Some of the oldest and proudest car manufacturers in the world have their own museums, showcasing glorious times gone by, amazing feats they’ve achieved and the kind of thing we can expect to see from them in the future. They’re inevitably petrolhead nirvanas but there’s something there for everyone. Looking around this sort of museum at the failed ideas and unfinished dreams prompts some crystal ball-gazing.
Despite their initial protests a few years ago, car makers have made huge strides in reducing their cars’ carbon footprint and generally increasing their economy as well – which is brilliant for everybody. But that’s all just refining the systems we already have. The new propulsion systems that are slowly working their way into our lives are a bit more radical, whether it’s electric power, hydrogen fuel cells, or whatever other ideas that engineers think they can make work. Maybe somewhere there’s a car in a lab that runs on magnetic fields, or the gravitational pull of the moon…
Mercedes have a car in their museum in Stuttgart, originally penned by a Mr Porsche, believe it or not. He was looking way into the future in the 1930s and wanted to put a 3000-horsepower turbine into a car that was about knee high, but the outbreak of World War II stopped him in his tracks. Perhaps, at the time, that idea seemed no more mad to car designers than burning hydrogen and producing nothing but water does to us now, and yet looking back, that idea was always doomed to fail, if not because of war then because of a very large crash.
Outright speed is less of a focus these days. Although a few niche manufacturers are still pursuing the old golden goose that is making the fastest production car in the world, the truth is that most people are getting a lot less interested. What’s more concerning to the average Joe and Jane is that fuel costs silly money and there’s no obvious way around it at the moment. Radical thinking is what’s needed, and that’s what we’re getting, but it’s not happening fast enough. Electric cars aren’t practical enough for most people, hydrogen fuel cell cars are ahead of their time and there’s little or no refuelling infrastructure yet, and in any case, none of these alternative solutions has really caught imaginations worldwide yet, and that’s what counts.
What’s needed is something really exciting to create a figurehead for alternative fuels. Something that’s as mouth-watering as it is friendly to the ice caps. Something that will have 10-year-olds up and down the country putting posters of it on their walls, with the looks of an Alfa Romeo 8C and the emissions of a Nissan Leaf.
Whatever’s under the bonnet, if it looks and feels right it’ll sell. Thanks to the basic Mini One for proving that one back in 2001. The emissions box is being ticked already, but that’s not enough. There’s acceleration and practicality to think about. If it’s fast away from the lights then it’s desirable, and if it’s practical people can happily live with it. The thing is, though, that no manufacturers have put all this together in an electric car yet. Most electric and fuel cell cars all look a bit odd, there are bigger boots in Debenhams and the truly rapid Tesla aside, none of the production models are that much use in a dash between the traffic lights. The current sales figures for electric cars make dour reading and there’s one way to turn that around. What the industry really needs is a long-range, big-booted electric model that’s somehow a bit… naughty.
By Matt Kimberley