The desire for improved mobility has been an ancient concept, ever since its creation. Humans started with domesticated animals, and as time progressed, we broadened our concept of mobility, making it better as it rolled along the pages of history and time. Soon, we invented the steam engine, and that had its moment like all the other inventions before it. However, the invention of the internal combustion engine, and the discovery of crude completely changed the rules of the game of transportation and mobility. The key figures who created the original automobile are Carl Benz, Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler, and Wilhelm Maybach. These three exceptional German engineers, in the 1800s, gave the world its first stationary gasoline engine developed by Carl Benz—a one-cylinder, two-stroke unit which ran for the first time on New Year’s Eve 1879. Invented and perfected in Germany, the German engineers dominated Europe with their new invention by starting to make engines and cars in France. However, the Americans soon joined the game and came to dominate the automotive industry in the first half of the twentieth century—courtesy of Henry Ford and his innovative mass-production techniques that became standard. The history of the automobile writes itself through two world wars and finally results in Japan joining the game too.
Today, cars are a complicated issue. They are a part of people’s lives in many ways. Some use cars for status and luxury; some for commute and safety; and then there are the petrol heads, who worship cars, and have a different concept of what a car is. People’s thoughts on cars can be categorized in numerous ways, but the most prominent and relevant divide that exists, is when discussing the environmental impact of cars, and whether or not we should do away with them entirely. One cannot deny, the rising population, and the complication of climate change. Cars with combustion engines are gradually making their way into the endangered species category. We do have alternatives now, in the modern world, such as hybrids and electric vehicles, but that adds more to the discussion on environmental impact than might be expected. I believe there is a grey area, when it comes to consumer information about electric cars and their impact on the environment. A very basic summary, from a novice perspective is that people have a basic acknowledgment about Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars contributing to the damaging of the environment. With this information already granted as fact, and with the mass advertising of the cleanness of electric and hybrid vehicles, people who are cautious about the environment become somewhat biased.
There are numerous statistics that compare and contrast Electric Vehicles (EVs) to ICEs, and quoting them would make the argument more complex. This is because the studies conducted have numerous variables, and with changing parameters the argument changes. For instance, if EVs are charged by electricity that comes from burning fossil fuels or coal on an industrial scale, then that can’t be considered clean or green. In addition to that, one must also consider the energy that goes into making EVs. A fitting example would be when Toyota admitted that the production of its famed lightweight Prius requires more energy and emits more carbon dioxide than the production of its gas-only models. Apart from manufacturing energy, the battery that most EVs use are lithium based. With increased demands for EVs and hybrids, this means an increase mining of lithium, which is not exactly easy on the environment.
“One of the biggest environmental problems caused by our endless hunger for the latest and smartest devices is a growing mineral crisis, particularly those needed to make our batteries,” says Christina Valimakian analyst at Elsevier. Glorifying EVs and hybrids and promoting their massive production will create a new environmental imbalance. According an article by Rosalba O’Brien and Rod Nickel for Reuters, the mining of lithium in South America is enormous because the continent holds more than half the world’s supply of the metal beneath its otherworldly salt flats.
Amit Katwala explains the mining process for Wired, where miners begin by first drilling deep into the salt flats and pumping mineral reach brine into it. This is just the initiation. The hole is left for a period of about 18 months for evaporation, which results in lithium salt formation. A cheap process, but the environmental cost is approximately 500,000 gallons of water per metric ton of lithium, which negatively affects local farmers and wildlife near Chile’s Salar de Atacama. Whereas, for ICE cars, owners know where their fuel comes from and thanks to modern technology, can measure their impact on the environment. The sources of energy and climatic impacts are more transparent in ICE cars than they are in EVs. It is safe to say that all cars are pollutants to different degrees.
Truth be told, I myself am a devoted petrol head, and my definition of a car is different and personal. It is biased. I believe that a car can only be car if it has a combustion engine and a combustion engine only. I do not consider hybrids or electric vehicles as “cars” for they lack the soul of a car, which is the engine. A petrol head who has been driving cars like Alfa Romeos or Lancias, even old Toyotas and Land Rovers, will never be convinced by the argument of pollution alone to give up their ICE vehicles, because the bond to their cars are on a far higher level. Regardless, I believe there are solutions to this problem that do not require banishing the ICE cars. Perhaps a tax policy that incorporated both EVs and ICEs. Governments could make it a necessity that all public transport, for instance, should rely on energy sources that are not linked to fossil fuels. The transparency on EVs could be elaborated and stretched so that consumers are fully aware about what they are buying and what impact it is actually having. Whatever measures and policies are enforced, I believe that the community of petrol heads will not be lost in books of history.