You've probably heard of peak oil or peak coal, the theorized time when these materials reach their maximum rate of extraction or use. But have you considered there might also be a peak for the internal combustion engine?

Experts disagree on whether we've already hit peak oil, but the decline of the internal combustion engine may already be here. That's according to a new report from the Financial Times (behind a pay wall), which claims we'll never see sales of cars with internal combustion engines at 2018 levels ever again.

Although the end has been prophesized to be near for years now, most experts thought the internal combustion engine still had a few good years of growth left. But a perfect storm of factors in 2018 has likely quickened the decline. Notably, the U.S.-led trade war, Brexit, financing issues among Chinese consumers, the embargo on Iran, and new emissions targets in Europe, have all led to a "disastrous" year for the global car market.

"When you look at 2018 since the summer, new car sales in all of the important markets are going down," said Axel Schmidt, global automotive lead at Accenture, a global management consulting firm. "Selling combustion engine cars to customers — this will not grow in the future."

When the global car market does rebound, it will likely be more for the benefit of electric vehicles rather than cars that run on internal combustion. Demand for electric and alternative energy vehicles has steadily been on the rise, with projections that this market will continue to grow by 1.2 per cent in 2019, eating away at the pie of marketshare for conventional vehicles.

"'Peak ICE’ — peak internal-combustion-engine car sales globally — may already have occurred with the ending of 2018," said Elmar Kades, global co-leader for automotive at AlixPartners. "It's this slowing growth of the overall pie that the industry should be most concerned with, even as it has to grapple with — and pay for — the continuing switchover to electric vehicles."

The biggest factor in setting these trends will be in China, where alternative fuel car sales nearly doubled in 2018, despite the negative performance of the car market in general.

And so, we may be at the end of an era. It's welcome news for the environment, even though 2018 proved to be a record year for global carbon emissions. Maybe, though, the internal combustion engine will be the first domino to fall.

Bryan Nelson ( @@brynelson ) writes about everything from environmental problems here on Earth to big questions in space.

Was 2018 the year of peak combustion engine?
Sales of internal combustion engine cars might never again reach 2018 levels.