Energy Elephants: The Historical Shift in Automotive Innovation

Energy Elephants

Evolution of Electric and Hybrid Cars

Some time ago I visited a private automobile museum in The Netherlands, together with our chairman Julf Helsingius; himself a collector of rare Land Rovers. Seeing how a single patron had preserved the history of the automobile industry was one thing, but those electric, gas and hybrid car models from the late 1800s and early 1900s were tantalising.

Before oil was drilled in industrial scale, the electric car was the preferred choice for new mobility. Simple and reliable parts, convenient power control and even regenerative brakes; yes, in around 1910.

When the oil industry distanced itself from whales and lubrication only, there was a brief season of hybrid cars, both common drive train and charging-only solutions. They now look like Donald Duck vehicles, but the technology was surprisingly similar to what we see today.

What really tilted the axle towards gasoline engines was the very cheap and abundant fossil oil. What is intriguing is that this significantly slowed down the innovation in energy efficiency – for almost 100 years.

Now when we’ve realized that excessive CO2 is harming our planet, we’re finally catching up. But these elephants in the room are still there – massive investments into old, inefficient technologies skew the future opportunities for a long time. Take, for instance, our electrical grids which were built mostly with very large production units (nuclear, hydro, coal) in mind. The new prosumer (distributed generation) is much opposed due to grid restrictions. But should we have a unified grid anymore?

I’m confident that we’re now finally entering the world of continuous evolution, in which accurate data rules over people who used to hide their past mistakes while waiting for pension. There are platforms in which new products can have full spimes & digital twins, and with machine learning and AI we can understand changes over millennia.

We owe the data for our children and grandchildren. It’s now not only up to the few patrons, but all of the industry.

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