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Internal combustion: The Golden Age


As car enthusiasts, it’s probably best for us all to accept the fact that the days of internal combustion engines are numbered. I can say this with confidence because the signs are there. Many manufacturers have clearly stated their intention to turn their focus to the electrification of their products.

Look, I feel that from a South African perspective we’re still far away from the point of all-electric mobility, our country still burns dinosaurs to keep the lights on and our electricity supply is unstable, at the best of times. But if electric cars become the only new products available within the next few decades, we won’t have much of a choice, unless we keep our existing cars and drive them until they’re not financially viable to service, refuel and repair anymore.

Motorsport writing on the wall

We have a manufacturer as important as Porsche pulling its Le Man LMP1 programme to participate in Formula E, while Mercedes-Benz is out of the DTM Championship to do the same. As is tradition within the automotive sphere, motorsport is a chosen testing ground to prove the viability and efficacy of new technologies which will filter down into production cars. Therefore, if a manufacturer wants to be competitive in the all-electric future, it needs to be in Formula E, even if it’s the motorsport equivalent of watching paint dry, to my mind at least.

Outside of motorsport

 It’s not just in motorsport either, have a look at legislation, Great Britain and France are planning to have the sale of new diesel and petrol-powered cars banned by 2040 while elsewhere in Europe and America the shift towards electrification has officially started with the likes of Tesla leading the charge, if you'll pardon the pun.

Look at Swedish manufacturer Volvo as another example, it claims that by 2019, customers will not be able to purchase one of its products new without said product featuring some form of electric motor aiding in its propulsion.

The European countries along with some Asian and American nations are deeply concerned about air quality, a valid reason for attempting to reduce inner-city driving with traditional cars.

Every cloud...and all that

The one saving grace for time being though has to be the fact that despite electric cars being heavily developed from now on, there are still internal combustion-based projects set up by manufacturers years ago that will need to come to fruition to help the business recuperate money spent on development costs.

So for a while at least, still expect most of our cars to need oil, petrol, air filters and importantly for the South African platinum sector, catalytic converters, which use a small amount of the precious metal in their construction, a big financial implication for the country with the shift towards EVs.

Downsizing failure

When vehicle engines began to decrease in size and employ forced induction a decade or so ago, this was seen as a solution to the toxic emissions problem with vehicles worldwide. The problem though is that despite the fact that these engines perform well on a test bed, their real-world consumption and impact on the environment was more damaging than anyone had thought. The upshot of the small, boosted engines has been a new level of performance; cars have never been as fast as they are these days.

In fact, the turbocharged performance cars of today have had to employ all-wheel drive, torque vectoring and advanced traction control systems in many cases, just to ensure that the power produced by these new-age engines can be utilised. It seems like with each passing month the internal combustion engine becomes better, with improved efficiency, more power and therefore more performance. It's a great time to be a car fan or an engineering enthusiast. 

Electric performance

Many will say, quite rightly, that it is well-documented that electric cars can out-perform their petrol and diesel-powered counterparts when it comes to outright performance. It’s true, electric cars of the future will be fast, but will they have any other redeemable quality and driver enjoyment?

There’s no distinctive sound and the power delivery is instantaneous. Could be a great solution for lap times in motorsport, but it could also be a mind-numbingly boring exercise for spectators and drivers alike.  This leads me to believe that for daily commuting, car sharing, taxis, buses and autonomous vehicles; electricity is most definitely the future. But for the love of driving, motorsport and all things that make cars great, let’s keep the internal combustion engine, tax us to high heaven if you’d like, but give us the choice at least.


The future is coming, and it’s doing so faster than expected. On the bright side, there are still wonderful cars in this world, buy one, experience one and enjoy them while you can. It truly is, the golden age of the internal combustion engine.

Article written by Sean Nurse
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