Upgrading to a Hybrid Vehicle: An Indian Partnership To Deliver Practical Automotive Innovation

by Bill Russo

Since the introduction of the automobile in the late 1800’s, the internal combustion engine (ICE) has emerged as the dominant vehicle propulsion technology. However, at the end of the 19th century, electric powered vehicles actually outsold all other types of cars. In fact, the Electric Vehicle (EV) was introduced several decades earlier than ICE-powered cars. However, ICE eventually surpassed the EV due to its virtues of speed, power and range.

Since the 1970s, there has been a growing awareness of the lack of sustainability of petroleum-based consumption. Rising concerns over the impact of carbon emissions on the environment have increased the pressure on finding alternative energy technologies that can eventually replace the ICE. Recent technological advances are bringing new energy vehicles back into the spotlight and it is becoming more likely that a new era of alternative energy technology will emerge in the 21st century automotive industry.

According to a BP report, it is estimated that global daily oil consumption will reach 93 million barrels by 2020. In 2007,over half (57%) of global daily oil consumption was contributed to transportation. Statistics of International Energy Agency show that transportation willaccount for more than 62% of globaloil consumption by 2020, while growth in the emerging markets, such as China and India,are the major forces driving theincrease in global oil consumption.The Energy Economics andStrategy Research Center of China’sNational Development and ReformCommission (NDRC) estimates thatoil demand will be nearly 560-600million tons in China by 2020.

It is also noteworthy that while China is experiencing the growth of the auto market, environmental pollution has mounted and a decrease in home exploited crude oil has been observed. As China’s auto market continues to grow, pollution significantly increases while China’s self-sufficiency rate of crude oil continues to decrease.As the size of the Asian markets inexorably expand, China and India will play an increasingly significant role in the development of new automotive technologies. While most attention has been paid to relative technological strength of the foreign and domestic companies, what is arguably of more long-term significance is the impact of this market expansion on energy consumption and the environment. No doubt, China and India have a clear and compelling need to reinvent the propulsion technology of the automobile and are increasingly showing the willingness and capability to do so.

China has rapidly emerged as the world’s largest auto market and will keep a rapid growth rate over a quite long period of time.As the balance of global economicpower has been shifting eastwardto places like India and particularlyChina, the attention of most of the automotive industry development has in recent years been concentrated on the Asia-Pacific region where China is expected to capture over a half of the growth in the next ten years. China’s automotive market has tripled its size since 2003 – with annual sales soaring from 4.56 million to 13.64 million in 2009. A startling chart recently put together by China Infographics illustrates the exponential growth in China’s car population from 1.78 million in 1980 to 64 million in 2010, with a forecast of 217 million cars by 2020.

It is apparent that the challenge is to not only develop alternative propulsion technology for application in the next generation of automobiles, but to simultaneously find a means to improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles that are currently on the road. Most car companies concern themselves with the former challenge, however very few are addressing the huge and growing population of ICE-powered cars in that are already consuming the energy and will increasingly add to the environmental problem. However, a recently announced partnership among two Indian companies is attempting to address this challenge.

A Sustainable, Hybrid Solution That Increases Fuel Efficiency, With The Potential For Mass Adoption

As featured in an article in the Financial Times dated June 7, 2010, KPIT Cummins has developed a technology for an intelligent, plug-in, parallel hybrid solutionthat will enable both existing and new vehicles to dramatically increase fuel efficiency and engine performance, while significantly decreasing green house gas emissions. This solution for automobiles would be manufactured through a joint venture (JV) between Bharat Forge Limited and KPIT Cummins Infosystems Limited.

The innovative solution is called “Revolo” and it was conceptualized, developed and “frugally engineered” in India. Statements issued by the partners claim that this solution allows more than 40% savings in fuel costswith over 70% increase in efficiency during city driving conditions and more than 50% during highway driving. They also claim that the system enables a reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) of more than 30%, and that the solution can be retrofitted into existing vehicles as well as be offered to OEMs to build into vehicles.

This solution could potentially immediatelybenefit the automotive aftermarket, as the service stations will now be able to offer customers an opportunity to convert conventional vehicles into eco-friendly hybrids, regardless of the fuel they run on, in a matter of 4-6 hours.It thereby offers car owners the best of both worlds: the ability to go green and save money, while achieving greater power, better acceleration & greater performance.

While existing retrofit hybrid technology can cost upto 20,000 US dollars, Revolo’s innovative technology puts the solution cost in the range of 1500 US dollars, thereby setting new standard of value that frugal engineering can deliver to both auto manufacturers and drivers around the world.

As a parallel hybrid, this solution will enable the motor and engine to work simultaneously. Unlike an electric vehicle, the car will operate as a conventional fuel vehicle even if the batteries are completely drained. As a plug-in, the vehicle can be charged through a standard external electricity source such as a domestic power outlet.The solution can be adapted to work with various types of batteries such as lead acid batteries or Lithium Ion batteries. It works without any interaction or interference with the existing Engine Management System (EMS) of the vehicle. The system is thereby also adaptable to vehicles without EMS and without electronic engines.

The most compelling aspect of this solution is its economics and relative ease of introduction: for an affordable price a consumer is presented with a way to go “green” with a clear payback potential. In this case, government subsidies are not needed to bridge the price gap, and consumers do not need to wait for a whole new infrastructure to be installed before adopting this technology. It also illustrates how such innovations are increasingly coming from emerging Asian markets – where there seems to be a willingness to experiment with innovations that would be hard to rationalize with conventional business cases and R&D cost structures.

Bharat Forge Limited and KPIT Cummins Infosystems Limited have given us a perfect example of how Asian innovation could lead the transformation of the 21st century global automotive industry.

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