What is the future of the car? Are classic models like the Jaguar E-Type just going to change their engine and fuel to electric to achieve zero emissions as in the Concept Zero driven by HRH the Duke and Duchess of Sussex at their wedding in 2018, or is something more fundamental going to happen, like the seismic shift when Henry Ford industrialised car production in the 1920′s?
‘Cars: Accelerating the Modern World’ explores the history of the car but, being the Victoria & Albert Museum, does so from a variety of different perspectives – our search for speed and the transport of the future, and related other areas of fashion, design, architecture, power, politics and culture.
Here are many of the cars which in different ways have changed the world including the Benz Patent-Motorwagon (1886), the Ford Model T, the Ford Mustang, the Tatra 77, the LaSalle Roadster, the Delahaye Type 145, the Messerschmitt KR2000 Cabin Scooter (Bubble Car) and the Volkswagen Beetle. Alongside were new forms of architecture – the mass-production factory, the service station with restaurants oversailing the road, the gas station and the multi-storey carpark and, of course, every house had to have its own garage.
There have been opportunities to move away from petrol combustion – in the 1890′s electric cars were anticipated to take over the market for what was then a use focussed on short journeys, but things changed and we discovered a love of adventure and races across long distances and across continents, which the electric-powered engine could not support. so petrol won this race. Nothing much has changed in a century! Again, opportunities could have been grasped during the Suez Crisis of 1956 and the Oil Crisis of 1973, but although the environmental movement was born in the latter, the petrol-driven car proved to be resistant to change, as indeed has been our love of tall buildings, as seen not only in New York and London, but in developing cities such as Dubai, where there is not exactly a shortage of land. Yes, indeed cars and the economics of the oil industry have shaped our world.
Such is the love of cars that the Paycan, introduced into Persia in the 1960′s, is today intermeshed with Iranian culture and is a popular lottery prize.
Cars of course are dangerous. One of the strangest exhibits is ‘Graham’ – a figure devised by Patricia Piccinini for the Australian Transport Accident Commission showing how humans would need to evolve to withstand car crashes.
Lastly, one option for the future might be ‘Pop.Up Next’, a small car developed by Italdesign, Audi and Airbus, which is electric, driverless, hired through your smartphone when needed rather than owned (like today’s urban bicycle hire scheme)……and which may perhaps one day fly!!