When the bigwigs of the automotive industry met this week on their annual FISITA conference, in the attached little expo one could see everything that makes the engineer's (and the automotive addict's) heart beat faster. Exotic engines, shiny, polished gearboxes, and historic oldtimer racing cars. Or the Mercedes F-700, a futuristic car study, inspired by what Daimler calls "aquatic design" which means that it is extremely streamlined (and the interior very luxurious).
What they did not show, was the answer to the ubiquitous question, discussed in forums, booths, in the canteen during lunch: What will drive tomorrows' car? Will it be gasoline or diesel oil? Yes, of course. As long as it is available, that is.
And then? Electric cars are nice, but the energy they consume does not just come out of heaven. It also has to be generated and stored. The one is a problem just as big as the other one. For instance, the batteries for the GM Volt (which will come to the European market in about two years and be sold by GM subsidiary Adam Opel AG) will weigh 180 kilograms and drive the price of the vehicle to a level where not many will be able to afford it. For the nonce, the engineers and marketers in Ruesselsheim (as well as those in Munich, Ingolstadt, Stuttgart, etc) hope that the battery experts will find ways to make it cheaper, smaller and more powerful.
In many discussions, hydrogen was praised as the answer to the fuel shortage. At first sight, this looks like a good approach. Isn't hydrogen as ubiquitous on this planet as silicon? Then it should be readily available, the masterminds conclude, and quickly they have their design studies for hydrogen-powered cars ready.
What they did not tell and perhaps did not even discuss was the question how to produce the electric energy necessary to charge the batteries of the electric car or to separate the hydrogen from water or whatever chemical compound they hope to use.
But why should they discuss this? For these problems, other experts are responsible. The automotive masterminds simply throw the problem over the fence to their engineering colleagues on the other side. Out of sight, out of mind. Just like in real life in the development departments.