If you are young and just getting started in an automotive career, pay attention to electric motors and batteries because you'll be seeing a lot more of them in the future. While the internal combustion engine has served well for over a century and will continue to serve for many more years, there is a definite shift under way toward an electric car future.
Hybrid cars are a stepping stone toward getting rid of the engine altogether and as battery technology advances, and it is advancing at a rapid pace, you'll begin to see electric cars popping up in the lineup of the major auto manufacturers and not just in the showrooms of boutique electric car companies.
Bob Lutz, GM Vice Chairman, said in a recent interview:
Tom Stephens (group vice president of GM Powertrain), Rick Wagoner and I believe in the ultimate electrification of the automobile. ... We believe that's where it's going.
The hydrogen fuel cell powered car has been held by many as the holy grail of future automotive development for some time, even though problems of hydrogen storage and fuel cell durability kept the fuel cell cars just out of reach. GM, which has had a strong investment in a hydrogen fuel cell program is itself now shifting gears and turning their effort into an electric vehicle program. When you think about it, it makes sense.
As battery technology moves forward, you need less and less in the way of auxiliary power to keep the batteries charged and it can come from a small gas or diesel engine or a even a fuel cell. If batteries advance far enough, nothing more than a cable and plug will be necessary or perhaps even solar cells to top off the charge if you really get stuck out in the middle of nowhere.
Electric motors also have some dramatic performance possibilities, developing tremendous torque from zero rpm giving an enthusiast all of the power and speed they may desire. The problem for many of us who have been around cars for a long time is the aural difference, a whine instead of a low rumble, it doesn't quite fit, but as we get more experience with electric cars, the sound will become natural and for the younger enthusiasts, it will never enter into the equation.
We're in for a change as technologies develop but for those enthusiasts who are concerned about the shift, just remember the early seventies when smog equipment first arrived in a big way and car companies struggled to adapt. Cars were pretty unexciting for a while as everyone learned how to build performance into a clean engine, but it did happen and today's cars have eclipsed the muscle car performance of the late sixties. Electric cars are another shift and it may take a while before we can get performance and acceptable range in the same vehicle, but it will happen, eventually. There is still a long way to go but the future is coming. I look forward to it, it'll be fun.