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10-08-12, 09:50 AM
http://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/458-italia-assembly.jpg Workers assemble the engine for a Ferrari 458 Italia, which uses direct injection.
Ferrari (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=F4uSn-0Qfjg)


At the end of August this year, the US Department of Transport's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new standards to significantly improve the fuel economy of cars and light trucks by 2025. Last week, we took a look (http://arstechnica.com/features/2012/10/more-bang-less-buck-how-car-engines-now-go-further-on-less/) at a range of recent engine technologies that car companies have been deploying in aid of better fuel efficiency today. But what about the cars of tomorrow, or next week? What do Detroit, or Stuttgart, or Tokyo have waiting in the wings that will get to the Obama administration's target of 54.5 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2025?

The problem is historic

Whatever the technology, it's going to involve gasoline for at least the foreseeable future in the US. Automotive history helps us understand why. Author and journalist LJK Setright told us "we need hardly worry about who invented the motor car." While there are several inventors to whom the first horseless carriages can be attributed, Setright had a point when drawing the starting line through 1885 and Karl Benz's gas-powered three-wheeled machine. Victorian and Edwardian car makers drew on a wide range of fuels and engines. If a man in the street then predicted the next century, it wouldn't have been unreasonable to expect a diverse vehicular landscape. Back then, electric cars were marketed to women (http://www.autolife.umd.umich.edu/Gender/Scharff/G_casestudy1.htm) as they neither gave off clouds of exhaust nor required someone strong to crank the engine over (the invention of the electric starter motor finished this feature off). By 1900, Thomas Edison was ready to pick this technology as the winner. Electricity might be making a comeback (http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2012/07/mitsubishis-i-miev-greener-ride-but-not-ready-for-the-daily-commute/) now, but it was the internal combustion engineā??powered either by gas or dieselā??that made automobile what it is. Unlike steam, drivers didn't need to stop for heavy fuel to burn or to top up the water for their boilers. Back then, much like today, batteries didn't charge fast enough or contain enough energy to meet most of our needs. But liquid hydrocarbons are cheap and easy to extract, they have good energy density, and don't require high pressure containment. So for over a century, the infrastructure to support the gas-powered car built up across the globe.

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