Move up a gear - HYBRID'S are here
Cities, towns and roads in India are teeming with cars. Many more are waiting in the wings. An impressive line up of autos was on display in the recently staged Auto Expo, 2010, Delhi. Do we really need more of these fossilfuel guzzlers? Not really. Responding perhaps to the growing concerns of consumers, the top auto-makers presented a new range of ‘eco-friendly’ vehicles this time. THE HYBRIDS.
What is a hybrid?
Any vehicle can be labelled as a hybrid if it uses more than one source of energy. It is not a new invention. One of the first personalised vehicles in India, found even today in rural hinterlands, the Luna mo-ped, is also a hybrid. It runs on two energy sources – fuel and the riders’ pedalling.
The hybrid cars that are being manufactured now use two sources – fuel and battery (electricity). But why go hybrid in the first place? To enjoy the best of both the worlds, of course. Drawback of a fuel-run vehicle is its emission, and for an electric-run, is its mileage and speed constraint. A hybrid combination minimizes these shortcomings, increasing fuel efficiency while cutting down on the pollution.
In January 1992, the Toyota Automobile Company, produced an Earth Charter, emphasising on greening up of its products. Incidentally this move was made before the Earth summit in June 1992. Toyota’s first eco-friendly hybrid concept car was displayed in 1995 at the Tokyo motor show. By December 1997, it was ready for launch. Called Prius, it was the first commercial hybrid. The model was revised once in 2004, when it registered a record 1 million sales mark. The Prius which was showcased in Delhi’s Auto Expo, is a third generation hybrid, has a bioplastic body, solar roofs, and in some models it includes LED headlights. The car, true to it’s name (Prius, means ‘prior or predecessor’ in Latin), began a new era. Now every major automaker has a hybrid car on the anvil.
H o w d o e s i t w o r k ?
Hybrids are the future, say auto pundits. We say keep them coming. And continue with the research till we find a car that can run on Gobar gas.
3. Series-parallel or power split, or combined hybrid
They can also be labelled by their degree. Like the full hybrids or the power hybrids – those which can run on the power of – only the battery, or only the engine by design. Or the power assist hybrids, which use the engine for power, and the electric motor as a booster for speed and accessories in a car.
In some parts of the world, these mean green vehicles are already best sellers. Toyota’s latest model of Prius has topped the sales charts since May 2009. The dominating theme for the Auto Expo in Detroit this January also was green technology. In India, there exists a mission on National Hybrid Propulsion in the SIAM (Society for Indian Automobile Manufacturers) which encourages research in this area.
India’s auto makers are now thinking beyond cars and presenting hybrid public transport vehicles. Ashok Leyland showcased Hypus, a plug-in CNG hybrid bus in the Auto Expo. The Commonwealth Games, of course, accelerated the pace. Three of these buses shall be used for the games. Tata Motors, too, is showcasing a low-floor, 35-seater hybrid Starbus, which uses CNG and electric battery.
Besides these star attractions, a host of models were up on display in Delhi. The electric version of Hyundai i10, Cheverolet’s Volt, Reva’s collaboration with General Motors and various other concept cars were jostling for attention at the fair.
Or speed breakers?
But the ride for the hybrids might not be as smooth as it seems. The most formidable roadblock are the imposing price tags. Of course, the user would save on fuel bills in the long run. For India, where most of the hybrids are imported, an exemption from customs duties can bring down costs considerably. In Bangladesh, where no domestic industry exists and most cars are imported, a pro-eco friendly vehicle policy has been introduced.
"Thanks to the downward revision in duties, the Civic Hybrid icosts 23.80 lakh Bangladesh taka against 46.33 lakh taka for the petrol variant,” said Jnaneshwar Sen, Vice-President (marketing), Honda Siel Cars India. Import duty in Bangladesh was brought down from 195 per cent to 56 per cent for these vehicles, while for India it remains at 100 per cent.
Skeptics also say that if the source for plug in Hybrids remains a thermal one (non-renewable), then the whole purpose of using it is defeated.
The fact, however, is that commercial Hybrids are mostly not plug ins, and charge their batteries using energy which would have otherwise gone waste, a process known as regenerative braking.