Let us place our order for the ideal vehicle for the post-petroleum (or at least post cheap petroleum) age. In making these specifications, we are making some assumptions:
- Long distance travel will be much more difficult than it is now, particularly long distance travel in a personal automobile. Consequently, the use of a personal automobile will be almost exclusively for trips of less than 100 miles.
- Petroleum will be dramatically more expensive than it is today, with gasoline and diesel fuel selling for something like $8-10 per gallon and sometimes not available at all.
- The conditions of highways will have deteriorated so that it will not be safe (or economical) to drive faster than about 50 mph, and we may even have become smart enough by then to set a 50 mph speed limit.
- Individuals will be more responsible for growing their own food, performing their own repairs, and constructing their own equipment and buildings. Consequently, we will have a greater need to carry cargo.
- Most consumers in the post-petroleum age won’t use a personal automobile often, and many of them won’t own one at all. Those who do will be looking for ways to squeeze the most miles they can from every drop of petroleum they use.
So with these assumptions in mind, we ask, we beg, the automobile companies (or more likely, someone who’s not in the automobile business now) to begin designing the vehicle that really will sell well when gasoline and diesel fuel cost more than $8 per gallon. It will have these features:
- It will be a small plug-in diesel hybrid pickup truck. It will weigh less than 3,000 pounds.
- It will have simple parts that are likely to keep working without expensive maintenance. That is, manual locks, manual crank windows, and manual adjusting seats. Lose the fancy sound system. An ordinary AM-FM radio will be just fine. Our bottoms will be smaller by then but still ample to warm the car seat; no heaters, please.
- It will have an all-electric cruising range of at least 40 miles at 50 mph. The lower operating speed will reduce the need for aerodynamic styling, so the vehicle can be more boxy to enable easier access to service its parts.
- It will allow the driver to select “Full electric” mode for short trips (less than the all-electric cruising range) or “Hybrid” mode for longer trips.
- All traction will come from the electric motor. That’s right; the vehicle will never use petroleum to propel itself. In all-electric mode, the vehicle will simply run on battery, and the diesel engine will not run at all. In hybrid mode, all traction will still come from the electric motor, but an on-board diesel turbine engine will kick in to keep the battery charged. The diesel will run at one speed only, which will make it easy to tune and keep it running clean. There will be no need for a transmission or clutch.
- The vehicle will have a small back seat behind the main seat.
- It will be equipped with fold-out or roll-out solar panels so that the user can deploy the panels if the vehicle is going to be parked for awhile. This will allow a better chance that the battery will stay fully charged. This would effectively double the all-electric cruising range for round trips, when the vehicle will be parked for several hours of daylight during the trip.
- The vehicle would sense when the battery is getting close to the limit of its safe operating range and alert the driver, who could decide to (a) continue the trip and risk prematurely aging the battery, (b) stop driving long enough to deploy the solar panels and recharge the battery, or (c) change to hybrid mode and use the diesel engine to charge the battery.
- This vehicle will be designed and built so that, when it has reached the end of its useful life, the parts can be reused for other vehicles.
Please, on behalf of tomorrow’s consumers, begin designing this vehicle now so that when the demand arrives for it (and it will) you will be ready to make lots of money building and selling it.