Despite the looming supply issues caused by the dwindling reserves of vital raw materials, the philosophy of the major car manufacturers seems to be one of cashing in on the rising demand for the product now and worrying about the consequences later. The manufacturing of hybrids is no longer exclusively for the few, but has become commonplace throughout the industry. This is reflected in the wave of new models that have been introduced into the marketplace since 2009.
New technologies overtaking the car manufacturing
Hyundai has galvanized its domestic South Korean market with the launch of its own hybrid, the Elantra LPI. This is the first hybrid to be powered by an internal combustion engine running on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) as a fuel. It also has adopted advanced lithium polymer batteries in response to concerns over standard nickel batteries.
Interestingly, more luxury manufacturers are adopting hybrids, with Mercedes Benz launching its S400 Blue Hybrid and BMW with its Active Hybrid 7, both in 2009. These manufacturers now realize that they can better their brand by adopting new types of hybrid technology. So in addition to new models being developed, their existing popular models are able to be fitted with hybrid engines.
A prime example of this is the launch of the Porsche Cayenne Hybrid in late 2010. As far as an effective counter-attack by car manufacturers against the environmental protection lobby, this is hard to beat. Suddenly, one of the high profile symbols of environmental damage, the 4×4, doesn’t seem so nasty after all with a new seriously fuel efficient engine. Maybe this was what Ferdinand Porsche had in mind all along back in 1900. Porsche are playing it very safe initially though, as they have only launched it in the United States. Not to be outdone, Volkswagen announced at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show, the launch in 2012 of the Touareg.
Toyota is showing no signs of resting on its laurels and despite worldwide recalls of some of its more popular non-hybrids, after launching the Auris Hybrid in May 2010. This incidentally, was the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle to be built in Europe and is also significant in that the starting price is some $800 dollars cheaper than the pin-up boy of hybrid cars, the Toyota Prius. Clearly, the race to develop hybrids has driven down the cost of these technologies. Peugeot also, has now joined in by developing the first production diesel-electric hybrid, the 3008Hybrid4. As it delivers an impressive 62 miles to the US gallon it illustrates how the technology is continuing to be improved.
New car technologies mean more energy and less fuel!
One of the ways fuel consumption has been reduced since 2007 is through the application of regenerative braking technology. This enables energy that otherwise would have been lost during breaking to be captured and stored to power electrical accessories such as air conditioning. Usually the energy used in the braking of a vehicle is wasted in the form of heat energy, but regenerative braking converts the vehicle’s kinetic energy into battery-replenishing energy. There is also scope to increase the efficiency of hybrids through the use of their internal combustion engine to generate electricity by spinning an electrical generator to either recharge batteries or to directly power the electric drive motors.
Manufacturers are also actively featuring in their marketing campaigns the facility in hybrids that allows the engine to be shut down while idling when cars are stationary in traffic, and restarting when needed. As the perceived advantage of hybrids has mainly been focused on urban driving settings, this is a real bonus not only for the petrol paying motorist, but also for cyclists and pedestrians who benefit through the availability of cleaner air.
So, are the green cars taking over? We will see, but the fact remains however, that most hybrids use gasoline engines alongside their electric components, and this is expected to be the case for the foreseeable future. For the green credentials of the hybrid car industry to really stand up to scrutiny, surely the next challenge is to develop hybrids that don’t rely on fossil fuels as their main power source, but use alternatives such as bio-fuels or hydrogen or even go entirely electric.