Don’t count hybrids out of the race to go greener

Context: Maruti Suzuki’s chairman recently said that hybrid technology, natural gas and biofuels offer a better path towards a cleaner future than fully-electric cars.

Globally, many electric models have hit the streets. Even in India, MG Motors, Hyundai and Tata Motors offer vehicles that liberate users from petrol or diesel refills.

However, both India’s and the world’s largest carmakers, Maruti and Toyota, have stayed in the slow lane.

Does it mean that hybrid technology might be the way forward?

What are the issues with EV ecosystem in the country?

Problems with infra: India’s government favors a rapid EV transition, which requires an ecosystem to recharge or swap batteries.

Home set-ups for overnight charging can’t be installed for everyone. Also, long-distance travel makes roadside options a must.

Further, charging stations must attain a critical mass of reach for ‘network effects’ to kick in, multiplying its utility as it expands.

Without a more robust private-public effort, EV sales may not pick up speed.

High prices of EVs: Given the premium pricing of EVs, there are two other sticky issues that also need to be tackled. a) their eco-friendly credentials in a country that runs largely on coal-fired energy remain unclear. And this summer’s wet-bulb heat and power shortfalls raised doubts about the Indian grid’s pace of carbon reduction. b) confidence in their safety was shaken by reports of battery fires.

Geopolitical issues: The Ukraine war has made battery-making inputs costlier, and, with both Russia and China key players in this value chain, geopolitical factors beyond India’s control could continue to get in the way of cost reduction.

Way forward

Regulators and engineers should work together to credibly minimize the “thermal runaway” risk of EV power-packs before a small likelihood gets a chance to turn into a big deterrent.

Though an electric recharge can cost as little as one-tenth of a petrol refill for the same distance driven, the on-road prices of EVs also need to decrease vis-a-vis fuel equivalents for bulk buyers to be lured.

Should cars powered by hybrid tech make leaps on fuel efficiency, they could impress buyers with a palpable impact on carbon emissions. Indian policy envisions EVs as the future, but let’s not count hybrids out of the race for cleaner mobility

Source: This post is based on the article “Don’t count hybrids out of the race to go greener” published in Livemint on 4th Jul 22.

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