Don’t Hold Your Breath Until Gasmobiles Are Dinosaurs

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Going by what we’ve seen at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit over the past few days, the electric vehicle market is starting to take off like a rocket. But, that certainly doesn’t mean we’re going to see fewer gasmobiles on the road. The reality is that the global population is growing and the auto consumer class is growing along with it. For the foreseeable future, you’re going to see growth in the gasmobile market, too.

That doesn’t have to be all bad news for carbon emissions. Let’s say in the sparkling green near-future, more fossil carbon gets left in the ground, and more gasmobiles are fueled by low carbon — or perhaps even carbon neutral — biomass. The flip side is that we’re quickly going to reach a tipping point for the land and/or water resources needed to raise feedstock for biofuel, unless auto makers pay much more attention to fuel efficient engines than they are now.

That brings us to this beauty of a personal mobility device, which Ford unveiled at the Detroit show on Monday:

2017 Ford GT
Yep, it’s the new 20017 Ford GT (photo by Tina Casey).

Okay, so it’s not a Tesla. And unlike the Ford Focus, the new GT will probably never be modded into a battery EV or, for that matter, into a fuel cell EV (prove us wrong, guys!). However, it does sport a more powerful version of the company’s recently launched EcoBoost fuel efficient engine, and apparently it’s going to serve as a platform for further enhancements to the technology.

Among other awards, the company’s EcoBoost 1.0 liter engine was named International Engine of the Year in its class last summer. Ford initially offered EcoBoost as an option on just a few models including the Fiesta, Focus, and the new 2015 Edge crossover. The customer response must have been quite satisfying because now the Ecoboost is available for every North American model. Aside from the racy GT (the GT pictured above won’t be produced until next year, btw), that includes the off-road Raptor pickup:

Ford Raptor with Ecoboost engine (photo by Tina Casey
New Ford Raptor (photo by Tina Casey).

…and the ultra-luxury new Lincoln:

All new Ford Lincoln (rear view, photo by Tina Casey)
All new Lincoln, rear view (photo by Tina Casey).

…and also the iconic F-150, which just got a makeover last year with an all-aluminum body (that’s for lighter weight/fuel efficiency/performance as well as virtually 100 percent recycling of scrap on site). Here’s a shot inside just one little corner of Ford’s Rouge factory dedicated exclusively to churning out F-150’s:

Ford Rouge factory

Putting all these pieces together with what we already know about EVs, we’re more convinced than ever that electric vehicles will dominate the 21st century, despite the recent freefall in oil prices. However, the realness is that gasmobiles and hybrids will also play a significant role far into the future (take another look at that Rouge factory if you need more evidence).


Biofuel could provide a sustainable answer, but not necessarily a cheap one: consider the three-way tension between a continuing demand for liquid fuel, the growing pressure to keep more fossil carbon in the ground, and the impact on land and water resources from biofuel production.

Let’s face it, the future price of liquid fuel, whether bio or petro, is going to go up. For that matter, the petroleum industry is already retrenching like crazy (at least, here in the US) and reserves are being stockpiled in tankers offshore in anticipation of the inevitable oil price spike to come.

That sets the table for auto manufacturers to continue to develop the next generation of fuel efficient gasmobile engines to meet the full range of consumer demand, including adventurers, funseekers, and luxury buyers as well as the budget and eco-aware markets.

That’s our takeaway from the Detroit Auto Show, take it or leave it.

Speaking of leaving, we only had a couple of days at the show and now we’re done. We’ve been focusing on Ford because the company made it possible for us to get to Detroit in the first place, but we also had a chance to run down to the mysterious lower level of the convention hall and check out the biggest autonomous vehicle that you’ve probably ever seen in your whole entire life, among other goodies, so stay tuned for some exclusive auto show coverage.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3152 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey

8 thoughts on “Don’t Hold Your Breath Until Gasmobiles Are Dinosaurs

  • “Let’s face it, the future price of liquid fuel, whether bio or petro, is going to go up.”

