Friday Fun: These New Gasoline Cars Won’t Catch On…

[Editorial Note: About one hundred years ago, electric cars were far more common on roads around the world than gasoline cars were. Ultimately, Gasoline cars won — at least for a while — in the fight for automotive supremacy. But what would it be like had EVs won the race, and would the automotive press be as suspicious of gasoline cars as they are now of electric ones?  Regular contributor KATE WALTON ELLIOTT finds out…and yes, this is a satirical piece…]

Pe-trol? What's that?

Pe-trol? What’s that?

“Recently I had the opportunity to drive one of the fleets of ICE cars hitting the streets of the UK, and to compare the experience to our more usual ride. Manufacturers are keen to promote the range and ease of refuelling these vehicles, and indeed have worked to produce a substantial network of ‘petrol stations’, many at supermarkets and along the major trunk roads. But out in rural locations some of these businesses have floundered, making finding reliable places to refill with the specialist fuel they require sometimes a challenge requiring miles of detour.

But not to be put off, we decided to try the experience. Unlike your more normal electric vehicle, these cars can’t be charged, sorry, ‘filled’ at home. Well, they can, but it would require storage of large quantities of highly flammable liquids with highly specific requirements beyond the funds of most individual householders. Instead, they must be filled at a ‘petrol station’. Unfortunately, as we got in to the car on a frosty morning, we found that the car was nearly empty (think ‘running low on charge’) and so would have to make a detour to one such place before we even began our journey.

Also, unlike most electric vehicles, there’s no facility to preheat the car, and so several minutes were added to the journey as we scraped ice from the vehicle (how archaic that felt!) and waited for the windscreen to demist. Thankfully it was fitted with a heated screen, which seems a common option, that allowed that process to occur relatively quickly. Getting heat from the heater though, that took a little while.

And so we headed off. Unlike the smooth torque curve of the electric motor, these cars are driven by a petrol engine which requires a certain finesse to ensure that it’s providing optimal power. Many people experimenting with these cars have chosen, apparently, an automatic gearbox that makes that selection for you. Thankfully we’ve had long experience with these vehicles, it having been an enduring interest of ours, and driving the ‘manual’ (known colloquially in the United States as a ‘stick shift’) proved to be not too trying, even enjoyable at times. However, as we dealt with long queues, maintaining gear choice through the traffic jam became a little tiresome.

As we mentioned, these cars can’t be filled at home, so our first stop was a ‘petrol station’. Unfortunately, we’d timed it such that we arrived with fleets of other car owners. The process is fairly simple, when a ‘petrol pump’ became free we drove up and switched the car off. This is important, because the ‘fuel’ utilised in these vehicles is highly flammable. You insert the nozzle, much like a charging cable, and hold the lever until the pump automatically cuts off. Then you simply return the nozzle to the pump, slip into the small shop that often accompanies these ‘petrol stations’ and pay for the fuel.

Makers of ICE cars say range anxiety isn't a problem. We're not convinced

Makers of ICE cars say range anxiety isn’t a problem. We’re not convinced

I’m unsure whether there was some degree of incompatibility between the pump and the car, or whether perhaps in my inexperience it was user error, but the pump failed to cut off completely automatically, and a small spray of ‘petrol’ ran out from the petrol filler. This necessitated cleaning the side of the car, as apparently, this stuff is not good for the paint or you! Sadly, either some of it hit my shoes, or there was some already on the ‘forecourt’ but for the next several miles of the journey I could smell a fairly strong and unpleasant odour. With the best will in the world, the process could do with some refinement. Clearly, the small piles of sand around the filling station and pools of water contaminated with petrol suggested that others had had a similar problem. Perhaps this is something they’ll be able to resolve as the technology matures. Currently, the wait to fill up and dealing with the petrol itself are substantial disincentives to a switch. A further concern is the price of this rare material.

I’m given to understand that ever more exotic methods of extraction are being applied in an attempt to both sustain our current level of petrol usage, and drop prices. Coming from driving an EV, it was quite simply astonishing how much a ‘tank’ of ‘fuel’ cost. There also remain residual concerns about the potential environmental impact of such activities, and similarly the risks of burning the large quantites of ‘fuel’ required for a large fleet of such vehicles.

Once out on the motorway, the petrol car really seemed to hit its stride. This is, after all, their main target market. People who need to make frequent, long journeys. However, while at low speeds the noise from the ‘engine’ was fairly subtle, when we accelerated, particularly if we accelerated hard, it became significantly intrusive. And at motorway speeds it eventually became quite tiresome. Perhaps it’s something that you’d get used to over time, but having to turn up the radio or having to speak loudly to your compatriot seems an awfully large price to pay for, essentially, shorter recharge times.

On arriving home we decided to put the car into our garage. I’d heard that the gasses emitted from these cars are quite unpleasant despite the various recent advancements towards producing a more tolerable output. Putting the car away brought this into sharp relief; the brief period the car was running as it was slid away in the garage revealed the nature of the ‘exhaust fumes’. The garage rapidly filled with a noxious odour that was quite unpleasant and took a substantial period to fade from my clothes, even once I returned to the house.

I can’t say that I feel this is truly a product for everyone. The petrol car is, certainly, a vehicle with occasional benefits. Without the encouragement to break for charging, and with the rapidity of refilling, it must be said we pushed on further than we would have in our EV. And therein is the petrol car’s sole blessing. For most people, the simplicity and ease of owning an EV will outweigh the many negatives of a petrol car purchase. Much more expensive to run and mechanically complex, the petrol car requires vastly more maintenance and can be expected to have a shorter lifespan, but for a somewhat larger than niche group of frequent long distance travellers, mainly sales reps and delivery drivers, it may be just the thing they need at present…”


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