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Car fuel, what does the future hold?

4th July 2016

Remember when cars used to run out of petrol? When you used to regularly see that lonely figure, trudging along the hard shoulder of the motorway, petrol can in hand, heading towards the petrol station which they’re just about to realise is actually three miles in the other direction? As cars become more fuel efficient and the on-board monitoring systems increasingly all encompassing, this is an increasingly rare occurrence. In fact, if you’re driving a car less than 10 years old and you manage to run out of petrol then, in a sense, well done. You presumably managed to ignore warning lights, emergency beeping noises, the fuel gauge flashing a message that you had 200 yards worth of petrol left and, in some cases, a ‘2001’ style disembodied computer voice saying “I wouldn’t drive any further if I were you, you’re about to run out of petrol,” in such a superior manner that you just know your car is smirking.


Remember when cars used to run out of petrol?


The next wave of high tech car development – the promised utopia of the self-drive car – will presumably eliminate the problem of low fuel altogether. Your car will know when it needs topping up and will head to the nearest petrol station, hopefully with an added feature that allows you to programme it to drive to a forecourt where they stock your favourite type of Ginsters pasty.

There is, of course, a fly in this vehicular ointment; whilst individuals and the cars they drive may find it harder and harder to run out of petrol, the human race as a whole is doing a perfectly good job, thank you very much. Petrol, like the oil from which it is derived, and in common with all other fossil fuels, is finite in supply, with estimates for when we’re going to start running out ranging from between 2025 to 2070.

That, combined with the environmental impact of standard fossil fuel emissions, is why so much time, money and the brain power of very clever people is being devoted to the task of coming up with new ways of fuelling our vehicles. We all know about electric or hybrid vehicles already, of course, and they’re set to become increasingly popular as problems over the range they can cover and the size of the batteries they have to carry are gradually surmounted. But…..unless and until we come up with a renewable method of actually generating the electricity which powers these cars, one which can be afforded and consistently relied upon, then they’re actually something of a cheat, to use a highly specialised technical phrase. They’re really just old fashioned, fossil fuel vehicles dressed up as something new and shiny thanks to the proviso that the exhaust pipe pumping out noxious fumes is attached to a power station hundreds of miles away, rather than to the back of the car. The car itself may be cleaner, undeniably, but the ultimate source of its power is likely to be just as filthy as a tank full of diesel.


Time, money and the brain power of very clever people is being devoted to the task of coming up with new ways of fuelling our vehicles.


Which leaves us with the other sources being mooted, all at various different stages of development, from concept vehicles (car industry speak for giant toy cars, basically) being wheeled out at motor shows around the world, to ideas which have got little further than the scribblings of a scientist on a blackboard (feel free to insert your own research and development clichés here).

What any newer idea for powering vehicles has to deal with is a trip across the ‘Valley of Death’. No, it’s not a particularly tedious stretch of the ring road around Birmingham, it’s how motor industry insiders refer to the gulf which lies between ideas being pushed through R and D, and the massive funding required to get them ready for mass production. Thus it is that possible solutions to the fossil fuel conundrum – i.e. hydrogen fuel cells which produce only water as a by-product, or biofuels created using crops which might otherwise go to waste- whilst seeming to promote equal parts excitement and derision depending upon which expert you’re listening to, all seem to still be a long way from being available to the general consumer.


Whilst individuals and the cars they drive may find it harder and harder to run out of petrol, the human race is doing a perfectly good job.


Other, perhaps more readily achievable ideas involve exploiting existing parts of the car engines system in order to reduce, if not dramatically, the overall amount of fuel used. These include ‘kinetic energy’, which utilises energy generated during the braking process to create some of the power to help drive the car, ‘heat energy’, which transforms currently wasted heat generated by the engine into further electrical power, and even liquid nitrogen which, as it carries energy less efficiently than fossil fuels and requires an additional source of power in its production, seems to be something of a non-starter (a bit like a car that’s run out of petrol, perhaps….)

No matter how we’re fuelling our cars a few decades from now (and we haven’t even mentioned ‘steam cars’), the automotive fleet sector will doubtless still be going strong, and with it the need for the kind of understanding, promotion and expertise which fuels the work we do here at Cuckoo.

Cuckoo has over a decade of experience providing branding solutions and integrated marketing within the fleet sector. To learn more click here or alternatively get in touch on 0161 839 9337 or email  – we have lots to talk about!