Have you seen this game? I know it launched in a broken and near unplayable dog**** state, but the cars (and motorbikes) of the supposed dark future - taken from the Cyberpunk lore - look incredibly advanced but also fashionably retro.
They have fold-out doors, are capable of fully autonomous driving, some are bulletproof, have LCDs instead of windshields/windows for privacy, six wheels or more, are turbocharged and even have sonorous V10 and V12 soundtracks!
This might be a gritty dystopia, but if these are the cars we can enjoy, where do I sign up?
Sure, we have a lot of smart people speculating on where the industry is ultimately heading, but the future of the car as we know remains ambiguous. So far, the two main contenders looking to take over the reins from internal combustion are batteries and hydrogen, both of which still use electric motors to make the wheels turn.
This is what makes the portrait that Cyberpunk 2077 paints so interesting. Yes, it's a video game. Not only does it paint a beautifully detailed and fleshed-out open world, but its longstanding lore was created over 30 years ago and is based on a dark Blade Runner-esque futurescape that has undergone multiple global conflicts and rampant technological growth.
In this fictional year 2077, the line between man and machine continues to be blurred, corporations have more power than multiple world superpower governments combined, and much of the earth is a barren wasteland of depleted natural resources. Trees are a luxury and even having a simple pet iguana is so rare and exotic that it’s outlawed.
Yet, given how grounded the world-building is, what’s fascinating is that there still are cars as we know them. People do still need to get around, after all, but while there are fundamental advancements such as VTOL airborne vehicles (called AVs) as well as electric cars sold to the public, the majority of automobiles still utilise internal combustion.
In-game, those flying vehicles are much too expensive for the average non-billionaire NPC to afford and electric cars have generally proven to be saddled with too many practical drawbacks to be viable at a large scale. Hmm. Sounds about right.
There are gas stations here too, and like in any open world game they will still explode if you shoot at them. Only, they do not deposit petrol or diesel but instead a synthetically created substitute called CHOOH2 (pronounced "chew two”), the result of harvesting and processing a genetically engineered wheat to create an alcohol-like chemical that’s very combustible. It’s bio-fuel, which is already a reality today.
If you’ve played the game or have seen footage of it being played, you might recognise that these cars in the open world all have very familiar engine notes despite their very futuristic look. The game's sound design (and soundtrack) is also very well executed, by the way, making them a real joy to listen to.
We have heard a lot from automakers who have publicly gotten behind the biofuel initiative, essentially creating a carbon-friendly and renewable alternative to petrol and diesel that will be able to utilise the existing vehicles and oil-centric infrastructure we’ve oriented our world around.
Nissan have been trumpeting their e-Bio Fuel Cell prototype for years, which uses bio-ethanol made from corn and sugar cane to power an electric motor with any resulting carbon emissions being offset by the growth of the initial crop.
More recently, Porsche has announced a partnership to help create a synthetic hydrocarbon fuel that’s a 1-to-1 replacement for petrol and kerosene (jet fuel) through a climate-friendly wind power production process for use in their sports and race cars. In the game, there is even a 1977 Porsche 911 Turbo (930) - a 100 year old car in the Cyberpunk timeline - that’s capable of running on CHOOH2, which belonged to rockerboy Johnny Silverhand, the game's secondary protagonist played by Keanu Reeves.
Wind the clock back 50 years and pretty much everyone imagined 2020 to be very different. Actually, not even our 2019 selves could have predicted how this year would play out. We were supposed to have colonised Mars by now and drive Back To The Future-style flying cars (DeLorean's?) everywhere, there would be no famine and everything would be automated allowing us humans to live carefree lives of leisure.
Reality, on the other hand, always has a way of being far more sobering and far less fantastical. In the end, practicality does tend to win over blind optimism, and there’s something very compelling about bio-fuel (or eFuel as Porsche calls it) insofar as how they conform to the world’s immediate needs as we grapple with the depleting reserves of crude oil.
I’m not saying that it’s a ‘better’ solution to fully electric or hydrogen fuel-cell cars, but they surely represent the path of least resistance while maintaining carbon-neutrality.
There's just something about cars. It's a conveyance, it's a liability, it's a tool; but it can also be a source of joy, pride, inspiration and passion. It's much like clothes versus fashion. And like the latter, the pursuit of perfection never ends.