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Are Hybrid Cars Here To Stay?

  • Oct 06, 2017
  • 5017 Views

With electric vehicles hogging the limelight, has the hybrid technology gone for a toss?



xc90-plug-inHybridisation is the first step to electrify conventionally powered cars. The technology involves an electric motor, run by a battery, that feeds power to the driving wheels. It is further supplemented by a conventional petrol or diesel engine. The idea behind hybridisation of vehicles is to improve fuel consumption and reduce emissions. So the hybrid tech can be considered a masterstroke, at least at present, as it doesn’t require a big change in the way automobiles run, while still helping the environment.


On the contrary, the fully electric vehicle technology requires a sea change in the way automobiles are manufactured, run, and maintained. It requires setting up charging infrastructure for the battery and a motor, sometimes more than just one, to power the wheels. The service schedule for an electric vehicle is also different from conventional vehicles. EVs (electric vehicles) also require a change in the battery setup after a while, which is costly. Talking of costs, an entry-level electric hatchback, in today’s era, costs as much as a conventionally-powered mid-sized sedan. So, yes, electrics are just too expensive, at least for now.


mahindra-e2o


Despite the dramatic change in the way power is fed to the wheels in an electric vehicle, and the dilemma around their range and high charging periods, EVs are gaining popularity, not just in India, but the world over. The highlight of EV tech is the promise of zero tailpipe emissions, which conventionally powered vehicles can never manage. Even if they curb it to a great extent, they can never get rid of it. As a result, there is a lot of pressure on carmakers to adopt electric tech and make progress towards a full EV automotive market. This push for EVs is probably what is killing the hybrid tech, at least that is what appears on the surface.


In India, while most car segments benefitted from the rollout of the Goods and Service Tax (GST), the government increased taxes on hybrid vehicles and also withdrew the FAME (Faster Adoption of Manufacturing Hybrid and Electric Vehicles) scheme. Hybrid cars are now taxed only 2 per cent less than petrol- or diesel-powered mid-sized sedans. Electric cars, on the other hand, continue to enjoy a low GST rate of 12 per cent.


Panamera S Hybrid logo


Lack of government incentives to compensate for more expensive hardware in hybrid cars has lead to an increase in prices, which may have you believe that India’s hybrid car era has been nipped in the bud. But the hybrid tech might still have a long way to go until it’s completely dead.


It was at SIAM’s 57th annual convention in New Delhi on September 7, 2017, when Nitin Gadkari, the current Minister in GoI for Road Transport & Highways, Shipping and Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation made the famous ‘bulldoze’ remark on his plans to deal with diesel and petrol cars. At the same event, the director general of The Energy Research Institute (TERI), Ajay Mathur, put forth the fact that cleaner vehicles like EVs and hybrids would be able to meet the upcoming BS-VI norms more easily in comparison to the conventionally-powered vehicles. It’s widely known that electrification of petrol & diesel vehicles (read hybridisation) improves fuel efficiency and reduces emissions, and this has to be a natural way out for manufacturers to meet the BS-VI emission norms, apart from the other changes they’ll have to make to the powertrain to meet with the new regulations.


shvs


There might be no connection between Mathur’s facts and Maruti’s decision of setting up a separate space for making batteries in India, but it indicates that there has to be a midway before carmakers actually roll out fully electric cars. Take Maruti Suzuki’s SHVS tech, for example, which is the mildest form of hybridisation you can put on a vehicle, but the carmaker doesn’t want to part with it and, in fact, has even equipped its latest car, the S-Cross facelift, with it. The reason has to be simple, the carmaker wants buyers to come to terms with some electrification in cars before the big shift (read electrification) happens. Maruti Suzuki has also never denied the inclusion of SHVS tech in smaller cars as well, which might see the mild-hybrid tech coming on board at the dawn of the next decade.


If you think it’s only Maruti Suzuki who’s pushing mild-hybrids or any form of hybrid tech for that matter, there are carmakers like Volvo that have cleared that the Government’s move to increase taxes on hybrid vehicles won’t affect their future plans, and that they’ll continue to strengthen their portfolio with hybrid cars in the future. Volvo is one of those manufacturers who also have diesel engine-based hybrid cars in its international portfolio.


New-Camry-Hybrid


Things are, however, not exactly rosy for hybrid cars. Carmakers have also questioned the Government’s move of increasing taxes on hybrid cars. Hyundai, for one, has dumped all its plans of hybridisation in India at the moment. It was rumoured that the carmaker wanted to put in SHVS-like mild-hybrid tech in its cars to benefit from the tax advantage. But things are clear in Hyundai’s mind now that it won’t get any hybrid car into India anytime soon. The carmaker has also shelved its plans of launching the Ioniq hybrid in India, which was officially announced to make an appearance at the upcoming 2018 Auto Expo.

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