Magazine article The Futurist

Automobiles: A Thriving Species

Magazine article The Futurist

Automobiles: A Thriving Species

Article excerpt

A billion private autos may be on the road by 2050.

The automobile is so salient a feature of today's richer economies, so thirsty for its fuel, so urgent a competitor for clean air and wide open space, that a look at its future is only natural. Today's automass well outweighs human biomass, maybe even doubles it. The hood count now runs a tenth of the human head count. The world auto industry, the largest of all manufacturing industries, now hatches about a million new cars every week.

Auto populations are unevenly spread. In the United States, there is one car or truck for every 1.4 persons: more than enough seats to give Americans and their baggage a national lift all at once. China, by no means the least motorized of lands, has almost 1,500 people for each motor vehicle. That ratio will surely change.

The U.S. automobile census shows steady growth since 1960, with a pause in the last three or four years. In Europe, the creatures multiply steadily as well. Trucks and buses, heavy and light, haul most food, fuel, goods, and people over medium distances. They seem likely to increase in rough proportion to the world economic output. There will be fewer trucks than cars in the future, but they'll consume about the same total amount of fuel.

But when we consider the world's energy supply, the fecundity of the automobile species is in doubt. Personal autos are unlikely to multiply faster than global power use, even though the fuel use of passenger cars will surely be cut by a factor of two or more, thanks to new materials that allow lighter, more-efficient vehicles. By the middle of the next century, autos may use just a tenth of available world power, according to some projections, though this is likely to be an overestimate. Even with these efficiencies, complete support for all the cars ahead will prove demanding.

So vehicles will multiply more slowly in the future even as they crowd our roads and as the costs of driving and maintaining them rise. …

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