Maruti and Honda to sell hybrid cars by 2022: Who will gain first-mover advantage?

By Tanya Agarwal

Within a span of two to four years, the two automobile giants, Maruti Suzuki and Honda, are expected to launch hybrid cars in India. These petrol-run cars will be priced similarly to diesel vehicles. This would mean that the different parts of the car like engine and batteries will be localised.

What are hybrid cars?

A hybrid car is a vehicle which uses more than one type of energy for propulsion. Thus, a hybrid car has electric motors and battery packs in addition to the conventional internal-combustion engine.

Hybrid cars are highly fuel-efficient. This is because these gasoline-burning machines use electric bits to collect and reuse energy. This energy gets wasted in traditional fossil fuel driven cars.

In a world with a pronounced focus on environmental concerns, the companies have made the right choice by choosing hybrid technology for their cars. Hybrid cars have a better fuel efficiency and will thus be preferred over a normal fossil-fuel run car. The cars are targeting a Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (or Consumption of India), also denoted by CAFE, of one hundred and thirteen grams of Carbon Dioxide per kilometre (that is, 113gms CO2 per km). The present CAFE value is 138 grams CO2 per km. The limit of 113 grams CO2 per kilometre will be implemented by 2022, giving the automobile sector a tough time.

Going hybrid will also help the greatest brand of automobiles, Maruti Suzuki, to become the leader in the electrified car segment.

Why petrol-hybrid?

The diesel engines will have difficulty in adhering to the emission norms. However, they fall within the permissible region of carbon dioxide emission. Less efficient petrol-run vehicles, however, may face a dilemma. The best way out is shifting to petrol-electric model as soon as one can. This would increase the efficiency of the petrol engine multi-fold (90 percent as compared to 35 percent of internal combustion engines).

CV Raman is the engineering head of Maruti Suzuki. He said,” What we are looking at doing is improving our internal combustion engines by hybridizing them.” His thoughts were reiterated by the Managing Director of Honda Cars India. Yoichiro Yeno stated,” It would be essential to launch hybrid vehicles to meet norms. Some components may have to be imported in the beginning, but we want to maximise the locally made parts

Who will win?

Maruti is expected to launch its hybrid cars earlier than Honda. The company is looking keenly at stronger hybrids for the launch. Other options available are SHVS-like system and ISG (Integrated Starter Generators). Even the best-selling and highly economic car models will get a boost in their fuel efficiency after going hybrid.

One such example is of Swift which exemplifies the same. The Swift Hybrid delivers 32 km per litres through its 100-volt system. This is a result of a strong electric boost of 100 KW. The given observations were made in the JC08 test cycle conducted in Japan. On the other hand, in JC08 test cycle of Japan, a petrol run Swift delivered just 22.6 km per litre, quite below than its hybrid counterpart.

The Indian version

Maruti is planning to launch a different version in the country it gets is maximum sales from. The company is planning not to introduce its dual jet engine in India yet. Also, the company will give a boost of only 8 KW as compared to 10 KW tested in its trials. However, rather surprisingly, the ramp-up efficiencies of both the products is predicted to be the same. This would give a figure of about 19 km per litre.

The pricing of the models will not see much difference either. Since the company is localising almost all the parts from India itself, it is hoping to sell the model at the same rate as the diesel model of the same car.

Honda, however, may go beyond its standard hybrid set up to produce something entirely different and exclusive to India. Like the 1.5 and 1.6 Dream Engines, the company is planning to export its hybrid engines from India as well.

The company wants to be unconventional and will thus refrain from making cars equipped with IMA (Integrated Motor Assist). Honda is already selling Hybrid City in Malaysia. The carmaker, however, will not give the cars a 22 KW boost with a horsepower of 100 hp. The company’s Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (I-MMD) gives a new definition to hybrid. This is currently being experimented so that it can be launched in India.

Setting it apart

This hybrid engine will resemble the one used in higher-level premium vehicles like Accord. This would mean skipping a whole generation of hybrid engines for India. This system enables the car to run in two different modes. The first mode is EDO (Engine Drive Operation). In this mode, the engine sends the drive directly to the wheels through a single gear equivalent to fourth. This reduces the losses incurred during transmission to a great extent. The second model is HDO (Hybrid Drive Operation). Here, the batteries are charged by the petrol engine itself and the wheels are powered by e-monitors. The car can, thus, be operated in either EDO or HDO mode.

The Accord hybrid engine gives an outstanding figure of 17.4 km per litre. However, none of the companies has announced which hybrid engine will be launched first.

Gaining mutual benefits

Both the companies are poised to earn high profits after the launch of the anticipated vehicles. Maruti Suzuki will benefit from this partnership mainly by strengthening the bond with the Japan-based automobile giant Toyota. This is because Denso, the car parts maker owned by the latter, has signed a contract to supply and build the lithium-ion batteries in India. The company will, in collaboration with Suzuki, start producing the batteries in Gujarat by 2020. This will result in a huge cost saving for the hybrid Cars. Similarly, the two companies are planning to localise other parts of the hybrid Cars to reduce their costs.

This business model will allow the companies to sell their hybrid cars at a very competitive price. This, according to reports, will positively affect the buying behaviour of the people staying in India.

Future plans

The Japanese carmaker, Honda will follow the same policy of localisation of parts for future manufacture of hybrid cars. However, when selling individually, Honda may adopt another method for the driving experience of the hybrid cars. Intelligent Multi-Mode System (i-MMD), also known as range extender system, refers to a technology that makes use of the petrol engine to either act as a direct source of wheel propulsion or power the batteries by running the electric generator. Honda is planning to use this system for its own cars.