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Will Electric Cars Really Replace Gas Cars in Twenty Years?

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When governments around the world began announcing plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, the question on everyone’s lips was this: will electric cars eventually replace them entirely?

Unless you have a crystal ball, it’s impossible to answer this question with total certainty. After all, there are other options out there for the future of transport, from hydrogen power to synthetic fuels – so it’s unlikely that the future will be fully electric.

But to ascertain just how much the motoring landscape is likely to change over the next 20 years, we’re going to take a comprehensive look at the past, present and future of the EV.

Where it all started

EVs are not new. In fact, they’ve been around for almost as long as their internal combustion-engined (ICE) counterparts, with the first models hitting our streets in the 1800s. They were favoured back then for short, intercity journeys, their owners taking delight in their quiet operation and ease of use. Unlike steam or petrol-powered vehicles, early electric cars were clean, simple and (comparatively) reliable.

For a few years – 1899 and 1900 – they even outsold ICE vehicles, at which point it’s estimated that a third of the USA’s fleet was electric. This proved to be a high watermark for the EV though, as mass production and low oil prices (combined with rapid technological development) soon made ICEs the more attractive option. With longer ranges, better performance and a more palatable price tag, petrol-powered cars soon became the norm – and remained so for decades.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that EVs began to experience something of a resurgence. Heightened environmental awareness prompted manufacturers to dust off the EV concept and give it another shot, with mixed results. In the 2010s, the arrival of new brands like Tesla – and continued investment from the likes of Nissan, Hyundai and Kia – helped catapult EVs into the mainstream once more.

Where we’re at now

All of that brings us nicely to the present day. EVs aren’t the sole preserve of committed tree huggers anymore: they’re well and truly mainstream.

Brits haven’t taken to EVs quite as readily as those in many other European countries, but sales of new examples are still rising rapidly. According to SMMT data for the year to-date, sales of new battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are up a whopping 88.3%. Hybrids are performing well too – manufacturers have shifted almost 20,000 more of them so far this year. By contrast, petrol cars are down 17.1% and diesels a staggering 51.4%.

Impressive, right? These figures are nothing compared to what’s going on in Norway, however. This idyllic Scandinavian nation has more EVs per capita than any other country on Earth, and last year 65% of all new cars sold were battery-powered. In 2022, the Norwegian EV Association expects this figure to grow to between 75 and 80%.

So, why is Norway so far ahead of the curve? Its government pushed car buyers towards EVs by exempting them from taxes that still apply to petrol and diesel cars, making them that much more affordable. One of the most significant barriers of entry to EVs is the price, after all. Take the Vauxhall Corsa as an example – one of Britain’s best selling cars. The conventional petrol version starts at £17,330, while the cheapest all-electric model is £27,055 – almost £10,000 more.

EVs are already replacing petrol and diesel cars in some parts of the world, then – and other countries look set to follow Norway’s lead. But what’s next?

What’s around the corner?

If you’ve read the news much in the last couple of years, announcements about the future of new petrol and diesel car sales won’t have escaped you. In the UK, you’ll only be able to buy new EVs or hybrids by 2030 – and even hybrids will go the way of the dodo in 2035.

The European Union and the state of California have made similar announcements, the latter also targeting a 26% market share for EVs by 2026. Though California is only one of 50 states in the US, it’s the one that sells the most cars – so it’s likely that others will make similar pledges over the next few years.

Although Norway has encouraged EV take-up with tax breaks, soon measures like this might not be necessary. Manufacturers are working overtime to cut the production costs of their electric models, and as the technology works its way more and more into the mainstream market, the price differential between ICE cars and their battery-powered counterparts is shrinking rapidly. Industry experts believe that they’ll cost about the same by 2025, and with that hurdle crossed, the balance will have tipped well and truly in the EV’s favour.

According to Auto Express, if EV sales continue to grow at their current rate, it will take 15 years for the bulk of the UK’s ICE cars to be replaced by zero-emission models. Internationally, analysis from IHS Markit suggests that half of the cars on the road are likely to be electric by 2050.

The long-term outlook

If you’re a petrolhead and love the sounds, smells and sensations that only an internal combustion engine can deliver, it’s only natural to be concerned about the long-term future of petrol and diesel used cars. Will you still be able to take yours out at the weekend for a B-road blast?

The answer is simple: yes. No government anywhere in the world has so much as hinted at banning existing cars from the road. There’s no evidence at all that this has even been discussed by officials, most of whom are aware of the significance and importance of the classic car sector – a thriving industry in Europe, the US and around the world.

You won’t have to surrender your classic, then, but running a petrol or diesel car as a daily driver might start to become something of a challenge as the decades roll by. According to Sia Partners, 43% of Europe’s filling stations are likely to vanish by 2050, so you’ll have to plan your journeys more carefully to avoid conking out at the side of the road.

In the future, it’s likely that classic cars will be viewed much in the same way horses and steam vehicles are today. You’ll still see them on the road, sure, but they’ll be used exclusively for pleasure and not as a primary mode of transport. But even if you are determined to commute to work in your classic, you’ll still have options. A growing number of companies are now offering EV conversion services, transplanting an ultra-modern, zero-emission heart into whatever car you fancy.

2035 may not spell the end of all new petrol cars, either. Supercar manufacturers Ferrari and Lamborghini are understood to be in talks with the European Union over a possible exemption from the planned ban, but time will tell whether or not this is granted.

In summary

So, will electric cars replace petrol and diesel cars in 20 years’ time? Yes and no. In some parts of the world (Norway, we’re looking at you), it’s likely that EVs will dominate much sooner than that. Other countries might take a little more time, but as manufacturers start to wind down ICE production, soon EVs will become the default choice for new car buyers.

Petrol and diesel cars might become something of a rarity, but they’ll never go away completely. Of that we’re certain.

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