Interview: Future Cars Will Be Like Trains

Jul 7, 2008
Naoshige Shimizu, Nikkei Electronics

- With the development of automotive electronics, how will cars change in the next 10 to 20 years?

The biggest change will be that cars themselves will be electric-powered, diluting the meaning of the word "automotive electronics." It's not that electricity or software will change cars but that cars themselves will become electricity, so to speak.

In other words, cars will be linked to electric power systems in the future. And it is becoming more and more likely that gasoline vehicles will change into hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars, and then into pure electric cars.

Of course, there are other possibilities like clean diesel cars and bio fuel cars though fuel-cell vehicles exist to the side of them, I would say. But trains proved one hundred years ago that electric motors are better actuators for conveyances if there is enough infrastructure to supply electricity.

When viewed in this light, the trend shifting from hybrid cars to plug-in hybrid cars and to pure electric cars is becoming more and more prominent. This trend will become even stronger after the G8 Hokkaido-Toyako Summit though it is also being influenced by soring oil price.

When cars are linked to electric power systems, their characteristics will change. I mean, they will be charged with a small amount of electricity at a time and will be charged more often. In other words, they will become like trains.

What's the difference between trains and cars? Trains move while being supplied with energy from outside. And cars run carrying most of the energy they need.

Currently, cars run 400-500km (250-313 miles) on a single fueling and at a maximum speed of 160km (100 miles) per hour because auto makers have made efforts to develop cars that can be used anytime, anywhere and by anyone.

However, do all cars really have to have those capabilities? Considering how they are used in reality, I think many people would be satisfied with cars that can run 20km (13 miles) a day and at a maximum speed of 100km (63 miles) per hour.

The travel distance of 400-500km is long enough to drive in the middle of the Sahara desert. It does not make sense to use that kind of car in urban areas.

When I talk about a car that can store little energy, people often ask me, "what will you do if it runs out of energy?" But, how many people drive to the areas where they cannot recharge their cars until the cars stop? We just need cars that meet our needs.

- What kind of electronic technologies are the keys to realize those evolutions of cars?

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