reduced rare earth metal requirements. In terms of continuity with how drivers currently use cars, hydrogen seems like a shoo-in as a green replacement. It is also much more appealing to rural and rough-country users who prize the ruggedness lacking in EVs.

However, the main constraint continues to be infrastructure: with low levels of production, hydrogen is expensive at around £12 per kilo (which will deliver around 60 miles travel) and there are only 14 hydrogen filling stations open to the public in the UK.

Final Thoughts

If people resist being railroaded towards the private-vehicle-free future that some globalist politicians have in mind, the future of transport can still be determined by technological development that can continue improving our standard of living.

It might be said that some of what we have discussed is considered a little ‘controversial’. I firmly believe that we need more controversial ideas in the discussion. Poor ideas always fail, eventually. But every thinker who has ever had a profound positive effect on humanity (the likes of Galileo, Newton, Tesla and probably even Henry Ford) has had one thing in common: their ideas were considered heretical (or perhaps misinformation?) by the orthodoxy those ideas challenged.

It may well be that I haven’t mentioned the best solution for transporting humanity in the future as it is still in the brilliant mind of a young, maverick engineer somewhere. They may even still be in school. We can only hope they have the courage to face the storms of ‘controversy’ that will oppose the birth of their ideas into something new, because, as Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Mark completed his Electronic Engineering degree in 1991 and worked in real-time digital signal processing applications engineering for a number of years, before moving into technical marketing.