Car Corner
Internal Combustion Engine - How Much Longer?

August 1, 2010
By Scott Lewis

Later this year Chevrolet is going to release the Volt. This is not a hybrid car. It is an "extended range" electric car. That's right... and electric car. The engine is an on-board generator to make electricity. The car drives completely off electric power.

Nissan is getting ready to sell the Leaf. This is a pure electric car... with no gasoline engine to get in the way... or help the Leaf get out of the way when the batteries run out of juice. Of course, Tesla and Fisker are also building electric cars.

I have been hearing that the gasoline engine is on its way out. I heard that in the eighties, too. And we were not supposed to have any V-8 engines either.

So, how long does the typical gasoline swilling internal combustion engine have left? Well, as we will see... a very long time.

Let's take a look at some numbers. In 2006 there were approximately 251 million vehicles registered for use in the United States. Over 60% of those vehicles are over 7 years old.

Last year we barely went over 10 million sales. This year is better, but by no means good. We are looking at approximately 11.5 million cars for this year... maybe a little less than that... I am not optimistic about it. It will take a few years for car sales to get back to what they were. No, I don't think we will hit 17 million per year again. But let's ignore the economy for the moment... and let's assume for a second that we will get back to 15 million sales per year soon.

So... how many of those 15 millions cars have internal combustion engines. If we lump diesels in with gasoline (and E85 ethanol) then something like 99% of new cars and light trucks are using internal combustion engines. We would have to stop selling internal combustion engines vehicles before we could determine how long they will be around.

Let's assume that some unforeseen event happens this year and starting in 2011 the manufactures all switch to something else. At 15 million vehicles per year it would take over 16 years to replace all the vehicles currently on the roads. That means at the earliest the internal combustion engine will go on until at least 2027.

Remember, we are looking at realistic sales of 11.5 million, at the most this year, and maybe 12-14 for the years ahead. At 13 millions cars a year it is going to take 19 years.


So... we can only start to count when we stop making new cars with IC engines. Then it will be 16-19 years after that point we will have eliminated the IC engine.

The gasoline fueled internal combustion engine has a LOT of life left in it. I predict at least 30 more years. I would not sell my stock in Exxon/Mobile any time soon.