Will gasoline cars be gone by 2070?

When will the last gasoline car be built? No later than 2070, Shell Oil predicts. 

Robert Harbison/The Christian Science Monitor/File
Commuters take to the crowded LA freeways after work. Shell Oil predicts that roads will be 'oil-free' by 2070 or sooner.

The disappearance of internal-combustion engines is far from inevitable today, but several groups and governments are now predicting when the last gasoline vehicles will be sold.

The latest prediction comes from a particularly unlikely source: Shell Oil Company, one of the largest petroleum producers in the world.

The company predicts in its latest report that petroleum-powered cars could be nearly gone by 2070.

The concept is part of Shell's 'New Lens Scenarios', reports Autoblog Green. They are forward-looking predictions that help the company decide how to operate over the coming years.

Shell is actually no stranger to such scenario building, and 2013 actually marks the 40th year of this policy. This year, Shell has developed two New Lens Scenarios, which it terms "Mountains" and "Oceans". 

Each predicts a future based on two possible paths the global economy may take over the coming decades, when affected by technological developments and the global population.

Changing pressures

In both scenarios, that global population is expected to top 9 billion by 2050. The future could be very different for those 9 billion depending on each scenario though.

In Mountains, a 'lens' in which incumbent governmental and economic power persists, natural gas would become a dominant fuel by the 2030s while demand for liquid fuels derived from oils falls.

In terms of transportation, we'd be driving much less--only 1,200 miles per year, on average, a tiny fraction of average U.S. mileage today--thanks to shorter average journeys from a more city-centric population, and better use of two-wheeled transport and public transport.

Economic growth would be sluggish, though, and it's not great news for the environment--the target of no more than a 2-degree Centigrade rise in global temperatures would have been surpassed.

In Oceans, Shell predicts a world with greater understanding and compromise. The world would be a more prosperous one, but dwindling food, energy and water become the new priorities.

Natural gas doesn't take off in the way it's now expected to, but solar grows to become the world's largest energy source. Still, the march of climate change outpaces technological developments, forcing society to make "significant adaptions".

Oil phased out by 2070... or sooner?

In each scenario, Shell's overall estimate is that by 2070, the passenger road market could be "nearly oil-free", with electricity and hydrogen the dominant means of fueling road transportation.

There's far too much detail to replicate Shell's full report--you can read the full 48-page PDF file here--but it's a fascinating look into possible future outcomes with regards to social pressures, energy, and the global economy.

It may also be outpaced by developments in individual countries. German site eCarTecreports that Swiss green pressure group wants electric cars to dominate as soon as 2050, promoting electric charging and wider use of electric vehicles.

Other visions have been even more severe, such as UK governmental proposals that make any vehicle that's not a hybrid, plug-in, or zero-emission illegal by 2040--though such plans were criticized for lacking realism.

Ultimately, none of us can predict the future. But when global firms like Shell start assuming that gasoline will go away, the next 100 could be very interesting indeed.

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