The car of the future

We got a new car a month ago, and it hit me as we were signing the papers that we had probably just bought our last gas-powered car. We usually keep a car six or seven years, so what will be in the dealer showrooms in 2020?

Even now, I see more and more hybrid and electric cars on the road, cars that were rare only five years ago. The reason I didn’t buy one this time is that they’re still a little pricey for the way I drive, and in six or seven years, who knows how much the technology will have improved? I don’t make enough money to have the high eco-principles of wealthy movie stars and millionaire plastic surgeons. But by 2020, the hybrids and electrics will probably be the same price as gas-powered cars.

Did you catch that? “Gas-powered cars.” Ten years ago, that would have been a silly way to describe an automobile. It would be like saying, “I have to buy some electric light bulbs,” or, “I’m going to buy a color TV,” as if there were some other kind. What other kind of car has there been for most of your life but gas-powered? Ten years from now, we may not say “electric car,” either. All vehicles may be electric.



Every year, automakers improve the capacity of the batteries in these cars and reduce the time needed to charge them. How long before there will be an outlet at your parking spot at work that you can plug into? How long before someone starts selling a car that recharges from the sun as it sits in the parking lot? Google is supposed to be working on a driverless car as we speak. Not only will it get you where you want to go by GPS, but when the kids ask, “Are we there yet?” you can tell them to Google it. They won’t like Google’s answer any better than yours.

I assume that Apple is working on an iCar at this very moment. It will fit in your pocket, and instead of driving you to work, it will bring your job to wherever you are. Oh, I forgot, we can already do that.

A lot of people pooh-pooh the electric car. They say it doesn’t go far enough, it doesn’t go fast enough, there are no “electric stations” where it can be easily “refueled.” They usually say this while they are sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic going nowhere at 2 mph. And, sure, there are plenty of times when a vehicle that needs to be recharged won’t be the right choice. But for running errands and average commutes, it makes a lot of sense.

Eight years ago, my wife bought a V-8 truck and told the dealer that she needed one with a bed big enough to carry Sheetrock because we were renovating the house. As it turns out, we have never, ever used the truck to move Sheetrock. It was way too much truck for what we needed to do. Besides, the supplier would have delivered the Sheetrock to us for a few thousand times less than what the truck cost.

Likewise, for the few times when an electric car doesn’t fit the bill, I’m sure the owners could figure out a way around it: Rent or borrow a gas-powered vehicle. After all, Americans move from city to city all the time, but no one says, “Hey, we should buy a moving van just in case we move again.”

I wonder what we’ll miss most about gas-powered cars — the early morning smog? The ever-rising price of gas? Those friendly self-serve pumps at the convenience stores? Standing in line behind someone making 57 different and extremely complicated bets on tonight’s numbers? The $1 sodas that cost $2.50? The romance of spending $65 for one fill-up? Can an electric car ever replace all that?

Contact Jim Mullen at JimMullenBooks.com.

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