The answer to this question is a matter of opinion, and one possible answer is, “we already have.” Plug-in cars that run solely on electric power have already been manufactured and sold, the most successful being the REVA-I which is made in India. American and European car manufacturers are pouring significant resources into developing alternative car designs to capture the growing market share in more environmentally responsible transportation. Why have these ideas not already “replaced” the internal combustion engine? Economics. Electric cars are usually more expensive and more difficult to obtain than standard gasoline-powered cars, and the infrastructure to support them, such as charging stations, is not nearly as widely available as gasoline filling stations. Some time in the next century–sooner, I believe, rather than later–there will be either a significant technological advance in alternative fuels, or a change in economic and social conditions that makes alternative fuels more acceptable than they have previously been, and the internal combustion engine will probably decline in importance. The key advance in my personal opinion would be the development of clean and safe fusion power, but as of 2010 this is science fiction.
Whatever happens, I doubt the internal combustion engine will entirely go away. Just as horse-drawn buggies are still used for tours in Central Park, for social and religious reasons in Amish communities and as legitimate primary transportation options in poor regions of the world, the internal combustion engine will probably remain in use for a very long time to come, though hopefully the day will come when it is no longer the most dominant means of transportation propulsion.
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