Will Flawed, Expensive, Batteries Beat Flexible Hybrids?
“Mass hybrid adoption, rather than low volume full BEVs is the most effective solution to cutting CO2 now and also meeting 2030 targets”
The European Union is trying to force its citizens into electric cars by demanding ever more unrealistic fuel economy from gasoline and diesel fuelled ones, but battery-only power is so flawed, hybrids are likely to win the affection of buyers.
The EU demands that by 2021, each carmaker must produce cars with an average carbon dioxide (CO2) fuel economy of the equivalent of 57.4 miles per U.S. gallon. This increases by a step through 2025 to an improbable 92 miles per U.S. gallon average by 2030.
The conventional wisdom assumes the only way to get to these incredible looking targets is the full embrace of all-out battery electric.
But this path has many pitfalls, although not everybody agrees hybrids are the answer.
The batteries required for all-electric power would be huge, pricey and devour expensive scarce resources, not to mention CO2, at an alarming rate. This would expose manufacturers to bribery, extortion and make them politically vulnerable because of the nature of some of the regimes of supplier countries. Battery powered cars are expensive and the public reluctant, or incapable, of affording them. The charging infrastructure is inadequate now, and would probably keel over if demand for electric vehicles spurted ahead. And long journeys with battery power would be a nightmare, because if the selected recharging point was out of order you’d have no range to find the next one. Or if there was only one customer ahead of you, your option would be only to sit and wait, and wait. Batteries are never going to be a mass market solution with current technology.
Hybrids, of the plug-in variety, mild, strong or whatever, have the flexibility to handle both urban and long-distance journeys. They have much smaller batteries than battery-only cars. Purists like Tesla CEO Elon Musk despise the half-way house that hybrids represent, but British-based Emissions Analytics (www.emissionsanalytics.com), which calls itself the leading independent vehicle CO2 global testing and data specialist, has no doubts.
Mass hybrids best
“Mass hybrid adoption, rather than low volume full BEVs (battery electric vehicles), is the most effective solution to cutting CO2 now and also meeting 2030 emission targets,” Emissions Analytics CEO Nick Molden said in an interview.
Emissions Analytics monitored mild, full and plug-in hybrid data from Europe and the U.S., compared hybrids with their emissions with internal combustion engine equivalents and found the average CO2 reduction was an average of 30%. (Mild hybrids have batteries which assist internal combustion engines (ICE) but have no standlone capability. Full hybrids, like the Toyota Prius, assist the ICE engine and have a very limited battery-only range. Plug-in hybrids can be recharged independently of the ICE and offer around 35 miles of battery only use).
Emissions Analytics then compared the data with BEVs. It found mild hybrids were the most efficient way to reduce CO2, given limited global battery capacity. Due to their disproportionately large batteries, BEVs were the worst of the available options.
Molden said the future of battery power was uncertain and could be financially disastrous for manufacturers if it went wrong.
“In California, the most climatically warm, dry advantageous place in the world for BEVs, their new car market share is about 8% and if that is all they can achieve with so much in their favor it shows the strength of the problems for Europe’s plan,” Molden said.
Molden said Europeans would be highly reliant on other countries like China and the Congo.
“There’s a risk batteries won’t take off, but if they do Europe is exposed to unfriendly countries,” Molden said.
Big bad EU targets
Investment researcher Evercore ISI has long pointed out the huge financial problems facing European carmakers from the EU targets.
“2020/21 CO2 regulation poses the biggest risk to the auto industry in recent memory. Using the European Commission calculations, the industry faces a 33 billion euro ($37.6 billion) (fine) risk if CO2 levels stay at the 2018 level. We calculate a 15 billion euro ($17.1 billion) cost to comply with the new regulation,” Evercore ISI said in a report.
Is there a chance of the rules being diluted? No. It would take years to change them. Could a hybrid strategy allow compliance? No.
“Simply speaking a PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) is sufficient for the 2020/21 target, but it’s insufficient when considering the additional 15% improvement from 2021 to 2025 and 37.5% by 2030,” Evercore ISI analyst Arndt Ellinghorst said.
The consultancy IDTechEx www.IDTechExcom/Research/EV points to the increasing number of hybrids available, and can’t believe what it sees.
“Something strange is happening. Car manufacturers are issuing a flood of plug-in hybrid cars. You are spoiled for choice with Mini, BMW, Skoda, Volvo, Porsche, Mercedes and others joining in. The fundamentals are all against them. Those offering the most desirable pure electric cars – those with the longest range and three times the resale value – have long waiting lists but they will catch up. No long wait for a plug-in hybrid,” IDTechEx said in a statement.
“The U.K. withdrew PHEV support because people never plugged them in, benefitting the environment, not at all. Consequently, although plug-in hybrid sales have been rising, their market share has been dropping since 2013,” IDTechEx said
“There is absolutely nothing to reverse dropping market share for plug-in hybrids leading to decline in sales numbers. Indeed, with new inputs, we have just revised our forecasts down to show plug-in car sales at zero in 2030. Technologically they are becalmed while pure-electric is evolving fast – from camper mode to solar versions that never plug in,” it said.
Emissions Analytics’ Molden disagrees.
“A hybrid strategy could get us to 2025 and a long way to 2030 but not all the way. It buys time to decarbonize the grid and solve the battery supply issues or commercialize hydrogen fuel cells. Rushing headlong into what are still underdeveloped batteries is risky but hybrids can get us there,” Molden said.
Al Bedwell, Global Powertrain Director at LMC Automotive isn’t yet convinced of which technology wins the electrification race, saying it will take a while, although mild hybrids with 48 volt batteries will become very significant
“So while the remedies exist, it will be time consuming and hugely expensive to put them in place. We’re not seeing this as an existential threat to (manufacturers) now but it adds pressure for consolidation within the industry and those struggling to be profitable in Europe will continue to look for partners with whom to develop suitable products,” Bedwell said.
“In addition, (manufacturers) will be under pressure to discontinue non-profitable activities and this may mean removing model lines from sale and focusing on areas that are more lucrative,” Bedwell said.
Here comes hydrogen
Emissions Analytics’ Molden looks beyond 2030 and sees the possibility of hydrogen bombing down the outside lane.
“The ideal solution is an immediate transition to petrol and diesel hybrids, with a further decade spent refining the technology, infrastructure and battery supply chain to allow the adoption of BEVs,” Molden said.
“By 2030, the EU and the U.S. would have had another decade to develop expanded, cleaner electricity generation capacity, improving the lifecycle emissions of BEVs,” Molden said.
“Alternatively, by 2030 the availability and price of renewable energy may well fall to a level at which hydrogen fuel cells could be economically viable,” he said.
“It’s not obvious BEVs are the current solution, but hybrids keep options open along the way (to cut CO2) and protect the industry. You don’t have to sacrifice a major industry to achieve our goals,” Molden said.