The Day the Music Stops
Volume 47 Issue 16
Aug 6, 2022
A short history on transportation. An opinion of where we started and where I think we are going.
I have a friend who drives an electric car. His enthusiasm for his car is high. He could quote the mileage figures and 0 to 60 times, the overall efficiency of operation, he even expounded upon all the computer capabilities and how large the screen is on the dash.
His is the quickest Tesla made and he wanted to show it off to me. So, we took a ride.
Yes, it was quiet. Yes, the computer screen is almost as large as my monitor here in the office, certainly larger than my laptop. I have to believe his figures about the efficiency, I know electricity is cheaper than gas.
And it sure was quick.
At the end of the ride I was impressed with the massive torque from a standing start. 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye. Anybody who has ridden, or driven, an electric car has had the same experience, but at the end of the day the experience is lacking.
Throughout history transportation has evolved. When man walked everywhere it was a quiet journey. Birds provided background music and all that could be heard was soft flesh pounding against dirt trails.
Horses, camels and elephants were domesticated to be ridden. This mode of transportation was still a quiet endeavor. The sounds of nature and a gentle clip-clop from the horse was all the noise heard.
When the chariot and wagon were invented, a better method with more capability was available. Since ball bearings had yet to be invented, a wooden wheel on a wooden axle needed to be greased to lower the friction and prevent expensive replacement of either.
This is where the term “The squeaky wheel gets the grease”. But I’m not here to explain how this became an idiom.
The point is wagons are noisy. When several loaded wagons move down a trail, nature’s quiet was disturbed. I’m sure someone complained about those new-fangled wagons disturbing the peace and thought the world is going to hell.
For a couple thousand years or so this was a standard mode of moving goods and crops to market and people got used to the noise.
Then Nicolas Otto perfected the four-stroke engine and life changed dramatically. (For all you steam guys out there, I’ve chosen not to get into propulsion by steam to shorten the article. Your time is coming.)
Otto designed and built stationary engines to do work even more efficient than steam, or horse power (real horses, not calculated HP).
Needless to say, as technology got better and engines got smaller, gentlemen like Gottlieb Daimler, and later, Henry Ford, were able to place this new even more noisy mode of transportation into the mix with horses and carts.
Early automobiles needed to have someone on foot waving a flag to warn horse-drawn wagons and riders one of those new-fangled vehicles was coming. Peace and quiet along the world’s roads was forever changed. Well, maybe not forever.
The early days of the automotive age were filled with a variety of manufacturers and designs. Companies came and went often. There were many designs and methods of providing motive power for this new vehicle.
Some thought electricity was the best way to provide mobility. It certainly didn’t scare the horses and could be integrated into society without much difficulty. However, battery technology was primitive, and electricity was not widespread outside of cities.
Steam was also tried and since steam power had been around for a hundred years people were familiar with the technology. (See, I told you there would be something for the steam guys.)
While there was a successful steam automobile, there were major drawbacks in pre-heating the water to build pressure and the boiler was somewhat fragile making high-pressure steam somewhat dangerous.
The internal combustion engine (ICE) became the best method of creating motive power. Lamp oil then kerosene and later gasoline became the products used to power an engine.
Oil was found underground and seemed plentiful. Crude oil could be refined into many different grades and was easily transportable.
Oil changed society. Heavy oil could be used to heat homes and buildings. Light oil could replace animal fat as a lubricant. When further refined it could become gasoline. A product that had the greatest BTUs per pound.
The internal combustion engine out-shone all the other methods of creating motive power. The fuel was inexpensive, transportable, storable and relatively safe to handle.
Manufacturers made engines to match the design of the automobiles. The advancements in design created better and more efficient engines. Pretty soon all vehicles are using an internal combustion engine.
Engine designers have come up with many different ways of rotating a crankshaft. Cylinders of 1-2-4-6-8 and even twelve or sixteen have been used. (Yes, and five, but I was trying not to get too esoteric). Multiple camshafts and multiple valves have increased power.
Even gasoline has been improved to provide even better power and efficiency. Needless to say, we owe a lot to the development of the ICE. Man would have never flown without gasoline to power the engine.
But this is not homage to gasoline or to the ICE: it is to bring us up to current times. It is important to understand how we got to today.
The world has embraced the capabilities and usefulness of modern engines, diesel or gas. But there is trouble underfoot. There is a concern about the climate and the planet we live on.
The push to change how we motovate is picking up steam (pardon the pun). It would appear the automotive industry is going back to electricity.
Battery power is becoming the norm. Manufacturers are all building hybrid gas/electric or even going full electric. Even Ferrari is building hybrid cars.
These cars are supposed to “save the planet”. But will they? Is it possible to change the world’s automobile population into something other than gasoline and the internal combustion engine?
Let’s start with some facts. In 2000, worldwide vehicle production was fifty-eight million vehicles. Production has increased every year except during the great recession of 2008-2009 and more recently when the pandemic closed manufacturing.
Two years have the greatest production numbers with 2017 and 2018, each year, having built ninety-seven million vehicles. Simple math gives me a total of one billion, seven hundred and fifty-six million vehicles manufactured in the last twenty years.
