The trouble with hybrids: Hybrid electric vehicles not as green as they are painted

Feb 07, 2008

Hybrid electric vehicles that run on both conventional gasoline and stored electricity can be no more than a stop gap until more sustainable technology is developed, according to researchers in France. Writing in the Inderscience publication International Journal of Automotive Technology and Management, they suggest that the adoption of HEVs might even slow development of more sustainable fuel-cell powered electric vehicles.

Jean-Jacques Chanaron Research Director within the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and Chief Scientific Advisor at the Grenoble School of Management and Julius Teske at Grenoble, question strongly whether the current acceptance of hybrid vehicle technology particularly in the USA is in any way environmentally sustainable.

The researchers have analyzed the spread of this technology including the non-financial drivers for its adoption. They point out that most manufacturers are rapidly integrating hybrid electric vehicles into their technology portfolio, despite the absence of significant profitability.

They add that the misinformed craze for hybrid vehicles especially in the USA, and increasingly in Japan and Europe, and potentially in China, could represent a red light for more innovative technologies, such as viable fuel-cell cars that can use sustainably sourced fuels, such as hydrogen. They concur with earlier studies that suggest that hydrogen fuel cells will not be marketable in high volumes before at least 2025. This could, however, be too late for some models of climate change and emissions reduction. They also point out that even fuel cell technology has its drawbacks and much of the marketing surrounding its potential has emerged only from the hydrogen lobby itself.

"There is a general convergence of strategies towards promoting hybrid vehicles as the mid-term solution to very low-emission and high-mileage vehicles," the researchers assert, "this is largely due to Toyota’s strategy of learning the technology, while building up its own ‘quasi-standard’, thanks to its high-quality and reliability reputation and its high market share on the North American market." They add that, "Such a convergence is based more on customer perception triggered by very clever marketing and communication campaigns than on pure rationale scientific arguments and may result in the need for any manufacturer operating in the USA to have a hybrid electric vehicle in its model range in order to survive."

Moreover, political pressures also play a significant part. The three major US manufacturers - GM, Ford, and Chrysler - recently urged President Bush to financially and politically support a national technological solution for hybrids; this was independent of the currently dominant solutions initiated by Toyota. The researchers concede that, "The quest for low emission, clean, and high-mileage vehicles is on its way and should be at the top of the manufacturers' agenda," they say. However, they suggest that the technology, marketing, and public perception leads to one overriding problem: Is a hybrid strategy sustainable in the long run? Chanaron and Teske think not.

The complexity and high cost of the hybrid technology is also playing against itself," they say, "There is a huge strategic dilemma for the key players of the automotive industry where a mistake in technology decision-making might turn even a big player into a take-over candidate. The next five years will provide industry observers with more accurate trends and success or failure factors."

Source: Inderscience Publishers

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User comments : 9

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zevkirsh
2.8 / 5 (5) Feb 07, 2008
this is sheer stupid propoganda by someone in the hydrogen industry. hydrogen is in no way any more a 'sustainably sourced fuel' than electricity is. sheer nonsense.
SDMike
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 07, 2008
Pure electric cars (not hybrids)are actually COAL powered cars in most of the world. Any fossil fuel is "unsustainable" in terms of carbon emission. Alcohol from growing plants is "carbon neutral" and replenishable (assuming no fossil fuel is used to make fertilizer or operate harvest vehicles). Nuclear, solar, wind, or hydro sourced electricity is sustainable (assuming we close the nuclear fuel cycle). So, until our electrical energy comes from those sources, electric cars are not "sustainable". This includes Hydrogen fueled vehicles as energy is needed to separate H2 from a source material. An Alcohol fueled hybrid comes close to being "sustainable" and is also efficient.
Doug_Huffman
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 07, 2008
"Hybrid electric vehicles not as green as they are painted." Oh! Ya think?! Marketeering to the conspiracy of ignorance masquerading as sommon sense.

