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Next for Hybrids: Heavy Vehicles

Hybrid passenger cars are finally a market entity, with competition entering the marketplace from many OEMs and plans on the drawing boards and in the works for many others. Meanwhile, small battery electric vehicles are growing in numbers and in variety in the marketplace. These little vehicles are constantly undergoing improvement in performance and design, with attractive automotive features being added rapidly (see HEV ProgressOnline 11/15/05). And fuel cell research, development, and deployment is focusing on achieving acceptable performance while reducing the cost of fuel cell systems. All in all, that makes for a year ahead that may seem static at some moments and racing at others.

One segment where 2006 may seem particularly static is light-duty hybrid vehicles. This editor predicts that demand, particularly in North America, will outpace automakers' planned limited production, but that's not necessarily a bad thing: It gives OEMs time to set up large-scale production and sales infrastructures and offers more time to further reduce the costs of hybrid components and systems.

One thing the industry is likely to see next year is more creative approaches to getting the greatest hybrid benefit at the lowest cost for technology. That includes pairing hybrid technology and its offshoots, such as stop-start capability, with advanced combustion engine technologies, such as cylinder deactivation, as General Motors Corporation is doing. In Europe, more of these products may be going to market.

More focus on heavier vehicles

Heavy-duty vehicles, in all the world's markets, will be a particular focus in 2006. The military, especially in the U.S., will continue its valuable role in development and evaluation projects, but the word is that the service branches are going to get much more serious about deployment.

Carrots and sticks Thanks to the U.S.'s Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct-05), purchasing incentives will help move hybrids in the passenger car market. But this reinforces the view that the U.S. is behind other markets in uptake. In Europe, for example, where drivers are used to paying upwards of $5 per gallon of fuel, there are fewer incentives for hybrid purchases. However, Europe offers plenty of disincentives for conventional fuel use, such as higher fuel tax, congestion pricing, and traffic blockouts.

In Japan, where congestion and pollution appear to be in a dead heat and fuel is expensive, drivers have had incentive to buy hybrids since they were introduced there in the late 1990s.

In China, however, which is expected to be pay dirt for the automotive industry because of its budding automotive market, watch for the effects of hard work in ferreting out the best practices from auto market giants Europe and the U.S., as well as others, for getting clean cars on the road from the outset. China's not reinventing the wheel, nor is it trying to sustain a dinosaur domestic industry while it changes, as is particularly the case in the U.S.

New and old technologies

While the OEMs sell their charge sustaining hybrids into the market, work is under way to change the hybrid scenario altogether. Charge-depleting hybrids, also known as plug-in or grid connected, are under serious evaluation in Europe and the U.S.

There's funding for this technology in EPAct-05, and because it pulls the electric utilities back into the stakeholder circle, plug-ins will likely see even more investment of funds and research and testing. Interestingly, this technology opens another testing environment for battery chemistries, where advanced batteries such as lithium-ion can be further evaluated and where new takes on lead-acid can be tried, as well.

Getting fuel cell costs down

Cost reduction is a major focus of fuel cell vehicle developers and system manufacturers (see story below). Simultaneously, however, work must continue on building fueling infrastructure that is safe, affordable, and standardized. Performance will likely be as much an issue in 2006 as it was in 2005. And demonstration projects will only grow this year.

Going forward, HEV Progress will revisit the sources for these predictions in more depth, as well as follow them for accuracy.

This article was reprinted from the January issue of Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Progress. Interested readers may subscribe to the twice-monthly newsletter by visiting or phoning (212) 228-0246. ? 2006 Alexander Communications Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior written permission of Alexander Communications Group.

Editor's note: To catch up on past industry activity and achievements, visit HEV ProgressOnline and search our archives. (Hint:For information on plug-in hybrids, include "charge-depleting" in your search.)

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