Saturday, December 18, 2004

Is the Future Hybrid?

Technology Quarterly of the Economist carried an article this month titled why the future is hybrid. In spite of the optimistic sounding title, the article, citing an ABI research report, notes that there is a risk that the hybrids may become just a niche market. A not so long ago published report from DOE was more positive on the future of hybrids, estimating that the hybrids may capture 10-15% of the US market by 2012. Both, the Economist and a U.S. News and Reports article are pointing out that California's Greenhouse Gas legislation may give a further boost to the Hybrids in the U.S. One may ask a question as to who is going to be a leader in this multi-million vehicle market in 2012? Another U.S. New and Report article had the following quote:
"Toyota got ahead of the domestics," acknowledges Larry Burns, GM's vice president of research and development and planning. "That's obvious."
I have no dounts about Detroit's technical ability to overcome technological challenges, but I doubt that they are going to able to catch up with Toyota or Honda in the case of hybrids.

There is one more thing in the Economist article and it relates to the Plug-in hybrids. The plug-ins have two disadvantages. One, they require a bigger and more expensive battery and two, they require to be plugged-in which is an additional task for the vehicle owner after coming home. Even then, if petroleum reduction were the sole objective then the plug-in hybrids may look attractive. The catch there is that the electricity that will charge the battery at night will most likely come from a coal fired power plant. Even then, the proponents of a plug-in hybrids have a point. IF, in the future, we were to go towards an electricity based transportation system instead of petroleum or hydrogen based system, i.e. use electric vehicles instead of fuell cell of ICE vehicle, then plug-in hybrids is the logical progression of the current hybrids in meeting that goal.

The future of transport sector is unlikely to be all electricity or all hydrogen, but one thing is clear that the hybrids have an important role to play in the next couple of decades.

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