By now, the push towards electrification is the main focus of the automotive industry. Some states have even gone so far as to ban the sale of new Internal Combustion Engine vehicles within the next decade, which is absurd because people’s needs differ from what electric cars offer. By that, we mean the convenience of recharging and range. Sure, technology will advance, and things could change by 2035, but it doesn’t look like the future will be fully electric. Stellantis even agrees with this, as Senior Vice President Christian Mueller recently noted that the company’s current combustion vehicles will likely remain on the road, even after the EV revolution has passed, until an estimated 2050. And it could mean that engines like the Hemi V8 or even the Hellcat could find a way to exist in these ever-tightening regulatory markets.
“I think 25% of our vehicles are still in use after 20 years. Hence, this kind of exposure time to e-fuels is considerable, very considerable,” he told a press briefing.
Looking ahead, Stellantis estimates that its engine types identified as compatible with e-fuels represent about 28 million vehicles on the roads in Europe, with a potential CO2 emission reduction in the region of up to 400 million metric tons between 2025 and 2050.
According to Mueller, many Stellantis vehicles with engines that will be built by 2029 or so will likely remain on the road for over two decades. And it stands to reason that customers and owners will see something similar from just about every other automaker out there.
Will Engines Continue Thanks Low Emission E-Fuels?
This outlook comes at a time when automotive conglomerates have revealed collaboration with energy company Aramco regarding the development and use of synthetic e-fuels. Stellantis has tested various engines for compatibility with a few samples of this new fuel type. As it stands, around 24 engines in Europe by multiple brands ran on the fuel without any issues, and no modifications were required. It turns out that this e-fuel is created by reacting carbon dioxide with hydrogen, and Stellantis claims it can reduce lifecycle carbon emissions from vehicles by 70 percent.
Here’s why that’s good: because automakers and energy companies can use existing infrastructure, tooling and architectures, it’s far more cost efficient and resourceful than creating a parallel industry for, say, battery electric vehicles.
Such programs have proven to be vampires for both resources and capital expenditure for automakers, with new EV plants costing automakers billions to build, and these costs are passed onto consumers with higher prices. This effect was amplified when regulators began to force automakers into electrification, creating artificially heightened demand for resources like lithium, graphite, cobalt and other metals required for batteries. This has led to chokes in the supply chain, with no easy or immediate fix.
In the current market environment, it could take far longer for automakers to see any ROI on new electric vehicles as high prices keep buyers wary, while participating customers will continue to bear hellacious prices. Neither shareholders, nor customers, appear to be winning here.
However, electric vehicles have their place in the world within a niche market, but as developments continue, we may see alternative solutions that aren’t as expensive and inconvenient. That said, while Stellantis is testing this new synthetic e-fuel, it’s not pulling away from its Dare Forward 2030 campaign. That does mean that Stellantis intends on having a fully electric lineup for Europe by 2030, but this alternative fuel source should create a solution for those who only have an intention of buying an EV once they have to. That’s especially true for manufacturers with extremely reliable vehicles that will remain on the road for decades.
The potential benefits of e-fuel have led the European Union to amend its 2035 ban on new combustion-powered cars, provided those cars are running on e-fuel. It’ll be interesting to see if, in the United States, California, Oregon, and New York, who are pushing for a ban, curve their goals to accept e-fuel-powered vehicles over a total ban as well.
That said, there’s a big caveat. E-fuels, as they stand, are significantly more expensive than conventional fuels on a per gallon or a per liter basis. But if regulators are hell-bent on phasing out personal automobile transportation and combustion engines, it might be the only way forward for ICE.