Endless stories ran about how many people had been killed/maimed/poisoned by cars. A Guardian columnist, while admitting that most people liked their cars, said that our transport future was post-car, "in which cleaner, well-designed public transport can whisk us around and between cities". Really? And what happens if you don't live in a city? Even the right-wing Spectator, whose principles should be perfectly in line with car use, has started a "Not Motoring" column.
Yet of course the car will survive the next 100 years. Private transport of 2096 will, undoubtedly, be nothing like that inefficient tin box parked outside your home. That is what the anti-car brigade fail to understand: they underestimate just how much better private transport can and will get. It will, because it must.
The more rabid environmentalists argue that because private transport is highly polluting, it is best to return to what we had before: public transport, suitably modernised, supplemented by bicycles. No doubt better buses and trains, and bicycles, will play a big part. And in some areas, such as cities, perhaps they should play the only part. But does anybody seriously think British people will happily return en masse to queuing at bus stops? We had that once, and rejected it when cars became affordable.
Because people will always want private transport, so the car industry will provide it. And because people will demand it, those future cars will be clean and safe. The petrol internal combustion engine will continue to get cleaner, because it must. By the turn of the century it should even start to purify polluted inner-city air. But we'll have to wait for the wholesale use of natural gas or similar (in 15 to 20 years probably) to get massive air quality improvements. Cars will also become different from each other. Within 20 years, they will not all be boxes of steel, which nowadays differ principally in styling. Cars will come in all shapes and sizes and will be both lighter and stronger than those today, and bespoke city cars, twin- or even single-seaters, may be a feature.
To campaign against the car as an institution is a mistake. There will always be private transport, in some form. The campaign should be to make the car safer and cleaner; to revolutionise it, not to kill it.