Bio-renewables renew at less than the Solar Constant=1.35 kWm^-2. Use any more and indebt the future just as bio-fossil fuel has done.
DGBEACH
2.8 / 5 (6) Feb 07, 2008
Other problems would arise from switching over to fuels from growing plants, such as; additional strain on already shrinking aquafers, and upward spiriling prices of food-grains in response to reduced production, as we are presently seeing in response to farmers switching from growing wheat to corn (or other) for the bio-market.
Hydrogen production also places an additional burden on water stocks.
Only a true electric-only car, charged by solar, wind or other totally renewable would be viable.
plaasjaapie
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 08, 2008
Hybrids are good primarily because they allow for regenerative braking, which is a very good idea in city driving. If you go for plug-in hybrids you can shift a big chunk of the energy budget from politically fraught energy imports to the electric power grid.

Because you recharge at night you make better use of the capital investment in electrical generating stations.

The problem that traditional automobile manufacturers, not just the Detroit big three, make is in pretending that a hybrid power train is something that you can just plug into a convention automotive frame. To really get an idea of what can be achieved if you start from scratch take a look at the Aptera.

http://aptera.com

That one gets you over 300 miles/gallon which will let you drive from San Francisco to New York City and back on four fill-ups of their 5 gallon gas tank.

DGBEACH
1 / 5 (1) Feb 20, 2008
To really get an idea of what can be achieved if you start from scratch take a look at the Aptera.

http://aptera.com

That one gets you over 300 miles/gallon which will let you drive from San Francisco to New York City and back on four fill-ups of their 5 gallon gas tank.



I sincerely doubt it would make it over the Sierras in the winter-time...unless perhaps you stuck some wings on it (or should I say, put the wings back onto it!)
I'd love to see you drive that thing around up here in Canada, on a lovely January afternoon, as the 2nd foot of snow continues to fall around you!
While I truly am for pure-EV technology, vehicles like this one just don't cut it in the real world.
Bob_Wilson
not rated yet Feb 24, 2008
I bought the $40 paper and found the references weak and claims inconsistent. For example, the authors claim hybrids are unprofitable yet have no explanation for how Toyota can sell 1,000,000 of them without suffering severe financial loss. They claim there is a $4,000 premium compared to one gas only car without explaining the profit impacts of other, more expensive gas-only cars having any profit problems. This paper is flawed and I regret having paid $40 for what turned out to be such poor quality research. Even their references are suspect.
lengould100
1 / 5 (1) Aug 18, 2008
Hybrids are good primarily because they allow for regenerative braking, which is a very good idea in city driving. If you go for plug-in hybrids you can shift a big chunk of the energy budget from politically fraught energy imports to the electric power grid.

Because you recharge at night you make better use of the capital investment in electrical generating stations.
http://aptera.com


This article smells. Concealed influence. Just figure out who stands to gain from its attack on hydrids, you'll have the real source of its flawed information. Anyone not quite wealthy who wants to have a personal driving experience in 15 or 20 years had better start figuring out how to plug in their hybrids now. Hydrogen isn't an answer, it just wastes too much energy in the carrier.

And DGBeach. Just because Aptera may not be perfectly designed for perhaps 33% of Canadians doesn't mean its no a brilliant vehicle which should be available immediately if not sooner. I'm Canadian, and consider myself an expert driver, and would buy one in a minute for my present commute.

DGBEACH
1 / 5 (1) Aug 19, 2008
Just because Aptera may not be perfectly designed for perhaps 33% of Canadians doesn't mean its no a brilliant vehicle which should be available immediately if not sooner. I'm Canadian, and consider myself an expert driver, and would buy one in a minute for my present commute.


33%??? Unless you live NEAR a big city, which less and less of us do because of the over-inflated in-town real-estate markets, then you have to contend with things like white-outs and icy roads in places which are, quite frankly, in the middle of nowhere. The Optera's 3-wheel-cessna cockpit-looking design, while definitely an eye-catcher, would more often-than-not keep you in the ditches rather than on the roads (where I personally would prefer to drive, thank you very much!)...this coming from someone who made a living traveling across central and eastern Canada, by car, for over 25 years.

Optera is but another Californian invention, for Californians!

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