/ 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?


Electric cars are flavour of the month but I suspect there will be more pressure to keep them out of city centres. I found this link on another forum where the plans for the future are being discussed: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/aug/04/fewer-cars-not-electric-cars-beat-air-pollution-says-top-uk-adviser-prof-frank-kelly

Maybe we should be discussing what should happen in the next few years rather than in 2040 because we know what technology is available now. How about 2020 vision?


Certainly one way to reduce pollution in towns and cities is, as we’ve discussed before, to restrict/limit fossil-fuelled vehicles access, in particular at peak times. High traffic volumes, sitting in stationary queues, continually starting and stopping, produce excessive pollution that we could significantly reduce now if we imposed restrictions. So why do we not do this? Simply making a congestion charge is not enough; that just allows many to pay to pollute.

Richard A says:
8 August 2017

I assume that by 2040 most new cars will be safer with collision avoidance systems, which should in theory ease the flow of traffic as there would be fewer accidents. At present the motorist has to suffer tolls, thereby increasing emissions drastically, (as does excessive speed) and at least the toll on the Severn crossing is due to be axed next year. The Dartford crossing has done little by going “Smart” to alleviate the queues, especially since it was built drivers were promised there would be no tolls from some date in the future. That date has passed and the tolls are still in place. Future governments are going to find ways of taxing the long suffering cash cow motorists which could probably bring a “tax as you drive” system introduced, a fair system in my book. Technology will have advanced considerably by then and whether it be electric or hydrogen as a fuel of choice only time will tell. I find it amazing, given the cost of solar panels, they aren’t fitted to all new builds in a effort to produce natural energy and subsequently support some of the power to recharge electric cars if it were “banked”. Home occupants who do not drive would be happy if the power produced ran their home for free and could be reimbursed for any excess. I probably won’t be around when this all happens, but if I am it will be very interesting to watch new developments, especially in the transport system which appears to have been put on the back burner at present.


I agree about putting solar panels on new build housing, Richard, and would extend that to all new buildings. I have been looking at new housing and there seems to be little effort to orientate new housing to for maximum performance of solar energy if panels were fitted at a later date.

HAS says:
8 August 2017

2040 is a way off, technology changes may impact significantly the internal combustion engine, and what actually transpires may be very different to what is being proposed. I would not want a pure electric car unless development means long battery life in terms of distance and the battery itself. You still have to generate electricity to recharge the battery. A hybrid system would seem to be the way forward, better battery life recharged on the go from an engine with significantly improved emissions without being entirely dependent on battery power. In the meantime I will enjoy our two Mini Cooper S’s, one supercharged, one turbo!


It’s not so long since leaded petrol was phased out, which made it possible to use catalytic converters on petrol cars. Prior to that, petrol vehicles pumped lead and a variety of toxic organic chemicals into the environment. Diesel cars may be phased out but it seems unlikely that we will have diesel HGVs any time soon. Maybe it might be possible to decrease the particulate emissions by diesels and further improve nitrogen oxide emissions, currently done by injection of urea solution.

Michael P says:
9 August 2017

Hm, will there be any petrol / diesel available after 2040? Surely we must run out of it some time. Then what?

Robert says:
9 August 2017

So have car manufacturers given up on making exhaust free of pollutants. Is this impossible it also would be more cost effective re charging points every where and getting stuck in a traffic with a electric car?