For an auto of the future, the starter motor of a conventional auto is now replaced by a dual-purpose starter/alternator. Battery power is used to crank the starter, and the ICE comes on, at which point the starter/alternator switches into alternator mode and hundreds of kilowatts of electrical power are produced. This electrical power is then used to power all the onboard functional devices.
Each wheel on a car can have its own electric drive motor, and the net weight of four electrical motors will be much less than the net weight of all the gears and transmissions parts that they displace in a conventional car. The ride will be better as well. Cars will shed literally hundreds of pounds of weight without sacrificing an ounce of performance.
This car design is far more efficient than a conventionally-powered ICE because the car will weigh so much less, and electrical power can be precisely controlled by an onboard microprocessor to channel power only when and where it is needed.
If this seems futuristic, the General Electric AC6000CW locomotive is now powered by huge diesel-fueled (efficient and clean burning; see Chapter 17 for more on diesel fuels) electrical generators. The entire machine is electric, aside from the diesel engine which does nothing but turn a generator that produces electrical power. Large trucks are also on the road that run the same way: The diesel engine simply turns a big generator and all the motive force is provided by electric motors coupled to the wheels.
Military platforms like jet planes and submarines are all electric, as are aircraft carriers. The Segway, an 80-pound, dual-wheel scooter is entirely electric. The performance of each of these examples exceeds that of their conventional counterparts.
One problem with this scheme is the unreliability of digital controls. You have surely experienced your computer crashing. You need to turn it off and then reboot it to get it working again. With too much computerized intelligence onboard a vehicle, there is a possibility that the control system will crash. Much development is being directed at this problem, and the most promising solution is to use redundant computer controllers so that when one goes down, others are still on line. With the low cost of computers, this does not add a lot to the total cost of the vehicle.