The Otto cycle, running on fumes.

Grainy Model 3 Tesla.

Yesterday afternoon, as we drove home along the highway, a clapped out ute passed us, issuing plumes of black smoke as the driver floored it up the hill.

‘Wow, that’s really smokey’ observed keen-eyed-Karen, with her 12 year old smug disapproval. She had a point though – it was a shocker. As the smoke drifted into our car I smelled burning diesel oil. I explained to her that diesels blow blacker smoke than petrol cars, because it contains more carbon, and more soot. And that I suspected flogged rings rather than injectors, which would blow bluer smoke, and pour more unburnt fuel out through the exhaust. I explained to her that in the olden days, many people were finely honed sommeliers of clapped out diesel emissions, as we all tore around the countryside with elbows stuck out the window like a hopeful roll cage.

These days are fading fast. My daughter will learn to drive in an automatic, probably her grandfather’s car (we own three vehicles but I have a religious aversion to autos). And, a couple of years after that, she will start driving an electric car. Fiddling around with fuel systems will be a thing of the past. I’m already referring to petrol and diesel cars as heirloom technology.

And frankly, it surprises me that they took off at all. The Otto cycle is fundamentally ridiculous. During each revolution, the piston must come to a complete stop at both the top and bottom of the cylinder. The forces are immense. Even Wankel engines make more sense, and, again, we see technological determinacy in play. When all your engineering research is geared towards four stroke engines, it is easier to make iterative changes. Indeed, Nissan just released a new four stroke engine with variable head timing. That means the head can move to alter the compression ratio of the cylinders. This is all done mechanically. It is the absolute definition of over-engineering. There is clearly still an enormous amount of R&D invested in 4 stroke engines, primarily driven by the lack of infrastructure to support electric vehicles (I’m guessing).

Because let’s be clear, electric cars shit on petrol cars.

Take the biggest BMW engine on the market, the 4.3 litre V8 X6M. (Incidentally, the day that a car company reaches gender equality will be the same day that they start giving their new models actual names instead of numbers. Alpha, Delta and Mu seem popular). The BMW has got all the bells and whistles. Turbo charged injected cup holders. It does zero to 100 in 4.2 seconds.

The latest Tesla, Model 3, which will be a pretty standard car in a couple of years, does zero to 100 km/h in 2.5 seconds. That’s like sitting in an aircraft as the thrusters kick in. The biggest hurdle is putting all that power through the wheels and onto the road.

Pretty soon, Australians will connect their home solar to their car, and use the car as a battery. This isn’t far away.

The days of sniffing fumes are done.

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