In India, fuel economy is king

Key takeaways from Fuel Economy Pune, a one-day conference hosted by Automotive Megatrends. By Freddie Holmes

Hindi phrase ‘kya chal raha hai’ loosely translates to ‘what’s going on?’. During Fuel Economy Pune, a one-day conference hosted by Automotive Megatrends, various stakeholders asked that very question about fuel economy and emissions in India. Freddie Holmes identified five topics that will define the fuel economy debate

1)    In India, fuel economy is king: The top question for most, if not all new car buyers in India is “what’s the fuel economy?” Connectivity can be brought in via the smartphone and aftermarket devices, but customers expect a frugal engine to be built in. Less obvious to consumers are efforts in lightweighting, and the trend is yet to find its feet with domestic OEMs. Suppliers are confident that demand for advanced solutions will pick up in coming years, with weight reduction driven primarily by innovations in steel and structural plastics.

2)    India leapfrogs to Bharat Stage VI: With India’s worsening air pollution, the government plans to skip a generation of emissions standards, heading straight from Bharat Stage (BS) IV to BS VI. The start date has also been brought forward, with BS VI standards to apply to light- and heavy-duty vehicles – as well as two- and three-wheeled vehicles – manufactured on or after 1 April 2020. Vehicles using compressed natural gas (CNG) are believed to ‘easily’ meet BS VI standards, but the fuel currently lacks sufficient infrastructure nationwide for it to be a viable option for most.

3)    Diesel’s days are numbered: Particulate matter (PM) emitted by diesel engines is the most common air pollutant in India, and can cause serious health issues. Stakeholders agreed on a likely shift away from diesel to gasoline, particularly in passenger cars. Diesel bans were implemented at the start of 2016 in certain cities such as Delhi, but protests from automotive stakeholders saw them lifted after eight months. A pollution charge on vehicles with larger engines followed. Tighter emissions regulations in 2020 will likely act as a catalyst to this shift.

4)    The future looks bright for hybrids: There was a general agreement at the event that hybridisation appears a far more realistic aspiration than pure EVs, which would struggle to sell and fail to meet most consumers’ range requirements. In many cities, overcrowding also means there simply isn’t room for roadside charging stations. Existing alternative fuel infrastructure such as for CNG and liquefied natural gas (LNG) requires further investment, and is currently under-utilised across the country.

5)    The rise of the AMT: In India, the manual transmission rules the roost. However, various stakeholders believe there is a significant opportunity to leverage low-cost and low-maintenance automatic-manual transmissions (AMT). A blend of conventional stick shift and automatic transmission, the AMT is thought to be an effective compromise in India’s highly cost sensitive market. Today, the manual transmission remains an attractive proposition, but impending emissions regulations are expected to shake things up and push India closer to developed markets.

 

This article appeared in the Q1 2017 issue of Automotive Megatrends Magazine. Follow this link to download the full issue.

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