Personal Cars Will Be Extinct Within A Generation! 

Regular people will be priced out of personal transport and relegated to public transport

In less than 30 years from now, most of us won’t be able to have our own cars, and many of the major car manufacturers we know and love today – will have disappeared. Yes, the personal car is about to go extinct. Don’t believe me? Keep reading and I’ll explain exactly why. 

Are Electric Cars the Future?

First, let’s tackle electric cars. If you haven’t plugged in yet, if you’re still resisting the resisters, if you remain insulated from the electric revolution, let me bring you up to charge. The latest electric cars are excellent, and they’re getting better and better. 

By this time next year, the pictures we’ll be posting of the new cars we’re lusting after, will be more of EVs than petrol-powered machines.

I’ve reviewed more electric cars in the last three years than I have in the 30 years prior of my 33-year career as a motoring journalist. One thing is clear to me, the pace of development and evolution in EVs is staggering. Ranges are extending, charging times dropping, along with prices, and they are always shockingly quick to drive. 

You can no longer afford to be completely dismissive of electric cars. You can’t ignore them now or stubbornly insist that we need to stick only to petrol and diesel, i.e. ICE (Internal Combustion Engines) cars. 

Not least because it’s expected that we’ll completely drain all current reserves of fossil fuels by around 2070. By which time, finding, drilling or fracking for new reserves of oil will become prohibitively expensive and environmentally unsound. 

So that’s it then? Electric cars are the future, right? And for sure I will be doing a ton more electric car content in 2023, more than ever in fact. There is no doubt about that. 

When Batteries Run Out

There’s a ‘but’ though, a very big ‘but’. 

We are presently relying almost entirely on lithium batteries to store power for our EVs. These battery packs typically last between 100,000 to 300,000 miles, or 15 to 20 years. To replace a battery pack in a car can cost from $20,000 to well over $30,000. 

Just as fossil fuel is running out, we also then have to ask the question of, do we have enough lithium and where is it coming from? 

Lithium is a powdery substance that is mined from the Earth. Keep in mind that Lithium-ion batteries are employed not just for EVs but other uses as well, for example 90% of grid energy storage across the globe uses them.

The good news is, we’re okay for lithium. For now, that is. 

But as early as 2030 we’ll start to feel the pinch. Incidentally that’s the same year some countries, like the UK, are stipulating that only EVs can be sold new – a very shorted-sighted and pre-mature decision in my view. 

The exponential growth in demand for batteries will overwhelm the current mines. Most lithium comes from countries like Australia which produces half of all lithium. Bolivia, Chile and Argentina (the so-called ‘Lithium Triangle’) actually have the largest reserves. But there is also potential in Africa and apparently as-yet untapped reserves in Afghanistan. 

However, we’re seven years away from 2030 and it can take over six years for new mines to be set-up and start running. And there’s other problems such as geo-political, I mean you can see how that will impact access to reserves in Afghanistan for example. 

The good news is, we’re okay for lithium. For now, that is. 

Plus of course, environmental. Mining can contaminate soil and groundwater. And talking of water, you need vast amounts of it for the lithium mining process, so that’s a bit of a problem for countries that are dry and arid. 

There’s also the environmental impact of moving all this lithium around. For example, ore from Australia is shipped to China to refine into lithium hydroxide or cathodes, which are then shipped to countries that actually make the batteries that go into EVs. 

Hence why electric cars have such huge carbon footprints before they are even delivered to their first owner – typically over 25 tons. 

There is currently a lot of effort going into new sourcing, mining and refining technologies to drastically reduce this impact. They will be effective. But don’t expect that tonnage to come down drastically too soon. 

There simply won’t be enough cars for everyone

All of this means that the current shortage of new cars, initially brought on by a semi-conductor (computer chip) shortage post-pandemic, and then compounded by the war in Ukraine (impacting additional raw materials such as aluminium), will continue into the 2030s as there won’t be enough batteries to go around for EVs. 

‘That’s okay,’ you’re thinking, ‘by that time there’ll be plenty of used EVs on the market.’ Well yes, but can I refer you back to what I mentioned earlier about the life-cycle and cost-of-replacement of batteries. 

The average used car price in the UK is now £17,500. Which is rather high, but prices of second-hand cars have also leapt in line with rising new car prices and supply shortages. Having spent nearly 20k on a car, how many used cars buyers will then be able to further stomach another 20-30k bill for new batteries?

None, I think. Usually, when the components needed to keep an average used car going cost more than the purchase price of that car – the car is scrap. 

Petrol or diesel used cars on the other hand, can be run until their engines implode or the bodies rust away. That could be decades. I’m currently driving a 33-year-old BMW E30, which is perfectly serviceable and is likely to remain so for years. 

