Although the media give a great deal of coverage to electric vehicles, advances in battery technology and nonconventional modes of transportation, both the International Energy Agency and the Energy Information Administration (EIA) project that the consumption of liquid fuels — oil and gas — will continue to increase over coming decades. The increase in natural gas consumption will be primarily for electric power generation. Crude oil is refined primarily into transportation fuels — gasoline, diesel and jet fuel — almost 80 percent.
Over the past few decades, gasoline and diesel fuels have been significantly changed to reduce tailpipe emissions. As a result, air quality continues to get better. At the same time, the internal combustion engine has also gone trough revolutionary changes as a result of ever more stringent efficiency standards (Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE standards) and advances in technology. Although research continues on alternatives to the internal combustion engine, assessments continue to conclude that over the next several decades, gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles will continue to be the dominant forms of transportation here and in the rest of the world.
In its most recent Annual Energy Outlook, the EIA estimates that by 2040, hybrids and electric vehicles will only represent 7 percent of new vehicle sales. While the mix of vehicle systems will change, gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles will remain dominant.
A report by M.I.T.'s Sloan School of Automotive Engineering, On The Road in 2035, concluded that "Conventional naturally aspirated, spark-ignited internal combustion engine (SIE) technology offers a path for continuous improvements in vehicle efficiency for the next few decades. Realizing these improvements requires that technological advances be directed toward reducing vehicle fuel consumption rather than offsetting increases in performance or weight." In 2014, an article by Stephane Babock, "Latest Advances in Internal Combustion Engines," contained the following observations: "Even with all the buzz that surrounds hybrids, hydrogen fuel cells, and the numerous gaseous alternatives, OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] are still betting on the benefits of the constantly improving internal combustion engine (ICE)."
A senior GM engineer commented that "Great examples of technologies that improve vehicle efficiency include added transmission gears (e.g., 6-speed versus 4-speed) lowering engine operation speed, enabling lower numerical axle ratios, and, in many cases, increasing performance and capability." He added variable cam phasing, direct fuel injection, reducing engine accessory loading, electric power steering, improved vehicle aerodynamics, increased cooling airflow sealing, and reduced tire rolling resistance to the list.
Last year, almost 90 million vehicles were sold worldwide; almost all were gasoline or diesel-powered. As emerging economies achieve higher standards of living, mobility will become a more important value and the global vehicle fleet will grow significantly as a consequence. According to ExxonMobil's 2015 Outlook for Energy, there are about 1 billion light-duty vehicles on the world's roads today, predominately gasoline and diesel. By 2035, the number of vehicles will grow to about 1.6 billion. Although the growth in hybrids and electric vehicles will be impressive, about 1.1 billion will still be gasoline and diesel-powered.
The promotion of hybrids and electric vehicles is driven exclusively to reduce carbon dioxide emissions on the mistaken belief that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are causing harmful climate change. With each passing month, that hypothesis becomes less credible. For almost 18 years, there has been no increase in global temperatures, even though carbon dioxide levels have risen by more than 20 percent. In addition, there has been no increase in extreme weather events, like hurricanes and tornadoes. As alarmist predictions continue to fail, the public will surely turn a deaf ear to those who want to impose higher energy costs to avoid future dread that always seems to be decades in the future. It will also question how a nutrient — carbon dioxide — that is essential for life can also be a pollutant.
The vehicle and fuel of the future will be those that satisfy the need for mobility and comfort most cost-effectively, not those that are driven by an illusion of dread. Mobility is an important value and obtaining the benefits of it should not be made unnecessarily costly by ill-conceived regulations and mandates.
O'Keefe is CEO of the George C. Marshall Institute and president of Solutions Consulting, Inc.