At Automotive World‘s recent Commercial Vehicle Megatrends India 2012 event in Chennai, Ashok Leyland‘s head of advanced engineering, Dr M. Sathya Prasad, urged the Indian truck and bus industry to embrace hybridisation without delay. Potential energy savings, particularly in respect of diesel fuel usage should, in his view, be the main driver.
By improving vehicles’ fuel efficiency, he said, diesel-electric hybrid drives could reduce India’s ‘crude oil deficit’ to the benefit of the country’s fuel security. Hybrids are ideally suited to the road and traffic conditions in much of the sub-continent, where urban congestion and frequent stop-starts are the accepted norm.
There are, nevertheless, major issues which need to be addressed, not least the question of cost. Are Indian transport operators ready to pay the up-front price increase of 20% or more faced by those specifying hybrid drivetrains elsewhere in the world, even though in a number of countries the real cost continues to be obscured by a) ‘green’ government subsidies and b) battery (or ultracapacitor) procurement being subject to separate leasing arrangements.
Hybrids are ideally suited to the road and traffic conditions in much of the sub-continent, where urban congestion and frequent stop-starts are the accepted norm.
OEMs like Ashok Leyland need first to establish whether, and to what extent, the government and/or local authorities in India are willing and able to provide financial support in kick starting an extensive and therefore costly hybridisation programme.
As well as initially subsidising hybrid vehicle acquisition for end-users, such a programme would almost certainly have to involve assistance to companies – possibly including new Ashok Leyland subsidiaries – setting up battery and electronic control systems manufacture, in a commercial climate where break-even could not be expected for several years.
Further challenges include those associated with maintaining, servicing and repairing hybrid vehicles once they are in everyday operation. Many truck and bus workshops in India are only now getting to grips with electronic diesel engine (mainly fuel system) controls, following the acquisition of expensive diagnostic equipment, whose proficient use relies on maintenance personnel being put through often lengthy training schemes. A move to hybrid technology implies a further giant step in commercial vehicle workshop sophistication.
If fuel saving is the main driver when considering hybridisation, it is worth adding that the claims of 20% or more improvement in fuel consumption touted by vehicle manufacturers in North America especially, but also in Europe, have until now proved rashly optimistic.
India’s extreme climatic conditions, bringing by turns dust, mud and monsoon flooding as well as high summer temperatures, are hardly conducive to a hybrid vehicle’s electric and electronic hardware. Though control system componentry can be effectively sealed against the elements, the necessarily more exposed traction motor – or motors – require an extra degree of protection if reliability is not to be jeopardised.
And if fuel saving is the main driver when considering hybridisation, it is worth adding that the claims of 20% or more improvement in fuel consumption touted by vehicle manufacturers in North America especially, but also in Europe, have until now proved rashly optimistic. Several studies have indicated that in many cases the initial on-cost of going hybrid will not be recouped through lower fuel bills during a battery lease contract period of three or even five years.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.
Alan Bunting has a background in engineering, and has been writing on commercial vehicle and powertrain related topics since the 1960s. He has been an Automotive World contributor since 1996.
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