It started a couple of years ago but automotive evolution is taking a fairly sharp turn – hopefully towards the better. As the industrialized world goes to pieces, we are waking up to a new reality in which the sustenance of reality itself is crucial. This green revolution is beginning now. OverDrive (Feb. ’09) takes a quick look at how green technology is coming along.
The first step has been the emergence of the clean internal combustion engine. The first result, to give you an example, is a Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet, which now makes 489PS, but also claims a CO2 level of 309gm/km. And there’s more. Efficiency and cleanliness are central to new cars. And to that end, manufacturers are considering supercharged and turbocharged engines with unprecedented gusto. Not that long ago, Tata produced the turbo-Sierra for exactly this reason. Volkswagen’s TSI engines employ both to great effect.
But let us be honest. The days of the internal combustion engine are numbered. It will take time but will eventually happen. As the global fossil fuel resources dwindle one way to extend the IC engine’ life is biofuels. A number of countries, famously Brazil and Thailand, have successful’ gasohol’ projects; that see an ever-larger number of cars drinking E85 and its ilk rather happily. The Koenigsegg CCXR, for instance, actually make more power with bio than fossil fuel.
The big auto businesses already see the fuel cell as the likely endpoint of automotive evolution. But before we get there we’re going to need what they call transitional technology. Hybrids and electric vehicles fall into that category. In timeline terms, the global consensus seems to suggest that hybrids are already here and will become as common as IC engines are today in as little as another 5-7 years. Electric vehicles will take a little more time – and by 2020 – we should be seeing fuel cell vehicles taking over almost completely.
The Toyota Prius started the hybrid trend and one has to admit – it’s catching on fast. Volvo has introduced the first hybrid truck, Mahindra has its own hybrid coming up and the Civic Hybrid broke grounds by becoming the first hybrid to go on sale in India.
Electric vehicles, on the other hand, are on sale today, but not taken seriously. From the cheeky-fast Tesla to the Reva, these vehicles are already providing interesting ways for consumers to buy electric. However they all say the same thing – battery technology has to evolve further and quickly, for sustained growth and hopefully, take-over of the IC vehicles ‘forte.
Solutions are popping up though says OverDrive (feb. ’09). Take the Michelin Active Wheel for instance. Given that bulky batteries need a fair amount of space, the Active Wheel takes the drive motor, adds a suspension motor and shoves the whole lot into the wheel of a car. Each wheel then, is its own driven unit, leaving the chassis free to offer rigidity and crucially space. Venturi is already offering the Volage for limited sales equipped with the technology.
Closer to home, Pondicherry-based Argentum Motors in collaboration with Heuliez, is readying the Will for production. The Will is a small hatchback that uses the wheels to good effect as a 40bhp car that can put out 80bhp in short bursts. The Will claims a 0-100kmph time of 10 seconds and top speed is claimed to be 140kmph.
The problem with electric motors, of course, is that they are still dependant on non-renewable sources of energy – so it does not really solve the problem.
Enter the superhero of the green world – Fuel cells. Fuel cells burn hydrogen to generate water and in the process release a fair amount of energy; but storage, distribution and cost still pose a problem and hence fuel cells as a popular technology is still some time away signs off Overdrive (Feb. ’09).