The transition to electric power in our automobiles just got a big boost with GM’s recent announcement that their entire fleet of cars and light trucks will be all-electric by 2035.
The last time the industry was in this big of a paradigm shift was just over a century ago when steam, battery, and internal combustion were vying for dominance on the roads of America. The golden age of steam cars is generally considered to be from 1900 to 1915, when steam competed on more or less an equal footing with internal combustion. While they declined quickly after 1915, steam-powered cars actually managed to hang around for another decade and a half before disappearing completely.
Stanley, the brand most synonymous with steam-powered cars, was still producing cars until 1924 (surprisingly, at least to me). An example from their final year of production is pictured above.
The last steam car maker of the golden age is generally considered to be Doble, which was producing a handful of steam-powered cars per year up until 1930. Doble had supposedly solved many of the problems that plagued earlier steam cars: For example, their rapid-fire boiler could start generating steam on even the coldest of mornings in just 40 seconds, while supposedly generating 1,000 ft-lb. of torque. But no matter, by then the market had already spoken, and the internal combustion engine (ICE) was the clear winner.
So here we are in 2021, at the precipice of another powertrain transition. Who will be the last hangers-on to the ICE? Will it be a large maker, like Stanley, or will it be a small boutique maker, à la Doble?
My guess for the last mainstream brand to cling to the ICE? Dodge (assuming it survives the Stellantis merger). Dodge has carved a “low-tech” niche for itself with its decade-old platforms, as well as trading on a reputation for being environmentally unfriendly by not having any compact offerings. Heck, Dodge is the only mainstream auto brand I can think of offhand that has never had a hybrid vehicle (OK, there was the 2009 Dodge Durango Hybrid, but it only sold for one year and it used GM’s Dual-Mode hybrid system, which kind of proves my point).
So who do you think will make the last ICE car? Bonus points will be awarded for picking the year of the last ICE-powered car.