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Daily RC Article 178

Driving into the Future: The Rise of Electric Cars and the Transformation of Transportation

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Electric cars are still a tiny minority of those on the road, but their number is growing very fast as they become more affordable and more practical. Their advantages to society are obvious: they pollute far less than internal combustion engines and use less energy too. A city of electric cars will be cleaner and quieter than our present stinking streets. And at some stage in the next decade, their advantages to private drivers will become overwhelming. The electric car will become a mainstream status symbol and it is the buyers of internal combustion vehicles who will feel like weird outsiders. The Dutch parliament has considered a measure which would make all cars sold there electric by 2025. A recent think tank report suggests that 10 years after that a third of all the vehicles sold in the world will be electric.

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Electric cars of the future must travel further and recover from their journeys in less time than those that can be bought today, when long journeys are still fraught with anxiety. This means lighter batteries that hold more charge and can be charged more quickly; they are appearing already and the huge amounts of global investment make it likely that progress will continue and technology will supply what the market needs.

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Stepping back for a moment, the rise of electric and largely automated cars might change the world around us almost as profoundly as the internal combustion engine did. Part of this is their obvious role in transportation. All-electric traffic will be faster, reversing the trend of the last century. Lighter cars will accelerate and brake more quickly, while increasing automation will mean traffic moves more freely. If those trends continue, the private car might disappear altogether, replaced by a network of hired autonomous vehicles, at least within cities. The beginnings of this development are already visible in the reluctance of young people to learn to drive.

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Less obvious, but just as important, are all the symbolic values of cars. It’s not just for Bruce Springsteen that they embody freedom, autonomy and power. The car that you own says almost as much about your social position and your aspirations as the clothes you wear. Car ownership was for much of the world a mark of status in the way that owning a horse made you a knight. The coming revolution threatens far more than the vehicle manufacturing industry. If cars do come to be valued for their usefulness, not as means of ostentation, the motor car would be a prized possession only for the rich, as useless, if still as loved, as the private horse now is.

The growing affordability and practicality of electric cars suggest they will soon become mainstream, offering environmental benefits and transforming the automotive landscape. The Dutch parliament considers a measure for all cars sold in the country to be electric by 2025, reflecting a global trend toward electric vehicles. Advances in battery technology, driven by substantial investment, are expected to enable longer ranges and quicker charging times. The rise of electric and automated cars could profoundly impact transportation, making all-electric traffic faster and potentially leading to a shift from private car ownership to a network of hired autonomous vehicles, particularly in urban areas. This evolution challenges the symbolic values attached to car ownership, potentially making it a mark of status for the wealthy rather than a widespread means of ostentation
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