/ Motoring, Technology

What should driving look like in 2040?

Future cars

Petrol and diesel cars are on their way out – but what else can we bring in?

In an effort to help clean up air quality in the UK, the government has banned the sales of all new petrol and diesel cars after 2040. The idea is that by 2050, almost every vehicle using UK roads will be zero emission – basically electric or hydrogen propelled like the Toyota Mirai.

We know from a recent poll carried out on Which? Conversation that there are a range of reasons why you’re not rushing out to buy an electric car:

Whether you agree with the petrol/diesel ban or not, it made us think what else might be in the proverbial pipeline. 23 years is, after all, quite a way off.

Perhaps you think the future is proper autonomous cars. Or perhaps vehicle subscriptions replacing ownership, flying machines, tunnels that transport cars (yep, tunnels move you, you don’t drive in the tunnel).

Or do you foresee much less futuristic measures such as more congestion charge and car free zones?

Rise of the machines

When I went to the 2015 Frankfurt car show, the theme was connectivity. There was a lot of future star gazing and claims that cars in Europe will be largely autonomous by 2050.

I’m not sure how I feel about autonomous cars. Mostly because I enjoy driving, and partly because I’m hesitant at the moment to relinquish full control to a car.

But I can see the benefits of autonomy. Cars that require no input to move themselves. That might sound obvious but it opens realms of possibilities – being able to call your car to your location regardless of where you are. Or even a car that drops you off at home and then finds a car parking space that’s a while away.

Or if your car is low on electricity (or even hydrogen, depending on what you think the fuel of the future might be), you can make it toddle off to your nearest charging point when you’re not using it and it returns when it’s full. Sorted. Right?


Alternatively, you could swap ownership of a car to a subscription. In my mind, it would work by signing up to a car brand. Then you simply programme in your journeys, and a car from that brand will take you where you want to go, or call it on the spot, Uber style, and wait for a car to turn up.

The pros: no maintenance costs, no need to have a driveway or parking.

The cons: potential waiting times, maybe fines for leaving a car dirty. Accidentally leaving something in the boot suddenly becomes a lot more problematic and it would be a bit of a pain to transfer, say, a child seat from car to car.

Going up?

Of course, there’s the prospect of moving up in the world – perhaps building on tech like this Flyboard.

Perhaps a safer option would be autonomous drones large enough to transport people. But if people like myself are hesitant to trust a self-driving car, a self-flying drone will require quite the leap of confidence.

Going down?

But anything flying will naturally be affected by bad weather – so how do you eliminate that?

Elon Musk’s latest idea is to dig. The ‘Boring company’ envisions large tunnels being dug under cities, cars being lowered to it on lifts and then transported at high speeds on sleds.

Claimed benefits: alleviates congestion, potentially super quick journey times, tunnels are weatherproof, no practical limit to how far we go down/how many layers of tunnels are created.

The problem: Boring company states tunnels are so expensive that the cost of creating them has to come down by a factor of ten to make them viable.

Boring says this will also help with Elon’s Hyperloop initiative, where people use high-speed pods to be whisked quickly from one point to another.

What do you think?

Do any of these ideas appeal? Do any seem vaguely feasible? Or do you think our future is simply a nationwide sprawling quagmire of congestion charge zones and battling over local EV points?


I am an asthmatic affected by sulphur dioxide and the introduction of smokeless zones and low sulphur petrol and diesel has helped me lead a normal life. We are all affected by nitrogen oxides, particularly nitrogen dioxide, which is produced by cars and heating our homes and some cities, particularly parts of London, are seriously polluted with nitrogen oxides and particulates.

I have been experimenting with using public transport and last month it took five trains to travel a distance of 44 miles and three to return. Amazingly the journey was without a hitch. Another journey of 40 miles took two trains, a long wait, and a bus. It’s not difficult to see why many of us just hop in the car. In the current warm weather, my diesel car is averaging 58.6 mpg, helped by the fact that most of my driving is outside built up areas.

I drive about 8000 miles a year and an electric car would be fine for most journeys, I make occasional long journeys including two of 420 miles, before and after the Christmas holidays. I have done this by train and it is no fun. A hybrid might suit me and having my own drive it would be easy to recharge it, but I cannot see an electric car as practical because of the restricted range and lack of public charging points.

I was not impressed by the governments predictions for 2040 and suggest that it would be better to look at what can be achieved practically within the next five years. I suggest that we have more pedestrian-only zones in cities as a start.

