Electric Cars and the Future of the Internal Combustion Engine

We talk about electric cars every once in a while. Usually when Tesla introduces something new or does something bizarre like launch a car into space. My prediction is that it will take between 15 to 20 years until electric cars become the norm. We’ll see about that. Internal Combustion Engines (ICE) are still the most practical form of vehicle propulsion. Mostly due to the fact that there is already a strong supporting infrastructure (gas stations, replacement parts, aftermarket parts, and engine products) and filling up a tank of fuel takes a lot less time than charging a battery.

The Internal Combustion Engine Has Come a Long Way

[Image Source


The ICE goes waaaay back to around 1859 (even Mahathir wasn’t born yet). And if you consider the ideation of the crank itself (turning linear motion into rotational motion), we go even further back to ancient times. Two-strokes, four-strokes, spark plugs, carburettors, and even superchargers were actually introduced even before the 20th century. Hopefully that gives us a perspective on just how long these things have been around. Very long.

Engine bay of an Alfa Romeo GT1600 Junior (link to article)

With ICE in cars, we’ve seen the creation of twin carburettors, twin sparks, fuel injection, push rods, overhead cam shafts, double overhead camshafts, direct injection, variable valve timing, variable intake, turbochargers, superchargers, twin-scroll turbo chargers, in-line engines, flat engines, V-engines, W-engines, and the latest being variable compression ratio. All are efforts to make the ICE more efficient and more powerful. Electric motors have fewer moving parts and one day we’ll no longer be talking about those things I’ve just mentioned.

A diesel engine used for farming in Cambodia (link to article)

A lot of what you see going around today can be credited to the ICE. It’s not just in cars. You can find them in motorbikes, trucks, farming equipment, ships, locomotives, electric generators, lawnmowers, and propeller aircrafts. Turbine engines are also internal combustion engines, but since we mostly talk about cars here, I choose to highlight the types of ICE that have a similar mechanism to what you find in cars. The point is, the ICE can be found almost anywhere and has most probably helped in the development of a lot of countries (or the destruction of some). Even if all cars were to be electric, the internal combustion engine will still be around. Just in other types of machines.

For Daily Commute You’ll Barely feel The Difference, until…

BMW i3 during Malaysia Autoshow 2018 (link)

Well, I tried the Renault Zoe before (link to article), and it’s really just like driving an electric Myvi. There’s nothing spectacular about it. It just feels normal, until your battery gets low and range anxiety starts to kick in. There aren’t many charging stations in Klang Valley, and they’re usually hogged by plug-in hybrid BMWs. Even if we had many charging stations (like Norway), charging isn’t very convenient since it takes much longer than filling up a tank of petrol. Even with supercharging (Tesla) it still takes a while. Time is valuable and the success of certain mobile apps are proof that we’re all trying to save time in our busy lives (ride hailing apps, online shopping, and online dating). Perhaps faster charging will fix this situation or we could go with the battery swapping method instead.

Can Electric Cars be Fun?

[Image obviously from Hoonigan]

Here’s something that could give mixed feelings to some car enthusiasts out there – an electric drifting Hachiroku that showed up at the Hoonigan garage. I always thought speed, driver involvement, and some spirited driving was all we needed to enjoy our cars. After watching this video (skip to 12:05), it’s actually quite weird to not hear your engine rev as you floor it. I’ll need some time to get used to this. It looks like you can mate an electric motor with a standard manual transmission (which means you can still hoon around and have more control over how the car behaves). The car probably won’t stall, since electric motors are a lot torquier.


Certain ICE Cars will Become Art Pieces

Certain older ICE cars have already become collectors’ items. And they’re getting more expensive by the day. Old Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Jaguars, Alfa Romeos, and retired race cars are all collector items that serve no other purpose but to be kept, polished, and displayed. And very occasionally driven. You would barely drive them because they’re so hard to fix and so precious. The same will happen to certain current day performance and luxury models. In the future, not many will go through the trouble of manufacturing replacement parts for ICE cars once electric is the norm. It won’t make much business sense. At that point, certain ICE cars will just be kept for display purposes and the rich will trade it among themselves, like paintings.

What about more ordinary cars?
I think we’ll mostly try to scrap them. But I won’t be surprised to see aftermarket electric-motor swaps happening.


It takes a lot of adapting

Not for you as a consumer, but the industries involved. There will also be significant economic power shifts.


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