Wednesday, January 25th, 2023

Fossil fuel cars: is the answer to convert them to zero emissions powertrains?

Photograph of a toy Toyota Supra.

There are approximately 1.4 billion light vehicles on the roads today. The average age for these is estimated at between 11 and 15 years, and about 80 million new ones roll off of production lines each year. Even if manufacturers hit their targets and 60-70% of all vehicles sold by 2035 are BEVs, there’s still a long legacy of internal combustion engines to deal with. My research suggests even by 2050, 25-35% of all light vehicles could still be burning oil.

Toyoda, CEO of Toyota, has suggested one solution is converting these vehicles to zero emission powertrains, specifically hydrogen fuel cell and hydrogen combustion engines. I think this has considerable merit.

First, a lot of vehicles are going to find their way to recycling and scrap because of their engines and for no other reason. Extending their life with a powertrain transplant would reduce the energy and waste associated with getting them off the road.

Second, it could mitigate the wealth divide. BEVs are expensive to buy, which is keeping them out of the hands of those on lower incomes. There’s a risk of a vicious circle brewing where low income families face higher running costs from decreasingly popular and supported fossil burners, but can’t afford to replace their vehicles. If the price point is attractive, a transplant might mitigate some of the pain further down the income scale.

Third, if powertrains are engineered to transplant, maybe we could see a shift away from cars as disposable items. Citroen has touted the idea of handing down a car through the generations with its BEV Oli Concept.

There’s a cottage industry of conversion shops dotted about turning ICEs into zero emission vehicles. I think it’s time manufacturers put more effort into converting their legacy.

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My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction. Find out more.