FIRST, the good news. Within a year or two you’ll be able to buy ordinary cars with all kinds of drivetrains designed to fit exact day-to-day needs and driving styles.
The chief undercurrent at the Geneva Motor Show this year was that of drivetrain expansion, where normal, everyday and production-ready cars are now powered not just by petrol, diesel and electricity but myriad combinations of the three, plus natural gas, hydrogen and even human faeces.
And herein lies the bad news. In the quest for every last mile per gallon billions of pounds are being spent, and because the drivetrain solutions are so varied and technical (just look at how complex even ordinary internal combustion engines have become), the likely production runs will have to be smaller to accommodate the variety. That means prices are going to rocket. Again.
Back in 2005 the Volkswagen Golf GTi, arguably the finest all-round car there was, went on sale for less than £20,000. When the 2013 model arrives it could cost almost £30,000 as a five-door depending on how sterling does against the Euro, and that near-50% increase is for a normal car in just eight years.
But Volkswagen has also developed petrol-electric hybrids, diesel-electric hybrids, plug-in hybrids, range-extender hybrids, electric-only drivetrains, natural gas-burning techniques and more besides. Each will suit a different kind of driving, and if people buy the right one for them it means that sales will be spread across many different and independently expensive propulsion systems. Production volumes will be comparatively low for each, and prices therefore have to be higher to recoup the development costs.
What’s the point of saving £25 per thousand miles when your car is costing £100 more every month just to own? It’s complete nonsense and ultimately self-destructive for the industry.
Recent surveys have shown that young Europeans, especially those in cities, are turning away from car ownership altogether because it’s just too expensive. Neat, modern car rental systems like Zipcar give them the chance to forget car ownership but still drive if they need to, and if that trend keeps expanding then car manufacturers are going to fall victim to a colossal global crash that will see hundreds of thousands of jobs axed, national economies crippled and the only remaining car brand as Dacia.
It’s simple economics and the European Parliament is mostly to blame. By forcing manufacturers to reduce CO2 so quickly, they’re actually forcing prices skywards as the task gets harder and harder. And all the time fewer and fewer people will actually want, or be able, to pay for a car.
The car industry is in danger of biting off more than it can chew. It’s time for Europe to recognise the need to keep car prices down for its own good.