This is Who We Are, Now

Words: Robby Pacicco

Photo courtesy of Porcshe

Everyone and their next door neighbor have an opinion concerning the future of the automobile.  Many are convinced the future is fully electric while others are relying on the availability of alternative fuels to keep the internal combustion engine (ICE) alive.  Regardless of what side of the fence you’re on or reasoning, car culture will always exist as it did back when, is now and will then.  Car culture will continue to be powered by passion.  Not combustible fuels, not batteries, but by the automotive enthusiasts viewing the automobile as more than an appliance.  The electrification of transport does shake up the game, but it will never end it. What the battery powered car has done is create a new sub-genre.  It’s no longer V8 powered acoustic orchestras or turbocharged four cylinder R&B quartets.  The automotive DJ has joined the party and is in the house, playing house music.  It’s not for everyone, but it’s a reality.  Insert the “it is what it is” cliché here or better yet just accept that this is who we are.  Just like the powerful anthem of the same title recorded by Canadian rock n’ rollers The Damn Truth on their 2021 Bob Rock produced album Now or Nowhere perform.

Photo courtesy of Tesla

With the growing number of electric vehicles (EV) humming across the streets, the average ICE car enthusiast has learned to appreciate the visceral sounds of the gas powered European supercars or American muscle cars that much more.  In return, devotees of the EV will see the same performance type cars aforementioned and take pride knowing how their plug-in machine would wipe the floor with them in a good old fashioned drag race.  The instant performance EVs provide the moment the throttle is pressed all the way down is what torque and horsepower minded gearheads have strived for forever.  When the Tesla at the red light can smoke the Lamborghini next to it from 0-60 MPH in less than two seconds, it deserves applause. A standing ovation even.  But it isn’t all about performance anymore now is it?  With EVs becoming better overall cars and not just short range performers, they still have lots of convincing to do for so many.  Considering that in this digital day and age people are still buying vinyl records and even cassette tapes shouldn’t be a shock.  In 2020 vinyl record sales were outselling CDs, a far more superior technology.  Yes, CDs have a superior sound quality but they don’t give that special feeling a good crackle and popping needle grooving vinyl can.  Oh but CDs are old now and you can’t even get a CD player in a car after the 2018 model year, everything is streamed or downloaded now, bro.  Right, but it still won’t stop people from buying what they want when the choice is provided.  This is exactly why the ICE has a fighting chance to be around for a long time.  So anyone worried it would completely disappear can do exactly what Frankie says and relax.  If you don’t get the Frankie says relax reference, do one of those internet thingy searches on this digital device you are reading this on.  Later of course.  If you do get the reference, please find out what is TikTok and explain it to us, please.  Also later.  Enough about Frankie, back to our point; Porsche announced in 2020 they are working on carbon-neutral fuels as an effective and efficient alternative to existing ones.  That also means an alternative to electricity.  Porsche have teamed up with Siemans Energy, AME, ENAP and ENEL.  What they are working on are synthetic fuels dubbed Electrofuels (eFuels) which will be climate-neutral clean burning energy.  Yes, eFuels like the ones Porsche is helping develop, will work in current and older gasoline or diesel fueled engines without requiring any modification.  The simplified scientific explanation for eFuels is that it’s basically synthetic methanol gasoline which will be produced using green hydrogen from renewable energy.  The fuel will burn the same as gasoline does, which is made from crude oil.  However without greenhouse gas emissions.  This is where ICE fans reading this sigh in relief and smile realizing they’ll still be able to fill up their hot rods or 1998 Honda Civic with 15 inch Ferrari replica Momo wheels for years and years to come. 

Photo by Robby Pacicco of Do Rev Mi

When news first hit of the mission Porsche was undertaking regarding eFuels, the pilot phase projected a production of 130 000 litres as early as 2022, with future phases increasing capacity to an approximate 55 million litres by 2024 and 550 million litres by 2026.  It doesn’t take long to contemplate how such an impressive and important venture into green fuel can have an impact on not only the multiple government mandates imposed worldwide for the year 2030 to sell only hybrid or fully electric vehicles, but as an industry, motorsport, manufacturing, energy production, transportation and more.  The vinyl record is far from done.  The analogue age is not ending, it’s just evolving and high-fiving the world with retro-cool vigor.  Even though the electrification of the automobile is considered a priority, it’s opened up the arteries of creative engineering for alternative energy is consequence whilst breathing new life into a seemingly archaic technology.  “Electromobility is a top priority at Porsche.” Porsche CEO Oliver Blume says, ”eFuels for cars are a worthwhile complement to that – if they’re produced in parts of the world where a surplus of sustainable energy is available. They are an additional element on the road to decarbonisation. Their advantages lie in their ease of application: eFuels can be used in combustion engines and plug-in hybrids, and can make use of the existing network of filling stations. By using them, we can make a further contribution toward protecting the climate. As a maker of high-performance, efficient engines, we have broad technical expertise. We know exactly what fuel characteristics our engines need in order to operate with minimal impact on the climate. Our involvement in the world’s first commercial, integrated eFuels plant supports the development of the alternative fuels of the future.”  With Blume’s confident quote the win-win perspective is easily found and the hope other major auto/transport industry heavyweights join the party. 

Federal Economy Minister of Germany for Economic affairs and Energy Peter Altmaier provided the following statement regarding Porsche’s eFuel initiative, “Hydrogen is a key component for successfully carrying out the energy transformation in every sector. That’s why, with the National Hydrogen Strategy, we aim to take advantage of the opportunities that hydrogen offers for the climate, energy and economic policy. We know we won’t be able to cover our national demand out of domestic production alone, and will need international partnerships. So I’m very pleased to see that Siemens Energy and Porsche are developing production capacity in other countries, along with importing structures, for green hydrogen and its daughter products. Thanks to German know-how, for the first time in the world innovation from the laboratory will now be applied in an integrated, commercial plant.”  The world at this moment can only wait and see what this and similar plans will provide in the long term. 

Automotive enthusiasm is completely subjective, like art, food or fashion.  Some see it as black and white and cannot be swayed away from their thought process.  Others will embrace the entire color palette of the ever evolving spectrum.  No matter, the culture of car appreciation is deeper than the Mariana Trench itself.  The love of cool cars still resides owning them, driving them, lusting them.  Petrol or voltage, horsepower or kilowatts, it’s about the passion the senses and emotions.  Not the technology or the lack thereof. Or is it?  Everyone is who they are, and again, this is where we are and queue The Damn Truth… this is who we are, now.

Photo courtesy of Porsche