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Falling fuel prices and the future of cars

13.01.2015

LAST week we rejoiced as we saw the petrol price fall by R1.27 a litre for 93-octane and R1.23 a litre for 95-octane, while diesel fell by R1.05 a litre.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen such a dramatic decrease at the pumps and I’m sure many cash-strapped consumers will be delighted to hear the news as they try to survive ‘til the end of January - a notouriously difficult month.

In South Africa, we can enjoy the benefits of the lower Brent crude prices, but the heavy drop is largely due to a battle in the world’s oil market.

Saudi Arabia, it seems, is largely responsible for the new lows in the oil price as the Arab country wants to force its rivals out of business.

The question many of us are asking is, will it last? Some economists predict the price per barrel of Brent crude will fall as low as US$20. Good news considering it’s currently around US$55 a barrel. Should it reach the predicted low, we will certainly enjoy substantially lower fuel prices in the near future.

Add to this, current research shows improved fuel-saving technologies will be the top agenda for many motor manufacturers in the next three years, to produce more efficient vehicles.

Yes, the motor vehicle industry is rapidly evolving and trying to be less reliant on the traditional combustion engine, due to stricter global standards, aiming to limit greenhouse gases and emissions.

In the near future (roughly three years) it’s predicted that only half the cars in markets like Europe will be powered by traditional petrol engines. Instead, most cars will boast high-tech fuel saving features to improve efficiency.

We’ve already seen manufacturers like Toyota and Lexus focus heavily on hybrid cars, which use an electric drivetrain, working in unison with a conventional petrol engine to propel the car.

Meanwhile, other brands like Nissan and BMW have produced pure electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3, offering a driving range of around 160km.

The future is certainly upon us with rapid development in kinetic energy and changes in automotive design to make cars as light as possible with minimum wind resistance.

We’ve seen energy recovery becoming a vital factor and even making an appearance in Formula One, as we wait for the technology to be improved and trickle into our road-going vehicles.

Hydrogen cars have been the buzzword for the last few years. The biggest problem has been trying to store this volatile gas for use in motor cars. Now, Toyota’s opening the door to the hydrogen future, making available thousands of hydrogen fuel cell patents royalty-free. Announced at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, this Toyota initiative will spur development and introduction of innovative fuel cell technologies around the world.

“At Toyota, we believe that when good ideas are shared, great things can happen,” said Bob Carter, Senior Vice President of Automotive Operations at Toyota Motor Sales, USA Inc. “The first generation hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, launched between 2015 and 2020, will be critical, requiring a concerted effort and unconventional collaboration between automakers, government regulators, academia and energy providers.  By eliminating traditional corporate boundaries, we can speed the development of new technologies and move into the future of mobility more quickly, effectively and economically,” he said.

The hydrogen fuel cell patents will be made available to automakers who will produce and sell fuel cell vehicles, as well as to fuel cell parts suppliers and energy companies who establish and operate fuelling stations, through the initial market introduction period, anticipated to last until 2020. Companies working to develop and introduce fuel cell buses and industrial equipment, such as forklifts, are also covered. Requests from parts suppliers and companies looking to adapt fuel cell technology outside of the transportation sector will be evaluated on a case by case basis.

So, while the price of fuel looks set to drop further, manufacturers are keen to leave this way of powering mobility in the past as they grab new technologies with both hands.

Article written by Stuart Moir
13.01.2015
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