|Hybrid Electric Vehicles Not As Green As They Are Painted, Analysts Contend|
February 8, 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. 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 driving factors 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."
This research is published in the Inderscience publication International Journal
of Automotive Technology and Management.