In early 2014, German luxury car maker Mercedes-Benz introduced the new C-Class sedan where it used an aluminium hybrid body that reduced the vehicle's weight by 70 kg. The lighter weight, says Mercedes-Benz India MD and CEO Eberhard Kern, cuts fuel consumption by up to 20 per cent. "The technical features developed by Mercedes-Benz are not merely aimed at enhancing its performance in motorsports, but are also actively used to develop stylish, safe and innovative vehicle concepts for the future," he says.
Like Mercedes-Benz, many automakers globally as well as in India have been working to make their vehicles - a major source of air pollution - greener. These efforts can be broadly categorised into three segments - changes in combustion engines technology, development of hybrid technology and cleaner fuel. BMW and Toyota Motor, for instance, are jointly trying to develop a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle by 2020 that would convert hydrogen into electric energy and water vapour, making driving emission-free.
Another fuel-saving, low-emission technology used by automakers such as Ford, Volkswagen, BMW and Tesla is the regenerative brake system that converts kinetic energy (energy from a moving object) of the vehicle into electric energy, which then charges the battery. BMW calls this technology EfficientDynamics. According to BMW, this technology cuts fuel consumption by up to three per cent. Philipp Von Sahr, President, BMW India, says the technology powers the company's entire product portfolio in India.
But no matter how stringent the emission norms are or how sophisticated combustion engines become, vehicular pollution will remain a pressing issue. The need, therefore, is to move towards hybrid technologies that use a combination of electric and petrol or diesel engines. Some popular hybrid models available in India are Toyota Prius, BMW i8, and Toyota Camry Hybrid. Mercedes, Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai have plans to launch hybrid versions of popular cars. Maruti is in the trial phase of the Swift Range Extender, an electric vehicle with an engine driven generator. Mahindra e2o is the only pure electric car available in India.
The Indian government plans to promote hybrid and electric vehicles through the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan. As per the plan, the government will give up to Rs 1,500 crore in monetary and fiscal incentives to companies and customers, and aims at Rs 62,000 crore savings in fuel imports by 2020. "The government plans to subsidise the production cost of electric vehicles so that they are available to users at lower cost. The government has allocated Rs75 crore towards this cause," says Ayush Lohia, CEO, Lohia Auto Industries, which has sold 20,000 electric scooters since it began operations in 2008. "Electric vehicles can become popular only if there is full government support to create an ecosystem for such vehicles," he adds.
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