The internal combustion engine has some history. Patents can be traced back as far as 1791 and various improvements were made through the 1800s. In 1826 a patent was issued for an engine that included a carburettor. In 1856 a 5HP engine replaced steam engines in Florence. In 1862 a patent was given for a four-stroke engine. In 1879 through to 1886, Karl Benz received several patents for engines and automobiles. A supercharger was patented in 1885. In 1893, a Rudolf Diesel received his patent for compressed ignition – now known as the diesel engine. The turbocharger was patented in 1905.

All of these work on the same basic concept – dig up some oil, refine it, then burn it to produce motion. Some of the petrol and diesel driven cars available now have taken the basic principles from over one hundred years of development and have delivered incredibly sophisticated designs that would have amazed some of the original inventors of the basic designs. I have been lucky enough to drive or be driven in a number of incredibly sophisticated vehicles worth, in some cases, close to a million dollars. Some of these were incredibly quiet or powerful or loaded with luxurious items beyond belief.

But production cars still relied on the fast burning of a fast-diminishing mineral resource. Oil.

When I saw the first Toyota Hybrid vehicle, I thought there was some merit in the concept. Combine an electric motor and an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) in the one vehicle and start to look at a different power source. I purchased my first Toyota Prius in 2005. I thought the Prius was going to change the world. It certainly was the start of a change but the world is taking some time to catch on.

Since that Prius, I have used a variety of electric and hybrid vehicles that have all attacked the idea of transition away from the ICE in different ways. I have personally used the Prius; the Toyota Camry Hybrid; the Holden Volt Range Extender Hybrid Electric; the Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid Electric; the Nissan LEAF Electric Vehicle and the Lexus NX Hybrid SUV. All great cars and all trying to change the world.

Then came the paradigm shift. Not from a car manufacturer but from the tech world. Elon Musk, having made his billions with PayPal, decided it was time to deliver a world without ICE vehicles. He set out to prove to the world that electric cars could be both fast and have a long range – with range-anxiety the number one reason people stated as not favouring electric vehicles. His first Roadster made electric car enthusiasts take notice. His Model S made car manufacturers take notice. His Model 3 made the world take notice.

Having owned a Model S for all of a week now I can tell you that it is a very rare case of high expectations being amazingly exceeded. A car that is incredibly quiet with instant power and more tech than the bedroom of a teenage boy was enough to get me salivating. Throw in a range of over 600km on one charge and a network of free superchargers that deliver a fifty per cent charge boost in 20 minutes and the doubters start to have another look. Add in the fact that Musk has promised that most of the electricity for superchargers is delivered by renewables and even the sceptics are finding it difficult to find faults.

The Model 3 is not even in full production yet Tesla has received over 500,000 orders for the vehicle complete with the AUD$1,500 deposit. That is three quarters of a billion dollars in the Tesla bank account for a car that customers don’t know the price of and they don’t know when they will receive it.

Now the world has sat up to take notice, people across the world are researching and experimenting to see how they can be a part of the solution. One company in Britain has developed a carbon-based supercapacitor that, if successful in scale, will allow an electric car to be fully charged in ten minutes (and your phone to be charged in seconds). How long does it take you to fill up your car with petrol? Ten minutes for a full charge seems quite reasonable when you consider all of other advantages.

There is no doubt the automobile world is changing and the tech in the Tesla will be looked back in history as the turning point in that change.

Mathew Dickerson

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