Based on the information currently to hand, most electric cars will have a life span of about 20-years. And at that age they’ll probably take days to charge to their maximum degraded capacity of 40% after which you’ll be able to drive them around the block before having to push them back to a charger. 

Also, by that time, there will be far better, more efficient and highly desirable newer cars that’ll make your old EV look obsolete. 

But they’ll be more expensive. Much more expensive. 

Reversal of the Democratisation of Personal Transport

You see where this is all going right? In an EV-only future, just the lucky few with funds and fortunes will be able to afford cars. The rest of us will inevitably be relegated to using under-funded, over-crowded and woefully inadequate public transport. Or bicycles. 

Be warned and in no doubt, we are already on the path to reversing the democratisation of personal transport, originally afforded to us by the advent of widely available cars at the turn of the previous century. 

Legacy car manufacturers will disappear

It’s not just bad news for motorists and consumers either. For those that still mourn the loss of car companies like Saab and Rover, you’d better stock up on boxes of hankies, as a lot more of the traditional car companies will find themselves short-circuited by the EV revolution. 

You see first they were slow on the take up, until brands like Tesla made electric cars desirable and sexy. Tesla also paved the way for many new start-ups getting in to the car making business. 

The very nature of an EV facilitates many more boutique companies to enter the fray. You see, an EV in its core components is completely different to an ICE car, and to a large extent, far less complex. All you need is a highly configurable modular or skateboard platform, as they are known. 

The sheer size, scale and complexities of large-scale legacy car companies mean they just can’t pivot so easily into this new paradigm. 

This is a flat frame with the batteries contained within it, and space for motors at the wheels, whether on the front and/or rear axles, or within each of the wheels themselves, and that’s it. Then you just plonk the rest of the car on top. 

There are already start-ups focussing on just making and supplying these skateboards. Other start-ups can just build the body and voila – you have a new car, which could theoretically be customised to your exact design and custom specifications. 

And since EVs will already become costly commodities reserved for the fortunate few, extreme personalisation will be more in demand than ever. Think of it as fine tailoring, but for cars. 

The sheer size, scale and complexities of large-scale legacy car companies mean they just can’t pivot so easily into this new paradigm. 

In terms many of my media contemporaries will relate too, it’s like traditional print publishing houses being too big and cumbersome to contend with the internet revolution, and is now completely decimated and crippled by new media giants like Google and Meta. 

It’s not over till the phat motor revs

Okay look, it’s not quite all over just yet for us common motorists. 

The development of electric cars and batteries has to continue, especially battery technology – ideally, we want to see lighter, longer lasting and cheaper energy storage solutions. 

Meanwhile we should stop scrapping old cars. That’s just wastage, and not exactly great for the environment, especially as many older cars are not entirely recyclable. 

Keep the following in mind, the carbon footprint of a new car is from 6.5 tons to anywhere over the aforementioned 25 tons, whereas running an existing car produces just 4.5 tons annually and barely over half a ton a year for a classic car!

But how are we going to fuel them, because I’ve already stated that oil will run out by the 2070s? 

Bio-fuels, e-fuels and synthetic fuels are a thing, people. Essentially, we can grow fuel, but the argument there is that you need to balance that against growing food crops, after all do you want to drive or survive starvation? 

it is possible to create fuel by extracting the carbon back out of the atmosphere. This is already happening, and could be a big part of the future of sustainable transport

However, it is possible to create fuel by extracting the carbon back out of the atmosphere. This is already happening, and could be a big part of the future of sustainable transport. Porsche is doing a lot of work in the area of efuels. 

Old-skool petrol and diesel engines can even be modified to run on new-skool hydrogen. While big transport, storage and delivery issues with Hydrogen as a fuel remain, it still needs to be considered seriously, especially for commercial vehicles. And hydrogen fuel cell technology is a viable option as Toyota and Honda have both proved. 

While I am certainly now a fan of EVs, unlike some so-called EV-angelists, that’s not to the exception or exclusion of everything else. We must have a holistic and all-encompassing approach to our transport solutions, rather than lumping all our eggs in one basket. 

So, there’s two prospective futures facing us right now: one, where only the rich own and drive cars, and the rest of us get crammed onto buses and trains, or bring back horse-drawn carriages.

The second, involves a time when EVs share road-space with decades old diesel and petrol cars, hydrogen-powered machines and more. Perhaps even cars with atomic batteries and nuclear fission or a Mr Fusion Home Energy Reactor. That’s not an attempt to end this discourse with flippant fancy, but to stir and inspire real and genuine innovation in the fields of energy creation, power storage and road transport. Otherwise, option one will be upon us soon – and you and I definitely don’t want that. 

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