Hybrids Edge Batteries, As Industry Cranks Up Electric Mode.
“Having a (plug-in hybrid) with a small battery giving you 50 to 60 kilometers, that’s what people want”
The auto industry has convinced itself it needs to produce more electric vehicles, but there’s one more decision to make – should it go for battery only, or plug-in hybrid.
At the moment, the future looks to be with plug-in hybrids, with battery-only less favored. Meanwhile Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk is adamant it has to be pure electric. A plug-in hybrid is a mere interim solution on the way to an all electric future, Musk says.
The weight of evidence currently available suggests Musk is wrong. Admittedly, this “evidence” is really subjective, but it comes from reliable corporate players.
According to Schaeffler Technologies AG & Co of Germany, a big privately owned major supplier of components for the automotive and aerospace industries, by 2030 about 38% of global vehicles will be hybrids of one kind or another, while pure electric vehicles (EVs) will account for just 10%. That still leaves just over 50% powered by traditional internal combustion engines (ICE).
GKN, British automotive supplier with annual sales of about $9 billion, reckons just over 20% will be EVs in 2030, but hybrids will account for close to 25%, with a still leading segment of ICE engines. By 2025, most estimates center around 5% for EVs, with Volkswagen out on a limb at 25%, and Mercedes parent Daimler expecting between 15 and 20%. Last year EVs accounted for less than 1%, and estimates for 2020 range from 2% to 5%.
Latest data from Automotive Industry Data (AID) shows plug-in hybrids currently pulling ahead of EVs but with pitifully small market shares. Plug-ins’ Western Europe market share was 0.67% in the first seven months of 2016, while EV’s slid to 0.59%. A total of nearly 57,500 plug-in hybrids were sold, led by the Mitsubishi Outlander and followed by the Volkswagen Golf GTE, and the VW Passat GTE.
According to Paris-based Frost & Sullivan analyst Nicolas Meilhan, electric cars carry fatal flaws and plug-in hybrids will be successful in the mass market. Meilhan also said the building of a fast-charging network is unnecessary and won’t work.
“Renault has now raised the range of its Zoe to 400 kilometers (250 miles) and Volkswagen claims 600 kilometers (375 miles) by 2020 (for the ID), but this kind of range will only be needed for about 5% of trips when driving on motorways, where the autonomy is expected to only be half of that. And when you go for long trips at the weekend or holidays, even if each (gas station) has two chargers that will take 20 minutes for a “refill” while for regular fuel there will be 10 outlets which take a maximum of 4 minutes. People will have to wait two to three hours and nobody is going to do that,” he said.
“Having a (plug-in hybrid) with a small battery giving you 50 to 60 kilometers (maximum close to 40 miles), that’s what people want,” Meilhan said.
A typical plug-in hybrid on the market today will have a battery-only range capable of coping with most daily commutes, at least in Europe, with the huge range offered by the ICE engine too. The battery can be recharged independently or while free-wheeling on the road. The battery on regular hybrids can’t be charged independently and only allows maybe one mile of battery-only operation. The problem is the two power plants add a huge amount of weight. The complexity adds big extra costs.
Meilhan also said supplies of cobalt, crucial in the manufacture of batteries, are coming under pressure, so small batteries are likely to be more viable to spread the availability wider.
Plug-in hybrids are a blind alley, said Professor Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) at the University of Duisburg-Essen.
“I don’t believe in plug-in hybrids. They are too expensive and not a real (green) alternative,” Dudenhoeffer said.
He said costs and the weight are too high. Plug-in hybrids are also seen as not very environmentally friendly because most plug-in hybrid drivers will use internal combustion engine power for most the time, he said.
Volkswagen might have the highest target for EVs by 2025, but it is also expecting plug-in hybrids to be more popular because it plans a total of 19 by 2025 and only 9 EVs. The other big German manufacturers have similar plans. At the Paris Car Show, which closed Sunday, electric cars were to the fore, led by the European version of the Chevrolet Bolt, the Opel Ampera E. The Bolt/Ampera has a claimed range of 249 miles.
Tesla’s mass market electric car, the model 3, is expected by late 2017.
At the Paris show, more than 24 new electric models were announced. This included a Mercedes Tesla Model X competitor, the Generation EQ concept, an electric SUV with a claimed range of about 300 miles. “EQ” is the new Mercedes electric sub-brand.
Electric vehicles pose a huge potential investment problem for manufacturers because harsh CO2 rules for 2021 need to be met, and cheaper diesel was thought to be the mainstay of this policy. Roughly every other car Europeans buy is a diesel. But diesel sales are on the wane, not least because of health worries.
Electric vehicle sales have been slow in Europe because they are very expensive compared with the conventional counterparts. Sales would collapse without generous government subsidies.
If sales of these vehicles are going to rise significantly, and given their high price and erratic range, governments may well decide that the only way to do this is to force them on the public. After the green zealot market is sated, governments will have to step in to force sales. So expect subsidies to continue, politicians to make CO2 rules tighter, and mandate sales targets, while local governments ban diesels from city centers, and give traffic priority to electric cars.