Hybrids hit the high road

According to Technical Insights, Asia is leading the electric vehicle revolution and intense development efforts in this region are likely to promote the mainstream commercialisation of hybrid vehicles.

The popularity of hybrid vehicles, which combine the beneficial attributes of an internal combustion engine and a battery pack, offsets the roadblocks confronting battery, electric, and fuel cell vehicles. With Asia leading the electric vehicle revolution, intense development efforts undertaken in this region are likely to promote the hybrid’s mainstream commercialisation.

However, according to Technical Insights, there are numerous obstacles to the entry of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) into the mainstream. Long considered purely environment-friendly, HEVs had, until recently, failed to convince consumers of their true benefits and performance quality. Removing negative perceptions such as frequent charging may be the first step in achieving commercial acceptance.

“HEVs use a unique regenerative braking feature, which captures the energy lost during braking and returns it to the battery, thereby eliminating the need for frequent charging,” explained Technical Insights Research Analyst Rajesh Kannan. “HEVs also provide better mileage, smoother acceleration at lower speeds, and superior driving experience when compared to gasoline vehicles.”

Premium HEV offerings come attached with equally high price tags, often 30 to 40 percent more than that for conventional vehicles. However, significant maintenance and fuel savings make HEVs economical in the long run. While conventional cars consume 1 litre of fuel to run 15 kilometres, HEVs can run 36 km per litre of fuel.

Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) as opposed to HEV permit a complete transition to an electricity-powered vehicle. However, their key advantages, such as elimination of exhaust emissions and fuel savings, remain on the sidelines due to numerous battery-related problems. Batteries used in such vehicles require constant recharging, wherein, a single charge taking 4 to 5 hours provides a mileage of just 80 to 130 km. Though the average car buyer may find this time consuming future increases in mileage up to 160 km on a single charge may be critical in gaining quicker consumer acceptance.

The lack of durability and short lifespan of battery packs threaten to position BEVs as niche products for intra-city shuttle buses, golf cars, or other specialised automobiles. Support infrastructure such as fast charging stations in Japan could play a critical role in facilitating easier and more convenient battery charging.

“Interesting developments in lithium ion batteries and efforts to increase battery capacity and decrease battery size and charging time may be imperative to widen the scope of BEVs,” explained Kannan. “BEVs’ commercial compatibility also depends on alternative technologies such as flywheels, ultracapacitors, and solar cells.”

Fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) that use hydrogen to improve fuel economy and reduce pollution are also said to be creating excitement in the EV field. However, a more economical and feasible means to extract, transport, and store hydrogen may be crucial for commercial success.

Though HEVs, BEVs, and FCVs confront individual challenges, all face high development costs. Obtaining government support in the form of incentives for manufacturers and tax breaks to EV owners could be vital in catalysing EV development and uptake.

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