Switching cars over to electric drive is a good goal. Electric motors are far more efficient than their ICE counterparts, so they waste a lot less energy and are generally cleaner even when the power plant uses fossil fuels. When batteries are charged with electricity, the source of that electricity can get greener over time or even get green immediately if you have solar at home. Ideally, we’d switch most cars over immediately.
But, if wishes were fishes, we’d all swim in riches. The cost of actually switching every car out for an electric one is immense, and many people can barely afford their gas cars, as evidenced by the longer and longer loan terms people are getting into. Automakers, governments, and many other entities just aren’t ready to make that switch. Some of them may never actually be ready, and could go the way of Kodak and Nokia. Ouch.
So, we’re realistically going to be stuck with mass production of ICE engines for a while and watch them slowly get phased out over a decade or two. This isn’t ideal, and it’s not something writers of CleanTechnica advocate for, but it’s looking like that’s what we’re stuck with.
Accepting Change Is Often A Process
But, let’s step out of our own shoes for a minute and try to see this from the view of ICE enthusiasts. For them, the landscape looks quite different. Something they love is starting to go away, and when something you love goes away, that can kick off a mourning process.
Like our tall friend, you’ll see people who really love ICE engines at some stage in the process. There are still a few people who deny that a transition to EVs is ever going to happen, or that it won’t happen in their lifetime (and, for some of them, the lifetime part is likely true). You’ll also find people who are at the angry stage, but I don’t think I really need to describe that.
Where things get interesting is the bargaining phase. This is where Toyota is at, for sure. You’ll find a variety of automakers trying to push hybrids and trying to get green cred for those. That’s a sign that they’re in the early part of the bargaining phase. The later part of the bargaining phase is where you’ll see plugin hybrids. They’re still trying to keep the ICE, but are at least trying to strike a 50/50 bargain. Or a 90/10 bargain.
In some ways, I’m even at the bargaining stage, but toward the other end of that curve. I’d like to see EVs take over the commercial vehicle market (including medium and heavy trucks), as well as nearly all vehicles people are using as “transportation appliances.” But, I’d like to see at least some limited exceptions for lightweight enthusiast vehicles like the Mazda Miata. You don’t see them very often, even now, so their impact would be pretty small. Grandfathering would also be good, but once again, only for enthusiast vehicles and not something people only use as a daily driver.
You’ll see some enthusiasts who are in the depression phase, but the good news is we’re already starting to see enthusiasts who accept that a transition to EVs is going to happen.
Of course, any psychologist would tell you that this five-stage model of grieving is overly simplistic. Nobody cleanly and neatly goes through each of the stages and then finds acceptance at the end. Sometimes, we go back and forth along the stages, or sit between them. Sometimes, we’re of two minds, and are sitting in multiple stages on different aspects of the loss (that’s me). For example, one may actually have an EV in their driveway, but still feel some nostalgia or have an ICE car next to it. That’s totally normal.
But What Will The End Of ICE Look Like?
Now that we’ve had a look at what it’s like from the enthusiast perspective, we can appreciate what we’re seeing with videos like this one:
While I’ve never seen the guys at Donut hate on EVs, they’re definitely in the ICE enthusiast camp and/or cater to the ICE enthusiast crowd on YouTube. They’re admitting that the ICE age is coming to a close, or they’re at least comfortable speaking to their audience about it because enough of them won’t unsubscribe.
Progress has been made, in other words.
Another cool thing about seeing ICE enthusiasts and experts acknowledge the transition is that they can give good information about the future of the industry now, and that gives us a good peek at what the last ICE engines will look like. We probably won’t see ICE engines get enough development money to exhibit any truly exotic properties, but we will see refinements that help them compete with EVs a little better for now.
One thing we’ll continue to see for a few years more is technologies like the Freevalve system that improves their performance and lowers their pollution and fuel costs. Mazda’s Skyactiv X technology (homogenous charge compression ignition) is another great example of late engine improvements that will help the last ICE engines pollute a bit less and burn less fuel. Nissan’s variable compression engines are another technology that will accomplish similar goals.
The downside to some of these technologies is increased complexity, which drives up costs, and makes the ICE powerplants even less competitive with EVs over time. In some ways, that’s good, because it will help the EV transition happen a little faster, both because the gas cars cost more and because they’ll have a shorter serviceable life with all of those extra moving parts.
One big exception to this is the upcoming Skyactiv R engines. Recent patent applications and other information from the automaker makes it clear that they intend to go ahead with reviving the rotary engine, with its few moving parts, but with big improvements that keep it from being a gross polluter. Unlike other ICE engines, this one will largely be used only to generate electricity, so in some ways, we’re moving along in the “bargaining” phase.
There are more advantages. The small size of a rotary engine helps solve packaging issues other ICE engines suffer from. The rare use happening only at steady engine speeds also helps with longevity, so they can take full advantage of the limited number of moving parts.
Like the Skyactiv R, Freevalve piston engines also have reduced complexity. No timing chain, no cams, no valve lifters, no pushrods, or any other such moving parts can also allow those engines to last a lot longer with less maintenance than the typical ICE engine or ICE range extender.
So, the last ICE engines will likely be those that use one of these technologies (rotary range extension, or Freevalve piston engines), and only because they’ll be competitive and/or complementary to EV drivetrains for longer than a typical dual overhead cam piston engine.
Featured image: A Mazda MX-30, a vehicle that will carry one of the last ICE technologies we’ll see.
Have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.
CleanTechnica Holiday Wish Book
Our Latest EVObsession Video
CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.