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Wed 27 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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The future is bright for petrolheads

Fear not petrolheads. Our love affair with the car will not end even if the future isn't petrol-filled.

Yes, amazingly I have been to the future and seen the light! And it's a very green light at that. Now before you think I have completely lost it, let me explain.

To be honest I have recently been questioning my entire working existence as a motoring writer. As I watch the world's daily slide into complete anarchy, I was starting to actually think that our love affair with the car was coming to an end. As another Asian village slid into a swollen river and Eskimos started buying sun tan lotion, I foresaw the world of the petrol engine disappearing into oblivion, along with all the great emotions that go along with driving.

The future may not be PETROL-filled, but it will definitely be interesting.

With hoards of greenies picketing my driveway and everyone from racing drivers to motor industry dictators predicting the very end of everything I love about cars, I was pretty despondent to say the least.

Yet in the forests and hills of Japan I rediscovered my faith in mankind's unconditional love for the car.

Honda, which is currently on a major green push, flew me out to Japan for two days of testing at their Motegi Twin Ring circuit.

Once at the circuit I got the chance to have a play with a range of models from the big H. But two of the highlights of the day was a chance to drive the very unique FCX fuel cell car that Honda is keen to push as the solution to the potential end of all things, and a full race-prepped Honda Civic Hybrid.

With my hybrid and electric car experience limited to the back nine at the local golf club I thought it might be amusing to ‘give them a go'.

The FCX is the most technically advanced and despite some quirky styling still looks like a fairly straightforward car. But once behind the wheel it is a whole different board game. Imagine if you can the experience of driving a golf buggy. The more you press the more power you get, and the longer you hold it the faster the buggy goes. Well, to be honest the FCX is not a great deal different to that.

What is very different however is that the FCX accelerates at a similar rate to a mid-range saloon. It's not blisteringly quick, but it certainly goes when asked. Once up to speed, the car drives like a normal car, albeit with no gears to change. We were limited to a top speed of 120kph on the Motegi oval, but the FCX can get up to an impressive 160kph.

On the twisty smaller circuit, the less advanced, but still very clever Civic Hybrid racer threw up another curve ball. It was excellent!

It had a rorty exhaust note, accelerated like a demon and cornered on rails. But importantly it was no less fun to drive than a normal race car.

Now this is all very interesting but what am I trying to get at? What I am trying to say is that although these cars aren't hyper cars, they have enough performance to match and in some cases out perform many of the standard cars we currently drive on the road today.

So where will we be ten years from now, assuming the planet hasn't spun out of its orbit? I'm guessing we'll be doing exactly what we do now, tuning and racing cars for no other reason than to go fast around a track. The only difference will be that we will be doing it with electric cars rather than petrol ones.

So if we can avoid the pen pushers and do-gooders' plans to make us all drive at 5kph in cars built of cotton wool then perhaps it won't be so bad after all? Electric/hydrogen cars may currently sound like underground trains and drive like fast golf buggies, but at this rate the technology will soon rival and even overtake our good old gas guzzlers.

Once the cost of production is brought under control, the world will simply switch to this new technology in droves. It might be the most dramatic motoring shift since the first model T rolled off the production line, but it's coming and we might as well get used to it.

The days of petrol engines are definitely numbered, but I'm no longer quite so terrified of the future. It may not be petrol-filled, but it will definitely be interesting. The end of the car is certainly not nigh!

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