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Petrol, Diesel Or Alternative Fuel Debate Echoes The Past...

By raccars Published

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All car buyers are faced with a tricky dilemma these days - petrol, diesel or alternative fuel? You can work out pros and cons for each but it's not always clear which will be the best solution to your needs in terms of budget, performance, practicality or your environmental conscience.

However, this is not a new argument. Back in 1899, in the early days of the automotive industry, early issues of Autocar magazine discussed this very topic. In March of that year, speaking to the Coventry Engineering Society, JS Critchley of the Daimler Motor Company lectured on the benefits and disadvantages of the three choices of the time: steam, mineral oil and electricity, and in fact, some of his theories sound very familiar.

Steam was favoured for its simplicity, with no need for variable gearing. However the boilers needed were considered unreliable, hard to control and slow to provide the necessary propulsion. They were also considered smelly and dirty. Electric motors then came with the same logistical problems facing manufacturers now - which is the need for an efficient, affordable, reliable and transportable system of accumulation. Critchley discussed the difficulties of carrying a battery of the size and weight needed to drive a vehicle and its passengers, and the lack of range.

His conclusion was that mineral oil was the most practical and convenient solution. At the time, cars running on this fuel source were achieving an average speed of 30mph - amazing for the time - using a 10 gallon tank which could provide a range of 200 miles. However, mineral oil was not without its problems too, as the engines used to burn it were big and heavy. Nonetheless, it became the favoured fuel source and combustion engines became the norm for the auto industry worldwide.

It's only recently that electricity has regained favour, with steam remaining a footnote in automotive history. However electricity is, in many corners, considered the future of the automotive engine and an electric car, which rivals combustion engine powered models in terms of performance and range, is the holy grail of every modern manufacturer. While the technologies in use now are unrecognisable compared to the primitive versions of more than a century ago, the integration of batteries is still a key hurdle for car designers.

The more things change, the more they stay the same...

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