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SOUL FUEL

Jonathan isn't exactly amped up about the prospect of an electric future

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t’s here. Accept it. That is the messaging we’ve been given on the arrival of electric vehicles and the demise of internal combustion. Not only by policymakers and industry, but also established motoring journalists that adopt an “enjoy-it-while-you-can” mentality with a resigned shrug of the shoulders.

Perhaps it is my nature to swim against the tide, but I must confess that I do not share the fatalist view on the future of internal combustion. Rather, I believe these cars will live on alongside electric vehicles, serving people who love driving and value cars for their experience, rather than expedience. 

 

That electric cars have distinct advantages over their ICE counterparts is not contested. Leaving aside unresolved questions as to environmental impact (a discussion best left to others, far cleverer than myself), I can fully understand the appeal of the packaging advantages offered by a “skateboard” design, smoothness and ease of operation, instant response, and the absence of fossilised remains being repeatedly ignited at great speed. For those who view cars merely as a tool to get from A to B, the package is a compelling one, particularly as the associated infrastructure grows to more easily service their needs.

 

But.   

 

I am yet to be convinced that that electrification offers anything substantial to those who truly value experience over expedience. 

 

The very character of the machines that grace the digital pages of this magazine are defined by their idiosyncrasies: the sound and delivery of the engine, our interactions with the transmission, the handling characteristics determined by placement of the engine in tandem with the driven wheels. These traits, both good and bad, are the tinder to the passionate discussions and heated debates that we share as enthusiasts. It allows us to do something remarkable: build meaningful connections with lumps of metal, that transcends the annualised calls to upgrade that have come to define modern consumerism.

 

And let us be clear that to buy any sports car is, first and foremost, to buy into the experience. A decision made with the heart, over the head. A conscious sacrifice of practicality and convenience, at the altar of noise, interaction and lurking threat of financial ruin. It is the very essence of being a “petrolhead”, and a concept now lost upon the modern motoring industry as it serves us another lukewarm helping of silent, 2000 horsepower, £2 million+ metal that conflates “acceleration” with “experience”.  

 

So where does this leave internal combustion going forward? My belief is that the overlap between vehicles used for transport and vehicles used for pleasure, will minimise. The former, headed by electrification with all the associated drivetrain advantages that make it so appealing for those purposes; the latter continuing under the stewardship of internal combustion, although in the minority. The lurking shadow of the UK’s 2030/2035 commitments regarding ICE power may challenge this view. However, I would ask you to consider the following:

 

First, there is, so far, very little that would indicate that the UK would be ready to make a whole-sale jump to electric vehicles in that time frame. Indeed, many online “influencers” that have vlogged about their experiences in running electric cars have expressed frustration at the inconvenience, scarcity and reliability of infrastructure. I remain deeply sceptical about such issues being materially rectified, at scale, in the next 10 years. 

 

Second, no government is beyond a good handbrake turn on policy. Many of you will be old enough to appreciate that it wasn’t too long ago that the UK government was extolling the virtues of diesel, and offering incentives to purchase them. That position is somewhat different now.

 

Lastly, I hold out hope for the advent of synthetic fuels. Brands that have built their reputation and customer-base by trading primarily on experience, must surely be concerned as to how to properly differentiate themselves in an all-electric world beyond badge-loyalty, given that most electric vehicles will be more than fast enough for the driver of average ability. It is perhaps no surprise then, that the likes of Porsche are investing into scoping the feasibility of synthetic fuels. After all, for a car like the 911, the sound and handling characteristics passed-down by its internal combustion engine, are a core part of both its appeal and continued sales success. 

 

Having set out my stall, in the event that I am completely wrong and that we truly are marching towards an all electric future, I fully reserve the right to push my glasses up, shrug my shoulders and say “enjoy them while you can”. If you are the type of person reading this magazine, I am confident you already are.