'Why reinvent the wheel?'
For over a century, we've become all too familiar with the internal combustion engine. Load up gas, drive away and repeat when running on fumes. However, with more stringent emissions and concerns about air quality, manufacturers are forced to find other ways to keep us mobile. After all, there's only so much oil in the world and it is a finite resource that can't power us forever.
This brings me neatly to the recently concluded 1st ASEAN EV and Hybrid Summit. During the Summit, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota, and Lexus showed off a couple of their hybrids and EVs, as well as other companies presenting their solutions. Needless to say, we are at a crossroads in motoring.
Touring around the show floor, I saw various applications of electric propulsion, as well as different kinds of hybrids from standard models to plug-in versions. The ideas are ingenious, which stretch the limitations of the good old internal combustion engine. The question is, 'what's holding us back?'
It starts with support
During the summit, two words were being thrown around rather frequently: government support. Unlike the West, some countries in the ASEAN region haven't quite warmed up to the idea of hybrids and EVs. In the local setting at least, these types of vehicles are seen more as a novelty, rather than a transport solution. Heck, the LTO couldn't even register a Tesla as there is no engine number.
At least there are steps to move forward towards alternative power. CAMPI (The Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines, Inc.), reiterated the importance of Hybrids and EVs. During the pre-event press conference, Rommel Gutierrez, president of CAMPI said, “I think we need support or incentives to bring in the technology. We will be pushing for incentives in Congress and Senate. It’s not a direct fund from the government, but something that will encourage manufacturers to bring in the technology”.
At least we're beginning to see some progress in terms of hybrids and EVs. The Department of Energy (DOE) said they are exploring the 'possibility of integrating electric vehicle charging areas in gasoline stations.' while CAMPI is seeking exemptions for the said vehicles.
Logical step forward
Yutuka Sanada, Nissan's regional senior vice-president and head of operations committee for Asia & Oceania, also made interesting points. He said that we are at a point where the cost of making long-lasting batteries is going down while the cost of making internal combustion run cleaner is on the rise. For him and Nissan, going electric isn't just an eco-friendly solution, it's the logical way to go.
There is a big challenge shifting to EVs as it means a major infrastructure overhaul throughout the nation. Having accessible charging points is a challenge, especially in less developed provinces. Again, it all boils down to government support and their commitment to make the country go green. Of course, the manufacturers present during the Summit also showed EVs that don't need to rely on a plug to get going — such as recharging from solar panels or hot-swappable batteries.
Hybrids: the stepping stone of EVs
Perhaps hybrids can be best described as a transition for electric vehicles since it still comes with an engine. Since going into mass consumption back in 1997, hybrids have evolved with greater electric-only range, as well as plug-in models which rely less on regenerative braking to recharge the batteries.
In the Summit were the Lexus NX200h, Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, and Toyota Prius PHEV. Each of the cars displayed represented the different applications of hybrid powertrains. Plug-ins and traditional hybrids have the same purpose in mind: to boost economy and efficiency of internal combustion engines through electric power.
A pragmatic solution according to Nissan
Also in the Summit was the Nissan Note e-Power which Nissan vehemently says isn't a hybrid. To some degree, I agree. While it still has a gas engine, it is there merely to serve as a generator for the electric drive system. There is no engine assistance when on the move as the Note e-Power solely relies on the electric motors to drive the car.
Think about it: You won't have to fear losing power since you don't have to plug it in and the engine will only kick in if the battery is low on charge. That means you run on zero emissions most of the time and fill ups will be a rare occurrence. With little infrastructure to support full EVs in ASEAN, it's an ingenious solution to range anxiety.
There is only so much you can do with the traditional gas and diesel powertrains. As pointed out above, it will be more difficult to keep these engines clean as emission regulations get tighter. Whether we like it or not, traditional engines may eventually fall out of favor. We have to accept the electric revolution for us to continue experiencing the joys, and conveniences, of personal mobility.
While not in our lifetimes, oil will run out, but with the small yet substantial collection of cars presented during the Summit, the future is happening now and it looks bright. All we need now is a gentle push to get the ball rolling in our country.