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After the EuroCar Seminar on 20 January 2010, we posted the top ten questions asked by OEM and OES delegates in attendance. Today I will be answering questions pertaining to hybrids. If you missed Norm Marks answers to the Marketing questions, you can find them here. Tanja Linken will be answering questions aboout Network Planning in the next blog entry.

With regard to CO2 emissions, hybrids and zero emission vehicles, do you have any insight into vehicle whole life costs?

This question targets the cost of vehicle construction, battery cost including disposal and the vehicle running costs. The variety of calculations regarding life costs is still quite large. While it is not yet clear whether the retail prices for hybrid vehicles allow for a financial break-even to occur, in some premium models the hybrid drive is extremely expensive which can prevent a break-even from happening. The highest costs in car driving appear to be the loss in value on the one hand and the running costs (mainly fuel). So very much depends on the residual values for alternative cars and their general acceptance and the price relationship between the different fuel types in the future. The term "zero emission vehicles" is also a bit misleading as EVs (electric vehicles) do not emit while driving, but they still need energy for battery recharging. Dependent on the energy mix used in the production process, EVs might emit more CO2 than small diesel or petrol engines.

Is the development of fuel efficient vehicles dependent on the oil price going to $600 a barrel?

There are different scenarios regarding the future oil price development. Polk expects a price of ~$130 towards 2020, others expect $300 or even $600 per barrel. During 2008, oil became quite expensive with almost $150/barrel by the middle of that year. The pressure to develop alternative drives for cars increased. New regulations (e.g., those related to fleet consumption and CO2 emissions) force the public to reduce the fuel consumption of their vehicles. We expect to see both an improvement in conventional combustion technology by engine downsizing, optimized engines, start-stop systems, etc., as well as an expanded model offer in advanced technologies like hybrid or EV. With higher oil prices, there will be higher pressure to develop new technologies as well as pressure to reach financial break-even points for alternative energies.

What is the difference between plug-in hybrids, pure full hybrids and mild hybrids?

A plug-in hybrid vehicle is similar to a conventional full hybrid vehicle—both use a combustion engine as well as an electric motor. However, a plug-in hybrid uses larger battery packs that can be recharged by connecting to common household electricity. In full hybrid vehicles, the electric motor and the internal combustion engine are installed so that they can both individually or jointly power the vehicle. For shorter distances the vehicle can be propelled in its EV mode solely, which eliminates emissions. Mild hybrids use a generally compact electric motor to give extra output during the acceleration, and to generate on the deceleration phase. With mild hybrids, the vehicle cannot be powered by the electric motor exclusively.

Do you have any evidence that customers are driving shorter distances as a result of economic conditions?

At the moment we don't have any evidence for this development. The tightening of economic conditions has affected all kinds of industries dealing with transportation. Nevertheless private mobility is of common interest. With the overall trend of rising costs of ownership, the private driving behaviour might change and result in decreasing mileage, but this depends on the development of the costs of alternative means of transportation.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog entry. If I left anything out that you would like answered, please submit a comment and I will be happy to address it!

Posted by Thomas Mawick, Manager, Automotive Studies, Europe, Polk (02.08.10)

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