NukeThemAll says:
30 July 2017

In our locale, public transport is pretty hopeless because of the usual vicious cycle – it was never that good, cars became cheap and ubiquitous, everyone deserted public transport which is now unreliable, expensive and inconvenient.

My car is a Euro-6 diesel and I drive about 12,000 miles a year. I did look at electric cars but instantly rejected them because of limited range, virtually no charging infrastructure (and there are many, many reports of charging points that simply don’t work because of hardware/software issues) and the cost, which makes no financial sense for a private buyer. I did look at hybrids, but my usage pattern would mean far too many miles on petrol (I reckon about 8000 miles a year) and, combined with their current very high price and unknown depreciation/reliability, makes (again) absolutely no financial sense for a private buyer (but possibly for a company car driver). So the first thing that will need to change to tempt drivers **right now*** into at least hybrids (if not full-electric just yet) is a price re-alignment.

Although increased emphasis on electric and hybrid vehicles sounds commendable, no government for many, many decades has listened to its science and engineering advisors and committed to investing in decent transport infrastructure (it can be done – simply travel to Europe and observe). Hence I have huge doubts that investment in electricity generation and storage/distribution will be sufficient to meet the demand even by 2040. I suspect public transport will continue to be hopeless outside major conurbations, for all the obvious reasons, confounding the problem.

Self-driving cars may well transform our mobility, but there are huge challenges to overcome – look at any popular science/engineering articles for the reality, ignoring the hype.

Richard A says:
11 August 2017

If you bought your Euro-6 diesel new for 12k p.a I suggest you were tempted by the economy, listened to the government telling you diesels were good for the environment, which it later did a U-turn over, rather than the facts, initially you paid at least £1k more for the diesel over the petrol option forgetting that with the extra weight of a diesel engine in the long term 3 extra factors have to be considered, 1) Brakes suffer so need replacing earlier than petrol 2) Front suspension is put under extra stress 3) £1k plus extra buys a lot of mileage. It’s widely accepted to justify running a diesel an annual mileage of 20-25k justifies the extra price. Unfortunately following the U-turn if you decide to hang on to your diesel for a few years it’ll be worth less than a petrol alternative and you may be forced into a scrappage scheme which it looks pretty certain the government will offer to save face. By then hopefully electric cars will be more affordable, take the Tesla 3 for example ( estimated from £32k ), and other manufacturers will be forced into competing with similar cars, with a sensible range, and the charging infrastructure will have improved. It’s a case of watch this space…………………………………..

Steve says:
20 August 2017

I have driven a first-edition Nissan Leaf electric-only for 6 years and done nearly 50,000 miles. Battery still good though range a little reduced. Servicing costs at main dealer c £100 / year.

I have no experience of long range motorway bashing in an electric car but they certainly work beautifully for commute and round town use.

There is very little to go wrong ( I have had to change oil, tyres and windscreen wipers) and no engine slowly rattling the car to bits – I suspect I will still be driving the same car in another 6 years time

bishbut says:
30 July 2017

The government .can do anything it likes in 2040 because myself and many more will not be around to see the result o f another government blunder or the getting things wrong mistakes it is always making all the time By 2040 there will have been plenary of time for the usual long consultations and objections that always follow anything the government suggests


I see the effects of the loss of jobs/apprenticeships has not been gone into in any detail , in reality many 1000,s will lose their jobs when most of the work on cars relates to the engine and its processes leaving only the frame/wheels /steering which dont require intensive apprenticeships . I listened to a BBC speaker who was put forward as “knowledgeable ” on the subject – a caller said – but how long will the battery last ?-reply approx 8 years -under full guarantee he asked – um well right it depends –on what ?– well if a cell goes down the replacement of that cell will cost £180+ –and how many cells are there in a battery ? — a lot . There is a lot of “smoke+ mirrors ” going on here and I hope the public are not taken in by the “glowing ” sunshine /blue sky image that is propagandized. Nuke Them All — your wish will be granted –only “them ” will be us .


“I see the effects of the loss of jobs/apprenticeships has not been gone into in any detail”

But there may be compensation in terms of all the staff needed to build and run all the new power stations. (After WW1, my dad’s dad worked at a “London Transport” power station, from which they provided “the juice” for their trams and trolley buses.)

“but how long will the battery last” In space, no-one can come to change your batteries, so satellite batteries are designed to serve for as long as possible… Acceptable work-a-day electric cars may need to deploy similar technology.


I agree, Derek. A practical approach is useful.