    Is it? The cost of second generation biofuels (cellulose-based) is falling relentlessly. Advances in enzyme engineering have reduced the cost of breaking down cellulose greatly. The saccharification stage is improving rapidly as yeast metabolic engineering is perfected to include fermentation of pentoses. And the pre-treatment stage, currently the most expensive and energy-intensive phase, is due to fall as improvements in plant cell wall engineering improve the lignin/hemicellulose composition of energy crops.

    As ever more food has to be squeezed out of less top-quality agricultural land, first generation oil seed/starch/sugar based fuels will likely have a bleak future. But that’s insignificant compared to the promise of second generation biofuels, which can be obtained from low-input crops like cottonwood or grasses as well as some agricultural waste streams.

    And who knows, algae might yet make a splash after several false starts.

    Is the future of personal mobility electrical? Probably. But that still leaves millions of aircraft, heavy trucks, construction and farming devices, ships and such like for which battery power is not in the cards for the forseeable future.

  • it is the poisoning of the air that we inhale that must stop

  • Since we’re still burning gas, where is Oil & Gas (the industry) at these shows? Technically, they’re supplying the software for the automobile industry. So called “tech” is neat and all, but really it’s just garnish. A shiny object for our lovable tech savvy (i.e. snapchat users) millennials to glom on to. Gasoline formulation and engine lubrication is kind of a big deal – despite modern engine capabilities. Then again, when a business model is based purely on moving product and burning it fast – the end user and end use isn’t too much of a concern. Exxonmobil corporate marketing in Plano (or is it Irvine) probably doesn’t care if the bathrooms at Exxon gas stations around my house are clean – an end user experience. Back in the day, gas stations made profits chiefly on cigarettes, beef jerky, and fountain soft drinks. (And beer if they sell it). Gas is pretty much a loss leader.

  • Biofuels are coming along. Maybe not enough to replace oil but much more than now so the ICE could become green in some situations. Algae-based oils are still expensive but they will be competitive soon enough as gas goes back up and biofuels cost goes down. Some of them have very good productivity per acre:

    “Algenol has an algae strain that can produce ethanol directly, and the system can then convert remaining biomass into hydrocarbon fuels such as biodiesel, gasoline, and jet fuel. The biorefinery has helped Algenol exceed its milestone of 9,000 gallons of ethanol per acre per year at peak productivity, with an additional 1,100 gallons per acre per year of hydrocarbon fuels. Algenol expects to expand their operations to full commercial scale by the end of this year.”

    Algenol’s inputs include salt water and outputs include fresh water. Corn has about 300 gal/acre so Algenol’s looking at 30x productivity and a lot less refining.

    Above from DoE’s blog on biofuels:

  • We may never run out of oil if getting at it isn’t too expensive. Off the coasts of Greenland and Cuba, there is supposedly many times more oil than Saudi Arabia.
    And road transportation only contributes 10% to global emissions. Cutting and burning forests is almost double that.
    The big problem with oil is all the politics, corruption and military conflicts directly complicit with Big Oil for which most countries must pay to import.
    Fortunately, vehicles are using less gas than ever and will need to get 54mpg by 2025. The only way to get there is with plug-in vehicles and the world will be all the better for it.

  • Competition by EVs, vehicle to grid, vehicle to solar, and efficiency gains will drive the price of fuels down…

  • Efficient liquid fuel engines are better than inefficient ones, but they are not clean tech until we have liquid fuels made on large scale from cellulose or algae, which we don’t. Brazilian ethanol from bagasse may just make the cut.

    Casting the net this wide allows virtually any efficiency improvement in any technology to count as clean tech. No thanks.

  • If you are a minimalist, or a true conservative, the electric bike is not likely to be beat for efficiency. What we still seem to be saying is “Oh, yeah, there may be some climate problems, but my comfort and my ego are more important”.

    If energy is energy, electric motors are much more efficient. You end up with the macro issues anyway. What kind of cities require what kinds of transport? What does technology drive?

    How much more can you do with ICE, anyway? Isn’t it just a little discouraging to see muscle cars?

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