Current electric car production is about 2 to 5 percent of all vehicles manufactured. That leaves the vast majority still being ICE. The average life of most vehicles is about twenty years, so it is not inconceivable that a majority of the nearly two billion vehicles manufactured are still running.
The average vehicle age is reported to be ten years, so the numbers add up to a lot of vehicles around the world still using diesel or gasoline. It will be a long time before the vehicle population gets to be majority electric. Unless.
Governments are starting to move towards the “clean” vehicle, i.e., electric, with rules and laws to force a change in societal transportation.
European nations are hoping to cut automotive emissions by 50% by 2030 and 100% by 2035. That can mean in fifteen years every ICE engine will have to be removed from the roads. Is that even possible?
Certainly as governments realize the enormity of the task and the limitations of the infrastructure, they will push out the full implementation of banning ICE vehicles. But for how long?
The big question remains, will it be enough, will it be quick enough to make changes to the environment and what will happen to all the existing vehicles?
And what will Ferrari do to face the future?
Ferrari has built its life around the internal combustion engine. Enzo had a dream of producing an engine unlike any that had come before.
Ferrari has continued that legacy and improved upon the power and efficiency of the ICE. We see today the V-8 turbocharged engine as being a mechanical marvel and masterpiece. The 120 degree V-6 engine will usher in a whole new era of small displacement and efficient engines, but for how long?
Is it even possible to imagine Ferrari not making an ICE automobile? What if Ferrari had to go full-on electric? Could Ferrari survive if it made just another electric car?
The direction automobile manufacturing is going, I think the possibility is there. We may see the day when the engine is silent.
Will we have to go to specialized tracks to enjoy a gasoline powered Ferrari? When ICE vehicles are banned from the streets there may be no other choice.
The problem is much larger when you think about how many classic cars have survived. Mainly through the efforts of collectors and enthusiasts who have saved, cherished and restored interesting and unique automobiles from all eras.
As we move towards this brave new era, we will rarely hear the sounds of an engine hitting max RPM. We may have to make a concerted effort to visit a place where we can hear the throaty roar of an engine.
One of the joys in life is hearing an unseen car appoaching, hearing the noise first and waiting in anticipation to see what it might be. The sound of a flat-plane V8 is clearly different than a Columbo V12; all engines have a distinctive noise. It’s that noise that stirs something inside us all.
Future generations will grow up with silent cars. Highways will be full of vehicles with no distinctive sound. A Tesla, Bolt or Ferrari will all be silently speeding down the road.
When that happens, what will we look forward to? Design? Performance? Certainly not the sound. Small explosions from a tailpipe cannot be replicated by electricity, or even steam.
So, back to my buddy with his Tesla. Yes, it was quick, but it had no soul. No sounds, no smells, nothing that would differentiate it from another soulless electric car.
I have a suggestion for Ferrari. If they must go full electric, I think it should have an external speaker system with the sound of an engine, RPM matched to the speed of the car. It should also have a smell generator to replicate the smell of a leaking carburetor.
In a world of silent cars running down the road a Ferrari would still be heard coming up from behind and when parked would stand out from a line of other electric cars.
It’s a new world, not that I like it, or want our current world to change, but I will never be king and somehow, I will have to embrace the future.
Aditional Thoughts on the Future of Transportation
I have some additional thoughts on the future of transportation.
There will come a point where people will realize we need petroleum and drilling is a necessary evil.
Electricity is not made from thin air as most would like you to believe.
Wind power and solar power are fairly “green” once you get past the initial manufacturing cost to the environment.
Unfortunately, it takes many years for the “green” to pay off.
The same goes for vehicles. While electric vehicles will have ultimately lower emissions over the life cycle of the vehicle, the initial production carries a high environmental cost.
Battery technology has come far in terms of capacity and recharge cycles, but they still reach a point of ineffectiveness.
When the population of electric vehicles on the road becomes significant there will be a problem of depleted batteries that needs to be addressed.
It will be possible to recycle and reclaim old batteries but there will be an environmental cost in doing so.
I’m not sure that cost is being factored into the “green” of electric cars currently.
While creating the “green” car movement and touting zero emissions we may be creating a new and different environmental problem.
What to do? What to do?
I believe the future of transportation will migrate to a different type of fuel.
Hydrogen fuel cells are one of the products that could be used. Hydrogen currently is expensive to manufacture and transport.
If there was enough investment in infrastructure, current gas stations could be converted to supply hydrogen. Fueling times are similar to gasoline.
Hydrogen fuel cells generate power for electric motors, so the concept of electric cars is still valid, yet the environmental impact of spent batteries is reduced.
Vehicles using fuel cells have pure water as their only byproduct and that can’t be all bad.
Unfortunately, these are still electric cars, and I don’t know how Ferrari could integrate this technology to stand out against other manufacturers.
We may have to come full circle regarding vehicle technology.
We began with steam, tried batteries and settled on gasoline. Now we are returning to batteries and experimenting with hydrogen.
Who knows? Steam engines may make a comeback before it’s all said and done.