Tiff Needell on future of cars

He has spent a lifetime racing and reviewing vehicles and is widely considered one of the auto world's most knowledgable men. Tiff Needell does some crystal ball gazing.

A prototype of Paul Moller's Skycar M400 A prototype of Paul Moller's Skycar M400
After 25 years of testing cars for television-fifteen on Top Gear and now ten on Fifth Gear-there is a growing problem, there are fewer and fewer bad cars on the market. Now I know this should be a good thing, and it is for everyone out there who wants to buy a car but it's not when you want when trying to make entertaining television programmes.

While it's always nice to heap wild praise on a car for its brilliant looks or stunning performance the fact is that we need some 'less perfect' cars on the market, and the occasional really bad one, in order to make the good ones stand out and our job of picking the best a simpler task.

Tiff Needell
Tiff Needell, Former racing driver, television presenter and host of Channel Five's Fifth Gear
But now, asked whether I'd go for the Ferrari or the Lamborghini or the McLaren it's hard to say. Do you want the Audi or the BMW, the Jaguar or the Mercedes? Well I'm no longer so sure. What I do still know though is that I never tire of trying to find out.

With the world changing so fast these days it's also not easy to keep up with all the latest tricks, gadgets and gizmos that car manufacturers are cramming into their designs. When I won the 1985 Bangalore Grand Prix driving for Vijay Mallya we simply raced up and down a disused airstrip. In sharp contrast today, the Indian Grand Prix takes place on the most up to date and magnificent Buddh International Circuit, yet sometimes the old, simpler world seems more rewarding! So, if the last 25 years have seen so much change, what can we expect from the next? Hit films like Back to the Future II and Blade Runner both predicted that we would have flying cars by the end of this decade but I'd be surprised if they are even running by the end of this century. The world is moving fast but the thought of millions of us traversing this way and that, up in the air, doesn't bear thinking about; we have trouble enough avoiding each other on the ground.

{mosimage}Cars are going to be with us for a long time to come and the major advances are going to be in what powers them and how they get around. I can certainly see some sort of satellite guided super highway developing in the future, where you drive onto a major route and then the car will drive itself until your exit point but to expand that network to every road in the land sounds like a major recipe for disaster. So our cars will always need to be able to be driven by us.

But what will power them? Well I have no doubt that both petrol and diesel will be in plentiful supply for way longer than all the doomsayers of today love to predict and then there are the second generation cellulosic biofuels that can be created from waste products to take their place and power the very same internal combustion engines as we have today. So the power plants that most of us use now are going to be around for a long time to come.

Of course you may believe the emissions from these very engines is causing the climate change that we are currently experiencing, or you may just want better air quality in towns and cities, in which case you'll be looking at the development of electric cars, or hydrogen fuel cells or maybe even solar power. Every day you hear of some new project under development so there are definitely exciting times ahead!

But the one thing I can't see changing is that, whatever we drive, we'll still need a steering wheel and a driver. Unfortunately this means that we'll still be bumping into each other every now and again but fortunately modern designs are providing ever improving protection in the case of accidents to try and keep us safe.

I just hope that, whatever the shape cars of the future take, we will at least be left to choose whatever form of car we prefer to use so that the freedom the motor car has brought to the world remains one of the great benefits of the last hundred years of our evolution.